Arkansas football: What could Kelly Bryant do for the Razorbacks?
During Arkansas’ 23-0 win over Tulsa last Saturday, the player who received the most praise from Razorback fans was not on the field. He was in the stands.
Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant visited Arkansas last weekend and was unsurprisingly showered with love everywhere he went. The graduate transfer mostly reciprocated the praise, too, even taking part in the Hog Call at the game and on Dickson Street.
— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) October 21, 2018
There are several reasons Bryant spending his final season of eligibility at Arkansas in 2019 makes sense. He was initially recruited to Clemson by Arkansas coach Chad Morris. The Tigers also continued to run the offense Morris implemented during Bryant’s time there. He could also almost certainly come in and start right away.
Add those factors in with what seemed like a great weekend for Bryant and the Razorbacks appear to be increasingly likely to land their quarterback for next season. Bryant has also visited North Carolina and will go to Missouri next week. He reportedly doesn’t have any other trips planned, so it certainly helps that it does not appear as if the Hogs are competing against any Power 5 heavyweights to get him.
Let’s say Arkansas does get Bryant. What could he do for the Hogs next season?
Well, he’d certainly be the most accomplished and capable quarterback on the roster immediately. He’d also give Morris the ideal skill set he’s looking for in a quarterback because of his running ability. He’s 6-4, 220. He rushed for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns while starting all 14 games and leading Clemson to an ACC championship last season.
Morris’ offense can work without a great runner at quarterback. It just won’t be nearly as explosive as the coaching staff would like. That’s not something Morris or offensive coordinator Joe Craddock will admit for obvious reasons, but it’s the truth.
Bryant is also a proven winner. He certainly had a loaded supporting cast around him in his 18 games as a starter at Clemson, but consider this: Deshaun Watson, who preceded Bryant as Clemson’s starting quarterback, won 89.19 percent of the games he started with the Tigers. Bryant won 88.89 of his starts. So within the same program stacked with talent, Bryant and Watson had a nearly identical winning percentage. Now, is Bryant as good as Watson? Not by a long shot. But that’s still an interesting stat displaying how effective Bryant can be.
Now that we’ve hyped him up, let’s temper the expectations on Bryant a bit. While he’d be a boost to the Hogs in 2019, he’s certainly no All-American.
As a passer, he’s a middle-of-the-pack type talent. While it’s true Bryant played alongside a lot of talent at Clemson last season, it must be noted that he didn’t have the outside weapons that Watson did. After the 2016 championship season, receivers Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett went to the NFL, along with Watson. Those three combined for 220 catches, 2,711 yards and 23 TDs in 2016.
That partially explains why Bryant threw for “only” 2,802 yards and 13 TDs in 2017, despite completing 65.8 percent of his 398 passes. That lack of firepower certainly showed up in the Playoff semifinal against Alabama last season. Bryant was 18-for-36 for a meager 124 yards. He threw two interceptions and his longest completion went for 19 yards.
That game, coupled with Tua Tagovailoa’s heroic, pass-heavy performance in the national championship, set the stage for a quarterback competition. Dabo Swinney knew he needed more firepower.
Bryant lost his job to true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Granted, Lawrence is an elite passer with an NFL future, but he’d surely still be on track to redshirt if the Tigers thought Bryant could win them a national championship. They obviously decided he wasn’t the player to get that done, even after waiting his turn and going 16-2 as a starter.
Essentially, Bryant would be an attractive talent who would inject immediate excitement into Morris’ offense. He could certainly be the difference in Arkansas returning to a bowl game in 2019. There’s not going to be enough experienced talent around him to achieve much more than that. He’s the type of player that can single-handedly lead the program to any sort of elite level and he’s not winning any prominent awards.
So, Arkansas fans, be excited if Bryant decides to spend his final season in Fayetteville. He’ll surely be bringing a few more wins with him. But don’t get too carried away.