Following the Clemson Tigers’ first National Championship victory under Dabo Swinney in 2016, the Tigers lost several key players, namely Deshaun Watson. Questions surrounded the Tigers about whether or not they could maintain the level of success that they had established over the previous two seasons, especially without their star quarterback under center. After a competitive quarterback battle during the 2017 offseason, it was then-junior quarterback Kelly Bryant that was chosen to fill Watson’s shoes.
The Tigers entered the 2017 season as the No. 5 team in the country, largely due to their star-studded defensive core headlined by Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrel and Dorian O’Daniel amongst others. Expectations were conservative for the Bryant-led Tigers, as many were unsure of what the junior could bring to the table.
During the 2017 season, Bryant passed for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns, while running for another 665 yards and 11 touchdowns. The first-year starter did everything that was asked of him and more, leading the Tigers to an 11-1 regular season record with wins over ranked Louisville, Virginia Tech and NC State teams. Bryant also led the Tigers to a fourth straight victory over South Carolina, earning the Tigers the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. The lone regular-season loss for the Tigers came against Syracuse, when Bryant left the game in the first half with an injury.
Though the Tigers’ season came to an end in the College Football Playoff, they established themselves as perennial Nation Championship contenders. While many expected the Tigers to regress to their pre-Deshaun Watson level success, Bryant helped the Tigers remain in the conversation as one of the nation’s top programs.
In 2018, Bryant lost his starting job to then-freshman Trevor Lawrence, and well, the rest was history. Bryant was able to save his eligibility because he played four games or fewer in 2018, and transferred to Missouri the following season. Lost in the allure of Lawrence’s phenomenal freshman year was Bryant’s solid play in both 2017 and 2018. In 2018’s second game, Bryant helped the Tigers secure a hard-fought win over Texas A&M in front of a rowdy Kyle Field crowd. Without Bryant, the Tigers likely wouldn’t have walked out of College Station with a win, ruining what ended up being a perfect 15-0 season.
After Bryant left Death Valley to join a new Tiger squad in Missouri, he turned in a solid final college campaign with 2,215 passing yards and 15 passing touchdowns, with another 142 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Injuries limited Bryant’s production in his final season, but he was still able to turn in a solid season playing against several stout SEC defenses.
Following the season, Bryant went undrafted in the 2020 NFL draft. The COVID-19 pandemic hurt many fringe draft-caliber players like Bryant, with the cancellation of pro-days, NFL interviews and other events that could have boosted his draft status.
Bryant completed a workout with the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason, but currently remains unsigned by an NFL team. Bryant has a Bachelor’s of Arts in History from Clemson and a Master’s of Education from Missouri. He is currently involved with the clothing brand Prayed Up Blessed Down and the Elite Position Training Football Academy based in upstate South Carolina. Between these other interests, Bryant continues to push for an opportunity in the NFL. Bryant has remained committed to his goal, but has said in a recent interview that ultimately, “Wherever I am, just have an impact on people”.
Bryant’s dual-threat ability, size and leadership skills make him an attractive free-agent to add depth to an NFL quarterback room. Bryant’s whole career has been defined by defying expectations, and he will continue to hope that he gets the opportunity to do the same in the NFL.