Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is a projected first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft The question for today is, “Should he be?”As per usual, Deshaun Watson shined when it mattered most on Sunday night.
Watson capped off a stellar college career with a late-game performance for the ages. While he missed a number of throws earlier in the game, Watson bounced back from his mistakes, taming one of the greatest defense’s of the twenty-first century in the process.
His showing against the top-ranked Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game sent the media into a frenzy over his draft stock. As was expected, he declared for the event immediately following his team’s stunning victory.
But what comes next is unclear. Watson carries enviable credentials and some extreme upside, but also some negatives that could potentially be exploited by NFL defenses.
Let’s check it out:
‘He’s a baller’
Former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis is credited for coining the term, ‘Just win, baby.’
The deceased executive understood that the single-most important thing in football — more important than individual accolades or high draft picks — is winning.
Watson understands that, too. He’s immensely clutch, turning in performances like that against ‘Bama at regularity. He’s also a proven winner, securing a pair of Conference titles and bringing the ultimate prize back to Memorial Stadium.
“Unfazed. The guy is remarkable, man,” Alabama defensive end Tim Williams said following the National Championship game.
‘He can move, man’
Watson makes a living with his feet, but this could go both ways. When someone, like Watson, has an asset like their legs, they’ve got to utilize it to escape pressure and make plays.
On the contrary, there are two reasons why this could be a bad thing: (a) it’s tough to outrun defenders in the NFL, and even if you do, “you’re going to wind up getting hurt,” said long-time coach Mike Shanahan. In addition, (b) many ‘dual-threat’ quarterbacks become too comfortable with their legs, which could limit them as passers (which we’ve seen with Robert Griffin III, who was unstoppable before injuries prevented him from using his legs to make plays).
That being said, it’s nice to see these tools in Watson’s arsenal. He’s athletic enough to get it done, and even has a little speed on the back-end. It should be noted that he doesn’t typically throw on the run. If he’s scrambling, he’s scrambling.
‘His mechanics are off-the-chains’
What’s striking about Watson is that even when he’s making bad throws, his mechanics are always superb. He keeps his feet moving, has a nice follow through, owns an impressive throwing motion and has good hips.
Scouts analyze a player’s ‘toolbox’: size, arm talent, mechanics and footwork. Watson certainly checks all four boxes. The question is if he can put it all together. As we’ll later see, there are doubts surrounding his other characteristics.
‘He mean mugs his receivers’
This is a term that I stole from YouTuber Voch Lombardi, who makes awesome videos about the draft. It basically means that Watson stares down his targets, allowing safeties and cornerbacks to ‘go get it’ without fear of the quarterback going anywhere else.
This is a problem that has plagued guys like the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles. As Mike Mayock constantly points out, a quarterback could have all the talent in the world, but that alone isn’t going to cut it against professional defenders.
This particular item is the subject of contentious debate in scouting circles. Here are the facts: Watson’s offensive coordinators only require him to read one side of the field, meaning that he only needs to know where the primary and secondary receivers are running. That being said, he does stare down receivers. Obviously, he’s following the instructions of his superiors, but he doesn’t have to mean mug his guys. He could look around a little bit to float off defenders.
Sure, this is fixable, and with more experience, he’ll inevitably learn how to improve his game in this area. But it’s not as fixable as one might think. There’s a reason why guys like Bortles and Kirk Cousins still do it — it’s tough to change.
‘He’s only had to read one side of the field’
It’s unfair to fault a quarterback for playing within a certain scheme. Occasionally, we’ll see scouts do it — they harped on Marcus Mariota, for example — and be proven wrong.
But most of the time, these doubters have a valid point. It’s tough to learn an entirely different system in a short period. That’s why many, like myself, believe that Watson would be best suited on a team that wouldn’t immediately warrant his services — the Giants, for example.
The big question for Watson to answer is how fast of a learner is he? Watson has been given predetermined routes and has only been forced to read one side of the field. Coordinators will cater to his abilities, sure, but I’ve never seen an offense that permits its quarterback to do what Watson has in college.
‘He’s wildly inconsistent’
This is where it gets tricky. Watson has the arm strength to put some zip into the ball and fit it into tight windows, but for some reason, he occasionally struggles with his accuracy on deep (20+ yards) and intermediate (10-20 yards) passes.
This is alarming, because this inconsistency results in a high number of turnover-worthy throws. It’s also alarming because it happens in chunks; when he’s off, he’s really, really off.
As we’ll see, he often forces his receivers to come back to the ball and readjust.
Scouts are really torn on Watson, and for good reason: there are a lot of positives, but also an alarming amount of negatives.
Even though Watson might object, it would be best for him and his team if he observed from the sidelines in his first season. He needs to work on some things — mean mugging receivers, reading the entire field, throwing the deep and intermediate ball, protecting himself from the league’s menacing players — before stepping foot on the field.
That being said, he has the full ‘toolbox’ and the ability to pick up chunks of yardage with his feet. He’s poised, well-built and especially clutch. If I could sum up Watson in one word, it would be ‘gamer.’ The guy comes to win, and is good at it.
It will be interesting to see where Watson lands in the draft. Many scouts that I’ve spoken to believe that he’ll fall out of the first round, but we’ve seen team’s reach on quarterbacks before. It’s entirely possible that he could be a top-5 pick, as he was projected to be before the season.
In my opinion, Watson is going to be a fine player. The million-dollar question is just how fine will he be? Only time can tell.