KSU's QB is in for a monster season, but...
I don't know if we can be trusted with such a weapon. But I know the Nazis can't.
- J. Robert Oppenheimer, Oppenheimer (2023)
Pigs, welcome back to the farm. Some of you may recall that earlier this week, some nefarious publication released an article stating that Kansas State’s (KSU) RB1— DJ Giddens, was in for a massive season in 2024. Now, this same publication is writing about the QB doing the same thing— but surely, there isn’t enough to go around here, right?
Let’s keep that question in the back of our minds for a moment—we’ll get to that in a bit. First, for some context, presumed 2024 KSU starting QB Avery Johnson (AJ) is the topic of today’s article. From where I stand, AJ is one of the more intriguing names in the College Football landscape headed into the 2024 season.
Some of the regular readers may recall the article I wrote on Byrum Brown in the 2023 offseason. I think a similar pattern is at play here at KSU, and — given what we saw Brown do in 2023 — means we will probably want to familiarize ourselves with today’s player in advance.
QB Avery Johnson — 6’2, 188
One of the preeminent recruiting victories in KSU history, Johnson signed as a unanimous four star (and nationally rated top-100) prospect in the 2023 cycle out of Maize, KS.
When he signed, it was a pretty epic moment for KSU football—a program that doesn’t typically have a lot of huge moments on signing day. Of course, head coach Chris Kleiman was quite pleased at the time. When the major recruiting services asked him for a quote, he stated:
[On signing the top player in Kansas]
Coach Klieman: “I don’t know if we can be trusted with such a weapon, but I know the nazis over at KU can’t.”
Now you might be thinking: that’s some pretty strong language to describe a rival. Well, yes and no. On one hand, that’s no way to talk about a school you share a state with. On the other, when you’re on a (hide your eyes KU fans) 15-game winning streak over your rival, you talk your shit. Seriously, did ya’ll know KSU has beaten KU 15 straight times currently? That blew my mind.
As an FYI, I’ve got something coming next week on known degenerate pig farmer and current KU head football coach— Lance Leipold, so stay tuned for that.
Coming back to the topic at hand, earlier I drew a parallel between Avery Johnson’s profile and Byrum Brown’s 2023 profile. What I’m referring to there is the fact that Brown got his shot to be the starting QB for USF towards the end of the 2022 season, and in his limited snaps, absolutely torched the football field. Johnson did something similar this year, coming in as relief of Will Howard, who is now at Ohio State.
Another similarity is the fact that both QBs are potent runners. In fact, Johnson finished a game this past season with five rushing TDs (you read that right) on only 13 carries! Some of the more inquisitive VP interns tell me ‘efficiency’ is this kid’s middle name.
That performance (42 points) had been his best game of the season, until he finally got a proper shot at being the starting QB in the Bowl Game vs. NC State. Against the Wolfpack — a program typically known for being stingy on defence — Johnson completed 14 of 31 passes for 178 yards and two scores, and ran in another on seven carries for 71 yards (30.2 points).
Outside of those two performances, it had been a pretty forgettable season for AJ, as is the case with most true freshman. However, the Bowl Game performance showed enough to me to put me on notice for 2024. Add in the data point against Texas Tech where he punched it in five times, and now you have my attention.
This is likely subject to change in the coming months, but for those interested, in a recent mock draft I participated in, Johnson was selected in the seventh round. I should confess that I avoided selecting him, in particular, because I wanted to see what range he’d fall under. That’s one of the conundrums with early mock drafts—half of the objective as a content creator is actually just to see where some of the players will land.
I was expecting him to go a bit later, but I think the seventh round range is appropriate given the circumstances (this draft was only nine rounds, with two QB selections mandatory). It’s difficult to say at this point what range he might have fallen in, in a more typical style of draft.
In CFF, you generally want to hone in on two archetypes of QBs: those who are in very heavy air raid systems, or those who are dual threat QBs. There are more dual threat QBs in any given year than there are QBs in heavy air raid systems, so they tend to dominate the top of the CFF leaderboard at the end of most seasons. Johnson, of course, falls into that latter group of archetypes (unless the KSU staff are planning a shift in philosophy that I haven’t heard about), making him a very attractive profile headed into 2024.
Coaching & System
In the article on DJ Giddens, I provided a rundown of the new staff. However, in that profile, the focus was on the patterns at RB, so it’s probably worth going through again, but with a focus on the QB position.
As a recap, former KSU OC— Colin Klein, took the Texas A&M job in late 2023. He is being replaced by Matt Wells (co-OC), formerly an offensive analyst at Oklahoma, and Connor Riley (OC), promoted from offensive line coach, and who also served as the interim OC during KSU’s Bowl Game this past December.
Wells is the only one of the two that would have been at least somewhat responsible for the development and utilization of the QB position in the past, as he spent three seasons as the head coach of Texas Tech from 2019 to 2021, and seven years as either the head coach or OC of Utah State from 2012 to 2018.
Unfortunately, in every single season at Texas Tech, it appears there were multiple starters at the QB position, either by necessity due to injury, or by choice because the first starter wasn’t up to snuff. Either way, that isn’t a great sign of Wells’ QB development during that time.
At Utah State, things went a bit better. In Wells’ last year with the Aggies, he had Jordan Love, who passed for over 3500 yards, and a 32-6 TD-INT ratio over 13 games. Love also scored seven times along the ground, and rushed for 63 yards on 43 carries. These numbers track to about 24 PPG if we count it with four-point passing TDs and negative two points per INT.
Wells also had Chuckie ‘Child’s Play’ Keaton in 2012, who had a strong season. Keaton passed for over 3300 yards, and scored 27 TDs to nine INTs. He also ran in eight scores on 129 carries, accumulating 619 yards in the process. His numbers would have tracked to about 25.7 PPG.
There also continues to be this disturbing trend I’ve found of multiple QBs appearing to start each season under Wells. During the course of those Utah State seasons, outside of the two I highlighted, many of them featured two QBs that either attempted 100 or more passes, or passed for more than 1000 yards each. Quite disturbing indeed.
I don’t know what the circumstances were that led to each of those situations, and frankly — as an avid pig farmer — I don’t think I want to know. The good news is, he’s not really the guy here who will be calling the plays.
The OC— Connor Riley, doesn’t have any track record of being the primary play caller, as he’s been the OL coach under coach Klieman since 2019. Prior to that, his expertise focused more on run-game coordination at North Dakota State (NDSU). In the previous article on DJ Giddens, I quipped that OL coaches tend to favour the run game when they finally get their chance to call plays. So what does that mean then for the QB position? Well lucky us, it actually still applies here, given the skillset of the featured player today.
While he may not be Colin Klein, Riley was the primary play caller for Johnson’s offensive explosion vs. NC State, which — as I said with Giddens — if that game plan is any indication of how things are going to go in 2024, you’re looking at a nuclear pig here—like, potential top five CFF QB type of profile.
You laugh… sure, that seems ludicrous, “here we go again, VP with the dramatic punchline… what else is new”… yea, well, I’m sure we all saw Jayden Daniels’ massive leap coming last year, or Byrum Brown finishing as a top five QB by season’s end.
You look at the top five QBs in 2023 (really the top six) in total points scored, and they are all dual threat guys, with varying degrees of rushing tendencies. Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix, Kaidon Salter, Dillon Gabriel, Byrum Brown, and Jordan McCloud round out that group (technically Michael Penix is at #6 over McCloud, but the point remains).
What were each of their averages prior to this season? Daniels and Gabriel each averaged around 25 PPG in 2022. Nix was already a stud, averaging 32 the year prior. Brown, who I’ve compared Johnson to, averaged just shy of 19 PPG, and Salter and McCloud averaged less than 15 points each. For reference, Avery Johnson averaged just shy of 15 PPG in his first year with KSU.
Point being, don’t dismiss the notion of Johnson finding his way into the upper bracket of CFF QBs next season. Players who finish at the top of their position group come out of nowhere all the time, and his profile matches the description of those that have done it before.
Concerns & Closing Thoughts — Too Many Mouths to Feed?
One of the looming concerns for Giddens, and now Johnson, is the potential scenario where they cannibalize each other’s production. I don’t believe this will be the case, at least, not in a substantial capacity. In fact, this is more of a concern for Giddens than it is for Johnson, if anything.
I experienced this type of scenario to an extreme degree in the first half of 2022, as a shareholder of former KSU RB Deuce Vaughn, who was playing with Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez at the time. Martinez’ TD vulturing was so extreme, that it really did drastically impact Vaughn’s profile on the year. Thankfully, Deuce is such a stud that he powered through to a strong PPG average. However, that experience remained in my mind as a cautionary tale.
But today’s profile is on Avery Johnson—the QB, and given that the snap goes to him directly (most of the time, at least), it stands to reason that if he wants to score a TD in the red zone, he’ll have that luxury.
While I would be higher on both if the other weren’t involved, you can also make an argument that the presence of both increases the chances of KSU’s offence being more potent as a whole, and therefore this may benefit each.1 That’s true, but hard to count on in advance. I like to just focus on who’s getting the touches, and in this case, there are going to be two mouths to feed every time KSU is in the red zone. This will likely cap the ceiling on both players to some degree, even if it’s not substantial.
I’ve posted a few articles over at C2C this week, which I’m linking here for those interested.
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Another thing to keep in mind is that KSU returns only 35% of snaps on the offensive line from 2023. This may adversely affect the offence. My thinking is that it won’t, but you never know.