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2019 Northwestern football position previews: Quarterbacks

HJ or TJ under center in 2019?

Northwestern v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images


Returning starters: None

Key Losses: Clayton Thorson

Returners: TJ Green (Sr.), Aidan Smith (Jr.), Andrew Marty (So.), Jason Whittaker (R-Fy.)

Newcomers: Hunter Johnson (R-So.)

Clayton Thorson plays for the Philadelphia Eagles now, so with that, it’s officially time for a changing of the guard at the quarterback position. After four years of (relative) stability with Thorson under center, a substantial amount of uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position.

With Thorson likely passing off the torch to Hunter Johnson, in just under two months, we will all get our first sighting of perhaps the most highly-touted recruit in Northwestern history. But no pressure Hunter, you got this.

Key Player:


Johnson was at the top of our Most Important Player series - which becomes an even more impressive feat when taking into account that he has only thrown 27 passes in his collegiate career.

This stat highlights the mystery that surrounds the most hyped-up man on campus. We don’t know what he is capable of, which in turn plays a role in the excitement that follows the young quarterback.

All we do know is that the sophomore transfer caught the eyes of Dabo Sweeny and the defending national champs for a reason. Johnson was ranked as the number one quarterback in a class that included Jake Fromm, Tua Tagovailoa and Sam Ehlinger - a highly impressive feat in it of itself. So if he is anything that he is built up to be, Northwestern should be in steady hands.

Big Question:

Is Hunter Johnson worth all the hype?

We all know what Hunter Johnson can do on the field, so now it’s just a question of what he will do.

Truth be told, only time will tell if Johnson is worthy of the five-star designation. How he will fit in Mick McCall’s system is still a mystery, and as time has proven over and over again, the ranking system for recruits is severely flawed.

Johnson is built like a prototypical quarterback: he stands in at 6-foot-2 and weighs 208 pounds. He also seems to have the the dual-threat ability that makes modern offenses so potent. Johnson ran track in high school and was so successful that he was eventually selected for Indiana’s all-state track team. Johnson’s resume as a runner doesn’t stop there as it is said that he can run a sub 4.6 40-yard dash. To put that in perspective, Russell Wilson ran a 4.63 at his combine — a Super Bowl champ and perennial pro bowler. But once again, no pressure Hunter.

When asked to compare Johnson to some of the elite quarterbacks that Northwestern faced throughout the season, teammate Earnest Brown Jr. likened the Wildcat quarterback to two first round picks in this year’s draft — Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins.

Brown stated that “Hunter is on a different level,” as compared to the other quarterbacks that he had to practice against during the season. The praise for Johnson didn’t stop there, as the way he reads the defense was described to be “special,” and on the level of the aforementioned first round picks.

Hunter Johnson certainly has the tools and intangibles to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. What is left to see is how well he can learn and execute the Northwestern offense.

Depth Chart:

WR Depth Chart

Bennett Skowronek J.J. Jefferson Kyric McGowan
Riley Lees Berkeley Holman Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman

As of now, Hunter Johnson is not the official starting quarterback for Northwestern heading into Week 1. However, any player not named Johnson manning center on opening day would come as a great surprise.

Mick McCall claims “It’s a competition.” A very common phrase from a coordinator and coach during the offseason that certainly means nothing at this stage of the summer.

Fitz said back in the spring that “we have a very specific plan. We’re not gonna rush things. We’ll give those guys ample opportunity to show they can be the right leader for our offense and for our football team.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Johnson getting the start under center in Palo Alto, but we’ve seen Fitz and McCall pull some really weird “tricks” out of their bag in the past so nothing is ever set in stone. Rewind to 2018 when the official Northwestern two-deep for the first few weeks of the season read “Clayton Thorson OR TJ Green.”

Hopefully, we’ll have some more clarity this time around, but I wouldn’t bank on having any kind of final word on a starter until just after 3:00 central time on August 31.