North Carolina appears to have found its quarterback in Brandon Harris, who plans to enroll as a transfer after graduating from LSU this summer. The question, of course, is whether Harris is the right QB for the job.
Harris certainly has talent, but he couldn’t hold on to the job at LSU last year, and his struggles in the passing game were well documented. While North Carolina’s rise in the Coastal coincided with a terrific passing attack, LSU’s struggles -- and the end of Les Miles' tenure -- were largely tied to Harris’ struggles.
Over the past two years, Harris has completed 53.6 percent of his passes. UNC QBs have a 66.2 percent completion percentage.
The Tar Heels have averaged 8.04 yards per dropback in the last two seasons, second only to Oklahoma among Power 5 schools. Harris averaged 6.96 yards per dropback, 43rd among Power 5 QBs with at least 100 attempts.
Harris averaged 6.52 yards-per-dropback on play-action passes, good for 99th among Power 5 QBs, despite having one of the best running games in college football to supplement his work. North Carolina, meanwhile, averaged 10.1 yards-per-pass, fourth among Power 5 schools.
So is this really a good fit?
A few things are worth remembering. On one hand, UNC’s offense is designed to be far more QB friendly than LSU’s pro-style attack, which never quite suited Harris.
Second, Harris’ athleticism should be a nice asset, like it was for Marquise Williams when he was under center for the Heels. Mitchell Trubisky was probably a far better runner than he displayed throughout most of last season, but with such limited depth at QB, UNC couldn’t risk it. That isn’t likely to be the case with Harris, which should make the Tar Heels’ attack more dynamic.
Harris also handles pressure particularly well. Again, he’s a strong runner, which helps. In the face of pressure, when he can improvise and not have to go through his progressions, he’s looked sharp. His 8.58 yards-per-attempt and 5.33 yards-per-dropback are both among the best rates in the Power 5 over the last two years. UNC’s offense is about quick decisions and high tempo, which may suit him better than LSU’s pro style.
Lastly, Williams and Trubisky aren’t on this roster, so comparing Harris to the past two seasons of production is unfair. That’s not who he’ll be competing against. The fact is, UNC doesn’t have any established alternatives, and Harris would come in and immediately be the most refined QB on the roster.
Having said all that, Harris has not been a terrific downfield passer in his career (though he does have a strong arm). At LSU, 20.5 percent of his passes were 20 yards or more downfield, 12th among Power 5 QBs with 100 attempts or more since 2015.
Still, it’s not as if this is a home run. It’s a necessary move for a roster that was thin at QB. It’s a veteran on an offense that lacked established players. At the very least, it’s competition to push the younger quarterbacks.
But it’s not often a transfer agrees to a move like this without a firm idea he’ll be the starter, and while Harris won’t arrive until this spring -- assuming he graduates, as expected -- he’ll be the QB to beat.
The most similar example in recent years in the ACC is probably Everett Golson at Florida State, who arrived with a similar skill set and won the job over an equally inexperienced group of QBs. That decision came with mixed results. Golson wasn’t horrible, but he clearly never quite fit with what Florida State was trying to do, and he lost his job later in the season.
FSU and UNC aren’t quite the same situations, however. Larry Fedora’s offense is probably a far better fit for Harris than Jimbo Fisher’s ever was for Golson, and while Harris still has a lot to prove, this is probably a win-win for both sides and, if it doesn’t work out, was worth the risk either way.