Deshaun Watson has arguably been the most prolific player in college football over the last two seasons. The junior out of Clemson has finished in the top three of Heisman voting twice, been to two national championships, and thrown for 76 touchdowns. He was also the first player to repeat as the Davey O’Brien award winner – given to the nations most outstanding quarterback – since Jason White in 2003. Oh, and his win-loss record over the last two years? A cool 28 and 2.
Watson has simply been electric during his time at Clemson and entered the 2017 NFL draft season as one of if not the top quarterback prospect. He has remained intact with the top tier of draft eligible quarterbacks but the consensus number one spot in this class is still up for grabs. The emergence of North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky coupled with the high potential of both Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes has created a four horse race to be the first quarterback drafted in a top-heavy class. Regardless, Watson is nearly a lock to go in the first round along with those other three quarterbacks and will presumably be drafted by a team in search of a QB for the immediate future. He currently possesses the highest rookie ADP for a quarterback, at 29th overall, and may rise into the mid to late second round of rookie drafts depending on where he lands.
However, from my point of view, as this draft process has gone along, Watson has become a more and more polarizing prospect. Some see him as nothing more as a college starlet that relied on single reads and a simple offense to propel him to greatness while others see a franchise level NFL quarterback that tore apart the best team in college football history en route to winning a national title. I dove into the metrics and the film to find out just what Deshaun Watson is as a player.
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Statistics from sports-reference.com.
Watson’s stellar play over the last two and a half seasons jumps off the page when you look at his college statistics. He carried an NFL caliber workload as evidenced by his number of pass attempts, but still managed to be one of the most efficient passers in the country at a 67.4 career completion percentage. Furthermore his 41 passing touchdowns were good for third in the nation in 2016 and represent his ability to carry a heavy offensive load throughout an entire season. While he does have an unsettling amount of interceptions, a relatively high amount of them were not his fault and the others were usually a mistake he made reading the defense. These mistakes are worrisome but he is only going to continue to mature as a quarterback and this will hopefully lead to a better grasp of the game and his reads as a whole.
Another dimension with Watson is his legs. He embodies the modern day dual threat quarterback: one that is perfectly content to stay in the pocket and sling it but can also escape, improvise, and explode in the running game. The Clemson offense was also full of QB draws, designated RPO’s (run-pass options), and the read option first made famous by Cam Newton. Watson rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2015, averaging a stout 5.3 YPC and finding the end zone twelve times on his feet. While not as effective in 2016 (3.8 YPC on 165 attempts), he still showed defenders that he is a threat when he has to run, and it will likely be a wrinkle added in by whatever team he lands with.
Watson’s statistics are a testament to his ability and show the one thing he possesses over every other quarterback in this class – he has maintained the highest level of play for the longest amount of time. He isn’t coming out after just one year starting, he hasn’t had a mediocre year followed by a slightly better one or vice versa, no, Watson has sustained consistently great play for two full seasons and that is something that can go a long way in determining the NFL future of a quarterback.
The first thing that jumped off the screen to me when watching Watson was the consistency in his mechanics and footwork and his incredible poise. Every dropback looked incredibly similar and his ability to clone every pre-pass movement speaks volumes on who he is as a player. A player that, despite all the turmoil and bedlam that goes on throughout a football game, never seems rattled. No matter the score or the situation, Watson seemed calm, cool and collected, mirroring every dropback and going through his pre and post snap reads every time. The culmination of this poise, his slaying of the giant that is Alabama in the national championship, showed everything you want in a franchise quarterback.
Despite the fast paced and spread nature of Clemson’s offense, he still displayed a high football IQ and the idea that he is a “one read quarterback who can’t run an offense” is extremely overblown. Beyond all the read options and one read passes were plays that relied on Watson reading the defense in a matter of seconds, making the correct decision, and making a good throw. And time and time again he did just that, often versus defenses filled with NFL prospects.
The biggest question mark with Watson is his deep ball accuracy. He rarely connected on a pass farther than twenty yards and was often throwing it past his receiver. Yet, the part that gives me some confidence that this issue can be fixed is that, unlike say Alex Smith, Watson never shied away from throwing the deep ball. He clearly has the arm strength to do it and with that in place, accuracy is something that can be fixed.
In all, Watson showcased poise, consistency, and accuracy in his film. He also had some crazy plays with his legs and was just overall a really good player game after game. His highlight tape below shows a little bit of all of this and the pass to Hunter Renfrow to win the national championship will be one that forever lives in college football lore. Watson has been brought down by many throughout this draft process but when you remove all the bias’s and opinions and just watch the tape, the player that he is just shines through and it gives me confidence for his future as an NFL quarterback.
While QB agility scores aren’t always the most important, Watson had a impressive combine and showcased the athleticism that jumped off the screen on his film. His 4.66 forty was in the 86th percentile and both his burst and agility scores were above the 70th percentile, courtesy of Player Profiler.
Looking more into his on-the field metrics found by Player Profiler, Watson’s college QBR of 85.8 and young breakout age of 20, help illustrate how dominate he was in college from the start of his career until the end. The metrics clearly back up what the film shows, even the low throwing velocity and mediocre YPA, which can be explained by Watsons lack of deep ball accuracy and tendency to throw shorter passes. Despite this, Watson checks all the boxes of a franchise level NFL quarterback and his metrics don’t do anything to dissuade me from this conclusion.
His Mock Draftable web again illustrates his above average athleticism at the QB position, something he does not rely upon but that can be used when needed.
His speed and agility is certainly a nice tool to have in the bag and will force defense’s to play him honestly as a running threat, opening up the field even more for his offense. While agility scores are only a small piece of the puzzle for scouting and projecting QB’s, Watson certainly passes any benchmarks for metrics and his numbers will only help his draft stock and NFL future.
We tend to overthink players during this time of the year, especially quarterbacks, and this certainly seems to be happening with Watson. He certainly has some issues that need to be worked out but, when you look at the fellow QB’s in this class coupled with his own positive attributes (of which there are many), his case to be the best quarterback in this draft is very strong. His record, career stats, and film speak for themselves and strong agility testing along with a young breakout age add to the dearth of boxes he is checking as a strong and low variance prospect. Watson’s constant poise and impressive series of wins over the last two years also adds confidence to the fact he can succeed in the NFL. The simplicity of his offense is concerning, yes, but if he can graduate college in three years one could think he can learn an NFL offense. Not to mention the fact he showed the ability to go through multiple reads when needed, he just didn’t need to most of the time.
Don’t overthink Watson as a prospect. Trust the historic success of what he has done in college coupled with his strong tape, NFL traits, and intangibles that are off the chart.
- Rookie Profile: Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson - April 23, 2017
- 20/20: Leonard Fournette - February 28, 2017
- Dynasty Debate: D’Onta Foreman vs Christian McCaffrey - February 5, 2017