While it was already widely reported and expected to be the case, Clemson’s junior quarterback Deshaun Watson confirmed that he would indeed be entering the 2017 draft. He does so with his own personal stock at its highest point, having again proved his outstanding ability to step up on the biggest stage in the biggest games. Watson’s final game for the Tigers saw him help guide the team to a 35-31 victory over favorites the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night in an all-time classic contest in the re-match from last year between the two.
Watson put up a massive statistical performance in the National Title decider, throwing for 420 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and zero picks, while adding a further 43 yards on the ground with a rushing TD, all against this hugely talented Tide defense. The zero interceptions stand out as much as anything, as that has been one of Watson’s biggest issues this season, and Alabama have been one of the most punishing in the country at pouncing on mistakes and poor reads.
Overall, Watson finished his final college season completing 67.0% of his passes for 4,593 yards, 41 TDs and 17 INTs. He added 629 rush yards (down on his 1,105 mark a year ago) and a further 9 rushing scores. And for completeness sake, he added a rather impressively executed 38-yard punt in Monday’s game, his one and only of the season!
“It’s my time to go” said Watson after his MVP performance. “Whoever picks me up is gonna get a champion, not just on the field, but off the field, and just a champion at heart who'll make people around him better," via ESPN's Scott Van Pelt. "I'm just gonna go to work, and regardless of my situation or where I go, I'm gonna play my role and do the best I can do."
Entering the season widely regarded by many as the top draft-eligible quarterback for the 2017 class and a sure-fire first round pick, he’s seen those opinions diminish a little bit for a lot of people. It’s still fairly likely that he is indeed a first round pick for someone, but for us and many others, he currently holds a high second round grade. There are certainly some flaws in his game that raise questions for the NFL level, despite how exceptional he has been in college.
Watson has trouble reading defenses and in particular with recognizing coverages and assignments, contributing in some cases to the high interception numbers. Progression work has still not developed as hoped and taking off early once the first read isn’t open is still a fairly common occurrence, as is staring down his receivers that tells better defensive backs where he’s going to get a jump on the play. While it has been a solid part of his game in the past, his intermediate to deep ball accuracy has declined this year, with too many over- and under-throws a feature of most game films.
There’s no doubt though, that Watson has outstanding intangibles. He handles pressure, raises his game on the big stage, and is a true leader both on and off the field. There might be a certain amount of tailoring a game plan toward his strengths in the NFL, but his dynamic, playmaking style should mostly translate. He’s absolutely a pocket passing quarterback first, but his ability on the move to create when the play breaks down is always going to be a dangerous weapon to be utilized. On top of the athleticism, his arm is impressive, throwing lasers routinely with a clean, natural motion.
Watson joins a growing number of underclassmen quarterbacks to boost the numbers of this 2017 class, and as is the case with most of them, there’s a lot of uncertainties (even more so than other years – there never are any guarantees!). Plenty are going to fall in love with his determination, leadership and personality along with the upside he brings. It would be a surprise if he wasn’t in the first round mix by the time draft weekend arrives.
Thought on Watson’s decision? Discus in the comments below!