Former 5-Star, No. 1 Ranked QB Invited to Steelers Rookie Minicamp: Report

Clemson QB Hunter Johnson

Eakin Howard/Getty Images Hunter Johnson #12 of the Clemson Tigers waits for a snap against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium on December 3, 2022.

Former Clemson and Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson has accepted an invite to try out at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie minicamp, according to a report by Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star.

It’s an opportunity for the former 5-star recruit — and No. 1 ranked QB prospect in the country in 2017, per ESPN — to potentially continue his football career, which didn’t unfold as he envisioned coming out of high school in Indiana in 2016.

Gregg Doyel: Hunter Johnson’s ‘College Career Didn’t Go as Planned’

Johnson’s long and winding college journey started at Clemson, having arrived a year ahead of 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), who led the Tigers to a national title as a freshman. Having been displaced by Lawrence, Johnson elected to transfer to Northwestern and sat out the 2018 season. Except he failed to earn much playing time at Northwestern either, though he did earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees before returning to Clemson in 2022 for a 6th college season.

Johnson’s combined numbers at Northwestern and his 2 stints at Clemson were lackluster: 122-for-216 (56.5%), with 1,100 yards passing and only 7 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions. That includes the one notable performance he had in college, when he went 30-for-43 for 283 yards (0 interceptions, 3 touchdown passes) during a 38-21 loss to Michigan State on Sept. 3, 2021.

It probably didn’t help that he worked with 9 different offensive coordinators during the 10 seasons he spent in high school and college, this according to Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, who profiled Johnson in April 2023.

Hunter Johnson’s “college career didn’t go as planned,” wrote Doyel, stating the obvious, before noting that it’s Johnson’s physical tools that are getting him a look-see from NFL teams.

“Last month at Clemson’s Pro Day he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.62 seconds, and leapt 10 feet, 3 inches in the broad jump and 35½ inches vertically. Had he posted those numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine in March, he’d have finished second, athletically, to just one quarterback: Anthony Richardson of Florida,” wrote Doyel, referring to the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 draft.

That helps explain why Johnson has also received and accepted an invite to a New York Giants minicamp, and has already had a tryout with the Indianapolis Colts, according to Doyel.

Hunter Johnson Was Ranked Ahead of Tua Tagovailoa

That gives him an opportunity to potentially win a spot on an offseason roster, which would not be unprecedented for a quarterback hopeful. In 2019 the Steelers signed Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges for $1,000 after a minicamp tryout. Hodges went on to start six games and make eight appearances as a rookie, posting a 3-3 record in the process.

And while Johnson has much less playing experience than Hodges did in college, his arm talent is far superior. Recall that Bleacher Report named him as its No. 2 ranked quarterback recruit in 2017, ahead of Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins), who went on to be selected No. 5 overall in the 2020 NFL draft.

“Johnson is a joy to watch if you appreciate quarterbacks who can settle in and find rhythm from the pocket without doing anything over the top in the process,” wrote Bleacher Report at the time. “He’s a technician (25/25 combined pocket presence and mechanics) who hits receivers in stride even when they’re well-covered, thanks to his elite accuracy (24/25) and live arm.”

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