It’s not easy to replace a legend, which is exactly what Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was faced with in 2017.
After spending two years as Deshaun Watson‘s backup, it was time for Bryant to take over, and for the most part he led Clemson to similar success as his predecessor. The Tigers won yet another ACC title and advanced to the College Football Playoff for the third consecutive year.
However, the offense looked different without Watson. While Bryant has a similar skill set in terms of his mobility, his passing ability often stalled the Clemson offense.
Here’s a look at Bryant’s 2017 passing chart, followed by some notes on his season:
- Kelly Bryant’s downfield passing numbers severely limited Clemson’s big-play ability and appeared to play a role in the play calling. Bryant completed just 25.6 percent of his passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, a huge dropoff from Watson’s 40 percent a season ago. Additionally, Bryant’s 43 pass attempts at 20+ yards downfield were less than half of Watson’s 90 attempts. In fact, Watson threw more touchdown passes 20+ yards downfield (13) than Bryant had total completions at that depth (11).
- Bryant’s struggles as a passer weren’t limited just to deep throws, however. On attempts 10 or more yards downfield, Bryant completed just 46.3 percent of his throws, with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Overall, Bryant’s average completion traveled just 5.6 yards in the air.
- Some fans might be inclined to point out that Bryant was hurt by drops this season, which is true to an extent. Clemson’s leading receiver Deon Cain had a disappointing 12.5 percent drop rate. However, Bryant’s receivers only had an overall drop rate of 8.0 percent, which was actually an improvement from the 10.5 percent drop rate Watson suffered from a season ago.
- One of the bright spots in Bryant’s season was his ability to handle pressure. He completed exactly 50 percent of his attempts under pressure (excluding throw aways) and averaged a respectable 6.3 yards per attempt. In total, Bryant was pressured 110 times in 2017 (24.3 percent of his total dropbacks). Including plays on which he scrambled, 35.4 percent of those pressures resulted in a gain of positive yards. That’s not quite on Watson’s level—he turned a remarkable 47.6 percent of his pressures into positive gains—but it’s a strong performance from a first-year starting quarterback.