Kelly Bryant broke the college football internet on Wednesday.
News of his decision to transfer from Clemson and save his final year of eligibility sent college football fans into a frenzy. By not winning the starting job and losing out to 5-star freshman Trevor Lawrence, Bryant is suddenly the most interesting free agent in college football.
He’ll have immediate eligibility as a graduate transfer next year. And as someone who started 18 career games, including a Playoff game against Alabama last year, there will certainly be a market for Bryant.
So naturally, let’s talk about the potential SEC suitors that he could have.
Chad Morris gets credit for recruiting Deshaun Watson to come to Clemson. Who else did Morris help get to come to play for the Tigers? Bryant.
In fact, Morris actually offered Bryant after he suffered from a blockage in his lower intestine that required emergency surgery his junior year of high school. Morris didn’t waver on his commitment to recruiting Bryant when he spent nearly a month on the hospital and he lost more than 50 pounds.
So yeah, there’s a definite connection there. That was 4 years ago in Morris’ final season as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. Recruiting him to come to Arkansas would make all sorts of sense. Morris has been shuffling through quarterbacks like batteries in the first 4 games of the season. None of them look to be a fit in Morris’ system, which doesn’t exactly make one feel optimistic about 2019, either.
Bryant could play the up-tempo style that Morris wants. He’s a good enough runner to help overcome Arkansas’ struggles on the offensive line, and he could provide a complement to Arkansas’ running backs. Shoot, Bryant has already started a game against the likes of Alabama and Auburn.
In what looks like a brutal Year 1 for Morris, the addition of Bryant would create some much-needed buzz in Fayetteville.
The expectation is that this is Jarrett Stidham’s last year at Auburn. Assuming that’s the case, I can’t help but think that Gus Malzahn would love, love, love to get someone like Bryant before turning to the raw Joey Gatewood.
We know that Malzahn is all about the short horizontal passing game. You know what Bryant does extremely well? Make short passes to the outside:
Here's a look back at Kelly Bryant's career passing chart at Clemson. pic.twitter.com/UJ4ZTVgLGb
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 26, 2018
Bryant is also more of a running threat than Stidham, which makes him feel like a more natural fit for Malzahn’s offense. We’re seeing right now what happens with Auburn when it doesn’t have the pieces in the running game that it needs. Bryant would absolutely be a weapon in that department.
Interestingly enough, Bryant didn’t get an Auburn offer out of high school. That’s interesting considering system-wise, Auburn probably makes the most sense out of any team on this list.
But if Bryant wants a place where he can develop as a passer and show that he’s got the ability to make downfield throws that attract NFL scouts, maybe Auburn wouldn’t make as much sense for him.
3. South Carolina
You knew it was coming. Bryant is a South Carolina native who might be attracted to the idea of playing his final year close to home. That’s common for grad transfers.
South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon runs a quarterback-friendly offense and getting the chance to work with quarterbacks coach Dan Werner, who recruited Bryant when he was the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, would make a lot of sense.
But here’s the thing. We don’t know what Jake Bentley’s status for 2019 is. If he leaves for the NFL Draft, suddenly that becomes a more attractive landing spot. If he stays, Bryant wouldn’t have any interest.
We also don’t know if Bryant would welcome the idea of playing for an in-state rival. And oh, by the way, he’d have to face Clemson. Man, that’d be a juicy storyline.
I wouldn’t hold my breath on this happening, though if Bryant’s case reminded us anything it’s that student-athletes are going to make whatever choice they feels will benefit their future … even if it means crossing enemy lines.
Schematically, it makes sense. I have no doubt that Bryant could have a Nick Fitzgerald-like impact under Dan Mullen. His familiarity with the run-pass option reads would make him an obvious fit.
But to “fit” assumes that there’s a starting job available for Bryant. Mullen seems awfully loyal to building up Feleipe Franks. So loyal, in fact, that he had to come out and say that “he won’t have a short leash.” By the way, that was after a Week 3 home game against Colorado State.
Mullen has been fiercely loyal to his quarterbacks in years past. His desire to develop one and show that he’s capable of turning around Florida’s anemic post-Tim Tebow offense suggests that’ll continue with Franks. That could also depend on what we see from Franks the rest of 2018.
We don’t know how soon Bryant will make his decision. He might not want to roll the dice on a place with an incumbent starter without knowing that he’d be the favorite to win the job.
Is Bryant a better quarterback than Franks? I think so. Would it be that simple for Mullen? Probably not.
This last one is a bit of a wild card, I’ll admit. The idea of Bryant leaving to go to a different region of the country to play for a coaching staff that he doesn’t have a background with doesn’t seem likely. And you might look at Drew Lock compared to Bryant and think “those are two totally different players.”
All of that is true.
Here’s what’s also true. Lock is going to the NFL after this season, and all signs point to him being an early-round draft pick. If Bryant’s desires are to play at the next level, he can follow in Lock’s footsteps. Derek Dooley is working to develop Lock’s intermediate passing game. If he does that and Lock seems like an obvious first-round pick, it might be an attractive system to play in for Bryant.
Would he have the downfield abilities that Lock has? No way. But there would possibly be an opportunity available, and Bryant would have a chance to develop as a passer.
If those are the two main things Bryant covets, Mizzou might be an interesting place to keep in mind.