Regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in college football, Deshaun Watson has not lived up the high expectations set for him in 2016. After leading the Clemson Tigers to a 14-1 record and an appearance in the National Championship, many anticipated a high-powered encore for Watson in 2016. Watson’s fall from grace in the eyes of some draft enthusiasts doesn’t impact how NFL teams will view such a special talent at the quarterback position.
DOB: 09/14/1995 (21 years old on draft day)
Highly recruited out of Gainesville High School in Georgia, Watson was rated as the number one dual-threat quarterback by ESPN, rivals.com, and 247sports.com. He set the state career records for total offensive yards with 17,134 and total touchdowns with 218. Watson’s athleticism is evident as he played basketball his junior year of high school as well.
Watson committed to the University of Clemson in February of 2012. According to an article by Pete Thamel of Campus Rush, Watson jotted down four goals on a piece of notebook paper. Those goals included: Win the ACC championship, win the National Championship, win the Heisman Trophy and graduate from Clemson with a chance to play in the NFL.
Well, so far, Watson has put himself in the best position to reach these goals.
Clemson identified how special of a player Watson was very early in his career. Even Steve Fuller allowed his retired jersey, #4, to come out of retirement so Watson could wear it because Watson wore the same jersey number throughout his high school career.
The 2015 season put Watson on the map as he led the Clemson football team to an undefeated 12-0 regular-season record. That season he threw for 4,109 yards and 35 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He also ran for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Losing the 2015 National Championship to Alabama, Watson failed in his initial attempt at one of his main goals. This would not stop him, the very next year as he shows excellent tenacity and the ability to overcome adversity.
Extend the Play: Watson has an outstanding ability to extend the play with his legs using very good pocket awareness. He has ideal mobility and agility to escape the pocket. He is an athletic, pass-first quarterback, but uses his legs strategically to develop the play.
In this clip, you can see Watson using an outstanding one cut move to juke the defender in order to find the open receiver to make the play. He continues to keep his head up and eyes downfield, watching the receiver’s route evolve in order to execute the completion. He also uses great awareness to identify the angle of the block created in order for him to have an open lane.
Here you see Watson’s running ability as he is able to shake off a defender, reestablish himself and find an open lane to gain extra yards. His quick decision making allows for him to identify the second defender and allow his offensive lineman to set up the block.
Where Watson fails is avoiding contact at the end of a play. Basically running right into the defender, allowing his body to take the impact. This is something he will need to improve on at the next level.
Velocity/Touch: One of the things that Watson was knocked for coming out of high school was his arm strength. After watching multiple games, I am more impressed that I am concerned. Not only does Watson showcase the ability to throw the ball downfield, but he also is able to thread passes between traffic and fit the ball into tight windows over the middle.
You can see Watson stands firm in the pocket with a good base. He has above-average arm strength and good throwing mechanics. Here it seems as though he literally flicks his wrist to drive the ball to the back corner pylon. In fact, Watson uses very good throwing mechanics.
Watch as he stepped through his throw, using his front leg as a foundation. Notice how his toe is pointed toward his target. The use of his solid throwing mechanics allowed for him to put the ball where only his receiver can get it.
This clip allows us to witness Watson’s outstanding touch he places on the ball. He uses an over-the-top motion with great follow through, allowing the ball to drop right in the bucket. Again, he places the ball where only his receiver can get it.
Here you see Watson with a quick release down the middle of the field, showcasing his arm strength. He steps into the throw and uses very good anticipation to hit Mike Williams right in the numbers. It is important to note that this throw would have facilitated YAC if Williams was able to break the tackle.
Footwork: One of the bigger concerns I have is Watson’s footwork. Rarely did I see him have light, quick feet, stepping up into the pocket. His initial instinct is to run backward or roll to the right. This is to be expected from the read-option system.
The issue I have is the combination of his footwork, staring down receivers, not going through his progressions, and being deceived by defenses leading to interceptions and poor throws.
Here Watson never gets his feet set and stares down the receiver, allowing the corner to win the inside. You can see the defender reading the eyes of Watson the whole time. Watson throws off balance, never setting his feet below his hips. The trajectory of the ball did not allow his receiver to position himself away from the defender. Instead, his receiver had to stop and reach back for the ball.
Reading Defenses: For some reason, Watson did not see the corner sitting there, baiting him to throw the ball. Even the safety was in position to blanket cover if needed. Watson expected the blitz, but stared down his receiver the entire time, not recognizing the coverage. This is an example of how Watson’s inability to read defenses and make good decisions under pressure limit him as a pocket passer.
Inconsistent Accuracy: So many times I’ve seen Watson make some big time, NFL throws. He has proven he can throw into tight windows and drop the ball right in the receiver’s hands with excellent touch. He also has moments where his accuracy is erratic.
This clip shows a routine throw from Watson to his receiver, Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow runs a quick hitch route with no defender as an immediate threat, yet Watson throws it high. Even if Renfrow catches it, he is put in a position where he will get sandwiched tackled on his way down. Watson’s ball placement ruined any chance his receiver had to break quickly and gain yards.
Conclusion: Watson has showcased his ability to make impressive throws and extend plays with his athleticism. His leadership, work ethic, and high character will have NFL general managers intrigued. There’s no doubt that Watson is a talented quarterback with high upside at the NFL level.
He will need to add some more weight to his frame, become more consistent with his accuracy, learn to slide instead of taking big hits, and better understand defensive schemes. I have Watson as a mid-second round pick, but with so many quarterback-needy teams, I can picture him being a top five pick in 2017.