Every detail, from the intangibles to the in-game highlights and lowlights, plays a role in a team’s potentially franchise-changing decision to take a quarterback early on in the draft. While some prominent quarterback prospects excel in some categories and lack in others, a select few boast an array of talents befitting of a future superstar under center in the NFL, and Deshaun Watson is a potential example.
The list of attributes linked with Watson throughout his time as a Clemson Tiger is rather lengthy, but the most important attribute on that list, and the one that will ultimately define his grandiose college football legacy, is that Watson is a surefire winner, something that he proved game in and game out while a Tiger. Serving as the full-time starting quarterback in Clemson for less than three full seasons, Watson quickly assimilated himself with the offense upon being inserted into the starting lineup as a freshman. His impressive on-field poise and leadership abilities were the driving forces behind Clemson’s run as one of the nation’s top programs.
From earning a consensus spot on the All-America First Team to claiming ACC Player of the Year to twice winning the prestigious Davey O’Brien and Manning awards, Watson’s trophy shelf is conspicuously full. However, the final trophy that he earned, the national championship trophy, is the most indicative of Deshaun Watson as a football player. Watson’s winning pedigree was partially established due to sheer natural talent and partially established due to his impeccable ability to lead an offense with the field general qualities of an NFL veteran. Few quarterbacks have ever burst onto the college scene like Watson did, and few have ever made such a significant impact in a span of three seasons like he did, either.
As a sophomore, Watson became the first player to ever accrue 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season at the college level, a feat that indicates just what type of pure playmaking ability he brings to the table. But the statistics do not tell the whole story, as the win-loss record sheds even brighter light on what Watson is capable of. Losing only twice in three years when under center from start to finish of the game, Watson proved time and time again to be a proverbial primetime performer, a trait that has garnered high praise from NFL Draft expert Mike Mayock.
“Watson plays his best football when the lights are bright,” Mayock said in his pre-draft evaluation. “And that’s an important characteristic at any position, but especially quarterback.”
Even in defeat, Watson was magnificent, setting the single-game ACC passing record in a loss to Pittsburgh this past November and becoming the record holder for total yardage in a national title game in Clemson’s close loss to Alabama in 2016. One could argue that Watson never produced a losing performance while at Clemson, and that, combined with his impressive skill set, have him projected as a first-round draft choice in the 2017 NFL Draft, which will be held Thursday in Philadelphia, Pa.
Watson showed out for scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine, completing the vast majority of his throws and producing the third-fastest 40-yard dash time of any quarterback at 4.66 seconds. For a 6-3, 215-pound quarterback, Watson is mobile and incredibly poised in the pocket. Although not necessarily thought of as a prototypical running quarterback, Watson was a continuous threat on the ground at Clemson, finishing as the second-leading quarterback rusher in 2015 with 1,105 yards.
The high-octane, diverse style of offense that has been consistently boasted by the Tigers under head coach Dabo Swinney certainly played a major role in preparing Watson for a professional career, as the multitude of formations and packages used throughout each game commanded versatility from Watson. However, it takes a high IQ football player to run the Tiger offense at the quarterback spot, and he proved in doing so that his football prowess is above and beyond the average amateur quarterback.
Watson has shown expertise in throwing passes of varying degrees of difficulty, distance and style. He is an accurate drop-back passer with a cannon for an arm, and his acumen in managing an offense during crunch time is as good as it gets for a draft prospect. With the build and playing style of former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, Watson also bears a resemblance, in terms of stature and approach to playing the quarterback position, to former All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, who, like Watson, became known for his ability to wreak havoc on opposing defenses, both on the ground and through the air.
What should be the defining factor in Watson’s draft stock is the telltale body of work that he produced at Clemson, which is virtually spotless, as well as the major hand that he had in solidifying the Tigers as one of the nation’s best and brightest superpowers. Watson has the mental makeup of a franchise quarterback. Selfless, intelligent, athletic and renowned throughout the entirety of his high school and college careers, he has excelled in all facets of the position and, coming off of a national championship-winning performance for the ages, is in perfect position to excel on the biggest and brightest of stages in the National Football League.