In preparation for the 2017 football season, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top NFL draft-eligible prospects with a different player profile each day. The series will culminate with the preseason top-20 prospects in August.
|Class: Junior||Height: 6-2||Weight: 210||40-yard dash: 4.64||High School: Gainesville, Ga. (Gainesville HS)|
It wasn’t too long ago that the NFL looked at dual-threat quarterbacks with a great deal of skepticism. Now, with edge rushers becoming smaller and faster, quarterbacks who can extend the play with their feet are actually preferred by some coaches, though the ability to drop back, scan the field and deliver accurate passes remains most important.
This is precisely the dual-threat combination that will have scouts flocking to Clemson this fall to analyze Watson, who is considered by some to be the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft.
Watson is coming off an extraordinary sophomore season in which he guided the Tigers to a berth in the national title game and was the first Clemson player to ever be named a Heisman finalist. His emergence last year was all the more impressive given that he underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ACL in December the previous season — a flashy true freshman campaign in which he lived up to his billing as the top prep quarterback by completing 67.9% of his passes for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions while battling injuries.
If Watson’s freshman season piqued the interest of scouts, his remarkable sophomore season only tantalized them more, when, with all due respect to No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, Watson was the most dominant quarterback in college football.
The winner of the Davey O’Brien and Manning Awards as the nation’s top passer, Watson was the first player in FBS history to pass for over 4,000 yards and eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark in the same season. He completed 67.8% of his passes (for 4,104 yards) and threw for nearly three times as many touchdowns (35) as interceptions (13), while chipping in 1,105 rushing yards and 12 scores on the ground.
He torched the vaunted Alabama defense for 405 passing yards and four touchdowns (completing 30 of 47 attempts) and ran for another 73 yards in the national title game, nearly willing the Tigers to the upset. Watson – not Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry or Alabama tight end O.J. Howard (the game’s MVP) – was the most dynamic player in the national championship game.
Watson’s production over his 20 combined starts (6,875 all-purpose yards and 66 touchdowns) is undeniable. He is clearly a dominant player at the college level. But does that necessarily mean he is an elite NFL prospect?
The first thing that stands out about Watson is his remarkable athleticism. He is a fluid athlete with the vision, elusiveness and speed to make even well-coached defenses look silly. Even better, Watson looked no worse for the wear following the knee surgery, demonstrating the flexible joints and explosive acceleration that often takes a year (or more) to return.
Watson has been critical of those pegging him as strictly a runner and he’s right – he possesses many of the traits scouts are looking for in a pocket passer, as well. He is a composed field general with a quick delivery who can deliver strikes to all levels of the field, from the pocket or on the move.
Though Watson is aided by Clemson’s shotgun-heavy offense, he shows the quick mental processor scouts expect at the position. Watson can move defenders with his eyes, creating passing (or rushing) lanes to take advantage of over-aggressive defenders. He has a tight release and possesses at least adequate arm strength to deliver long sideline throws.
When he sets his feet properly and throws with balance, Watson can place the ball beautifully, fitting the ball through tight windows, including while on the move. He possesses excellent touch on bucket throws, laying the ball out in front of his receivers on deep passes down the seam and sideline. Watson is a clutch player. As noted in his official Clemson biography, he’s completed 71 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter over his career with seven touchdowns and no interceptions during that time.
For all of his strengths, Watson does come with some concerns.
The simplest is size. Watson is shorter than ideal and possesses a relatively slim frame with limited room for additional muscle mass. The same durability questions which dogged Goff (and Teddy Bridgewater a year earlier) will be an issue throughout the pre-draft process for Watson. Fortunately, Watson does show impressive spatial awareness, recognizing when defenders are near and either sliding or running out of bounds to keep himself from absorbing unnecessary hits.
Of even greater concern in the projection to the NFL is Watson’s upside as a passer. Clemson’s offense is a relatively simple one, frequently asking the quarterback to make simple underneath throws off of pre-determined reads. Often the ball is out of Watson’s hands so quickly on these throws that he fails to set his feet properly, tossing the ball flat-footed or while drifting back, negatively impacting his accuracy on these “simple” throws. Watson needs to improve his consistency in this area, as well as show greater willingness to move on from his initial pre-snap read.
As a Heisman frontrunner and national title contender, Watson might be the most heavily scrutinized prospect in the country this fall. Given his talent and potential fit in today’s up-tempo NFL, expect scouts to be among those watching the closest.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Top NFL Draft Prospects: Will Deshaun Watson translate to the NFL?