According to reports from multiple reliable sources earlier today, Hunter Johnson has decided to transfer from Clemson. This is a big deal...like a huge deal, and something that I have been quietly talking about since the overall #1 player/quarterback in the 2018 class, Trevor Lawrence, shocked the recruiting world and committed to Clemson. Johnson is from Brownsburg, IN and was the 2017 Mr. Football in Indiana. According to Rivals, he was the best quarterback talent coming out of Indiana in over a decade.
Rivals ranked Hunter Johnson as a 5* QB, the #2 overall QB in the 2017 class, and the 18th best player regardless of position. The 247 composite had Johnson as 5* QB, the #2 pro style QB, and the 30th best player in the 2017 class. If Purdue happened to land Johnson, he would be the highest rated recruit to ever play for Purdue by a pretty wide margin.
Why Is Johnson Transferring?
First off, let me dispel a bad argument. The fact that Hunter Johnson is transferring from Clemson doesn’t mean he’s not a good quarterback. Hunter was neck and neck with Kelly Bryant in fall camp for Clemson in 2017, but in the end the more experienced and risk averse quarterback won the job.
Many Clemson people in the know think that Johnson would have won the Clemson job if Clemson’s defense wasn’t so dominant. The Clemson coaches went with a ball control, running offense that limited risk last year because the defense was nasty. Kelly Bryant is a strong runner and doesn’t turn the ball over, and that won the day in the end.
Clemson then went out and signed Trevor Lawrence in the 2018 class, and he is considered by many recruiting professionals as a generational talent. Lawrence enrolled early, picked up the offense quickly, and showed out in the Spring game. It’s possible that Lawrence is going to overtake Kelly Bryant as the starter this season, and at worst, will share snaps. Bryant went 12-2, won the ACC, was the MVP of the ACC Championship game and went to the CFP in 2018.
Last season as a the co 2nd string QB (Clemson had a 4* RS freshman QB that Johnson shared 2nd team reps with last season) Johnson was 21-27 for 234 yards, 2 tds and an int. Johnson claimed the outright 2nd string job at the end of the season.
By all accounts, Johnson had a great spring, and played well in the spring game. Clemson coaches continually stressed that it was a 3 way race for the starting job and that Johnson was in the conversation. Johnson, however, read the writing on the wall, and saw Lawrence as an insurmountable obstacle blocking his chance for playing time. Hunter Johnson is too talented to spend his career as a backup, which brings us to the current situation.
First, let’s talk about what Hunter Johnson brings to the table. His most noticeable trait is arm talent. At 6’2, 210, Johnson stands tall in the pocket and can deliver with pressure in his face. He’s got a live arm and solid accuracy. He also has stellar mechanics with a smooth, quick delivery that gets the ball out of his hand on time. His ability to throw the ball down the field with accuracy is the reason he was so highly regarded coming out of Brownsburg.
What people tend to overlook about Johnson is his athleticism and ability to move the pocket. Clemson considered him a pass first, dual threat quarterback. They had no problem letting him run the read option or moving the pocket and letting him throw on the run. When asked about Johnson, Coach Swinney almost always mentioned Johnson’s athleticism as being and important facet of his game. He’s not a guy that’s going to run a bunch, but he can pick up first downs when the pocket breaks down and use his athletic ability to change the launch point and avoid sacks. Clemson liked him because he fit in perfectly with their hurry-up, high tempo offense that features a dual threat QB.
Dabo on Hunter Johnson:
2018 Clemson Spring Game:
This play shows his ability to put touch on the ball and attack down the sideline. He places the ball where 6’4 Tee Higgins can go up and make a play, while at the same time keeping 6’1 A.J. Terrell out of the play. This is starter vs starter and 5* vs 5* on the outside and Johnson delivers a perfect ball.
This is an example of his arm strength and accuracy. He absolutely rips this back shoulder throw to Tee Higgins. Again, this is starter vs starter on the outside and Johnson delivers a perfect strike to pick up the 1st down. That’s an elite throw.
This play shows Hunter’s ability to throw on the run. This is a designed roll out to his left and he delivers a strike to the slot receiver running the quick out. His footwork and body position is perfect and you can see how quickly the ball gets out of his hand once he decides to pull the trigger. This type of pass is a staple of the Brohm offense.
This is another showcase for Johnson’s arm strength. The Clemson DB has to respect the throw to the back pylon and Johnson and Higgins beat him with the back shoulder throw. Ideally this ball is thrown to the outside, so it’s not a perfect throw, but Johnson has enough zip on it to beat the DB even though he makes a good break on the pass. You can also see that sweet, sweet, compact delivery of Johnson on this play.
Hunter is mobile enough for Clemson to call the read option at the goal line, and he runs it to perfection. He freezes the outside linebacker with the fake, sees his opportunity and accelerates into the endzone. Sure, this is just a spring game run, but you can see how the Clemson coaches wanted to use his athleticism.
What About Sipe and Plummer?
What about them? They both appear to be talented quarterbacks and would have the opportunity to compete with Johnson for the out right starting job when it becomes available. Picking up Johnson wouldn’t be any sort of judgement on either of Purdue’s underclassmen quarterbacks, but would simply improve the overall talent level and competition on Purdue’s roster.
What about Sindelar?
Elijah would be a senior (assuming he doesn’t come out early, which is a possibility for the RS JR) when Johnson becomes eligible. My guess is that Johnson would be given every opportunity to compete for snaps as a Sophomore. Brohm has shown that he isn’t afraid to play 2 quarterbacks, and Johnson is mobile enough for Brohm to use him as a compliment to Sindelar. Again, you can’t have too much talent at quarterback, and Johnson is too talented for a coaching staff to worry about the depth chart. If he wants to come to Purdue, you welcome him with open arms.
An early report from 247 sports claims that Purdue and Northwestern are the two teams that Johnson will initially consider. Expect that list to grow in the coming days, because everyone will attempt to get in on a 5* transfer with 3 years of eligibility.
That said, Purdue makes sense for Johnson. Brohm runs one of the most exciting offenses in the nation and wants to attack down the field. If you’re looking for a team that best fits his skill set in the general vicinity of home, Purdue is the obvious choice. Notre Dame was in on Johnson the first time around, but Purdue’s offense is far more suited to showcase Johnson’s skills. Plus, who wants to spend 4 years getting rage spittled on by Brian Kelly.
I’m not saying Purdue is a lock for Hunter Johnson. I would be shocked if Sumlin at Arizona and Morris at Arkansas aren’t on the phone right now checking in on Johnson, but if I had to handicap this race I would say Purdue has better than a 50/50 shot to land Johnson, and that is a testiment to Coach Brohm and staff. The idea that a 5* QB would even consider Purdue 2 years ago was laughable.