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The future of the Clemson quarterback

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor
Deshaun Watson

No one will disagree that Deshaun Watson was the greatest quarterback in Clemson history. He led the Tigers to two national championships, winning one, and set plenty of records along the way. After finishing in second place in Heisman Trophy voting two years in a row, Watson is more than ready to move on to the NFL.
Dabo Swinney, among other responsibilities, is left to figure out who the next quarterback of the Tigers will be. Since Nick Schuessler is also graduating, the quarterbacks left on the depth chart are Kelly Bryant, Tucker Israel and Zerrick Cooper.
Hunter Johnson and Chase Brice will also be joining the Tigers as recruits in the 2017 class, giving Clemson five total options for the quarterback position.
Sophomore Kelly Bryant will break spring camp as the top option. He’s been around the offense for two years and knows more or less how to run it. Bryant was listed as a dual-threat quarterback out of high school and, in limited action, has run the ball quite well.
Bryant’s main problems are his decision making and accuracy. In the 2016 spring game, he threw two interceptions, one of which was right to cornerback Mark Fields, more than 10 yards away from his intended target. In fact, in almost all of his appearances in the 2016 season, Bryant only ran the ball. For his career, Bryant has rushed 35 times for a total of 178 yards, but has only completed 13-of-18 passes for 75 yards. Those stats imply a high level of short accuracy in a predominantly run-first scheme. He does not profile as Clemson’s long term quarterback.
Redshirt Freshman Tucker Israel probably has the toughest route to becoming quarterback. He is listed as being a dual-threat quarterback, but he is a bit undersized at six feet and 190 pounds.
This is a problem because a running quarterback takes a lot of punishment and Israel does not have the physical ability to repeatedly take hits without getting seriously injured. Israel broke a bone in his foot in early 2015 and was redshirted. Since then, he has attempted and completed just four passes in the 2016 season.
Israel is unlikely to be considered for the starting quarterback position and may consider transferring at some point in his college career.
Freshman Zerrick Cooper is an intriguing possibility for the 2017 season. He was a 4-star recruit out of Jonesboro, GA. Listed as 6 feet 3 inches tall and a pocket passer, Cooper has the makeup of a future quarterback though he might not necessarily be starting the 2017 season as the top dog. Cooper certainly has the arm to make the long throws, but his downfield accuracy needs the most work.
Cooper is less likely to be a run-and-gun quarterback, but more likely one who will stay inside the pocket and step up to make a throw. He does have good scrambling ability, but he needs to bulk up more if he wants any actual designed quarterback runs.
Hunter Johnson and Chase Brice are both top-15 pocket-passing quarterbacks in the nation for 2017 and both have committed to be at Clemson, although Brice has not yet officially signed with the Tigers. Johnson has recently been named the MVP in the Army All-American game and is coming in as the top quarterback in the nation. It is very likely that Johnson challenges to be the starting quarterback right out of the gate.
Johnson is listed as an 88 overall recruit – just one point below what Deshaun Watson was listed as back in 2012.
Chase Brice grades out as an 80 overall quarterback with good scrambling instincts. Considering all the similarities between Brice and Johnson, whoever performs best in summer camps will be more likely to stick with the program going forward.
After looking at the profiles of each quarterback, the prediction is set. Kelly Bryant will probably break camp as the starting quarterback, but will be supplanted by Zerrick Cooper partway into the season in much the same way Watson took over for Cole Stoudt in 2014. Bryant will then switch to being a wide receiver and Hunter Johnson will become the backup to Cooper.
Tucker Israel will likely transfer, which would make Brice the number three on the depth chart. Of course, all of this is predicated on the results of the Spring game and the rest of summer camp.
2018 will further complicate the quarterback hierarchy as the consensus number one quarterback in the nation, Trevor Lawrence, is set to join the already crowded and elite group of quarterbacks Coach Swinney has assembled. The Tigers have nothing to fear at the quarterback position going forward.

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