No sooner had Kelly Bryant announced his intention to transfer from Clemson than sports writers around the country began sprinting to their laptops to frantically tap out lists of potential landing spots.
After all, a senior quarterback with Playoff experience jumping ship mid-season is unprecedented—it wouldn’t even be possible without a brand new rule that allows players to participate in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. By sitting out the rest of 2018, Bryant, who started the first four games for Clemson before losing his job this week to star freshman Trevor Lawrence, will be eligible to play immediately in 2019 as a graduate transfer.
Among the many potential transfer destinations listed in the various articles was Ole Miss. Most notably, Bleacher Report included Oxford among Kelly’s five most likely landing spots.
Hell, last time a former Clemson quarterback came to campus it worked out fairly well.
Sure, there are good reasons to think Kelly and Ole Miss could be a productive match. The Rebels recruited Kelly as a high school senior in 2015, realizing that the dual-threat three-star prospect out of South Carolina could be a good fit in their versatile spread offense (though his primary recruiter, Dan Werner, is now the QB coach at South Carolina). Kelly is more of a runner than current Rebels starter Jordan Ta’amu, but it’s easy to imagine the athletic Kelly filling a similar role shredding defenses with the read-option before pulling up to use his pinpoint downfield accuracy.
Ta’amu’s eligibility is spent after this season, opening a vacancy that Kelly could potentially fill. Indeed, you have to imagine head coach Matt Luke would be intrigued if Kelly expressed interest. But will he express interest? Would Kelly legitimately consider a move to Oxford?
Here are four reasons he might not.
Ole Miss might already have the heir-apparent to Ta’amu.
The reason Bryant is bailing on Clemson is because he was beat out by a younger, more talented quarterback. Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall recruit in the country in 2018, has been eating into Bryant’s playing time all season, feeding speculation that a change was imminent. Dabo Swinney finally pulled the trigger on Monday, naming Lawrence his starter and prompting Bryant’s departure.
One can assume Bryant wants to avoid being beat out by another promising young passer at his next destination, which could make star freshman Matt Corral’s presence in Oxford a deterrent. Corral isn’t as highly touted as Lawrence, but he was just six spots back from Lawrence in last year’s national QB rankings. If not for the signing of since-departed Shea Patterson, Corral would be the most heralded passer not named Manning to ever sign with the Rebels.
Even if Bryant were interested in competing with Corral, would Luke be willing to risk upsetting his quarterback of the future for a one-year rental?
Ole Miss will be rebuilding its O-line in 2019.
Bryant will no doubt be looking for an offense that can keep him upright so he can pile up numbers and improve his draft stock. The fact that the Rebels will lose three—and potentially four—starters up front is a red flag.
All-SEC interior linemen Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings will graduate, star left tackle Greg Little will be a first-round draft pick and right tackle Alex Givens could end up testing the draft waters himself. That’s a lot of experience and talent walking out the door.
There will be plenty of talent left in the cupboard: starting freshman guard Ben Brown and a bevy of contributors in Bryce Mathews, Royce Newman, Chandler Tuitt, and Tony Gray. But Bryant, who has just one season to improve his draft stock, may not have the patience for a rebuilding project.
The elite receivers are also leaving Oxford.
This pitch would be a whole lot stronger if the country’s best trio of wide receivers were returning next season. But, DaMarkus Lodge will be out of eligibility and A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf are locks to declare early for the draft.
With that said, sophomore Braylon Sanders is emerging as a major downfield threat (he’s averaged over 24 yards on his eight receptions this year) and four-star freshmen Elijah Moore and Miles Battle should be ready to step forward. We’ve already caught a glimpse of Moore’s playmaking ability—he hauled in a 50-yard touchdown bomb against SIU and showed impressive athleticism on four receptions against Kent State.
Despite the talent exodus, receivers coach Jacob Peeler is restocking the cupboard this cycle. He has five current commitments from 2019 receivers, including four-stars Dannis Jackson and Jonathan Mingo.
Could Bryant replicate his 2017 success in the Ole Miss system?
Bryant patiently waited his turn behind current Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, but didn’t waste time making an impact while guiding Clemson to the Playoff in his first year as a starter. He did a good portion of his damage on the ground, rushing for 854 yards and 11 touchdowns. His passing was efficient (he ranked 15th nationally in completion percentage) but not particularly explosive (70th in yards per attempt). Despite an accurate long ball, he was primarily called on to throw short and pick up yards with his legs.
Would that work with Longo’s system?
The Air Raid offense that Longo installed in Oxford has thus far leaned heavily on downfield shots and chunk plays. At Clemson, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott’s system is catered more to dual-threat guys who use their legs to set up the pass. This season has seen a decrease in zone-read play calls from Longo—would that be a detriment to the Rebels’ chances of enticing Bryant to Oxford?