Deshaun Watson is undoubtedly the best quarterback in the 2017 draft class. I’m not sure why there is much of a debate. And to help explain why, I’ll refer back to Bill Parcells’ rules for drafting successful quarterbacks outlined in my Mitch Trubisky profile.
First, Watson is a winner. He was 32-3 as Clemson’s starter and, of course, has a national championship (and another title game appearance) to his credit. Check out his numbers against Alabama in those games: 64% completion percentage, 825 passing yards, eight touchdowns (one rushing), and only one interception. The Crimson Tide, for the record, had far and way the nation’s best defense each of the past two years.
Extend Waton’s big-game sample size to his two other ACC championship appearances and College Football Playoff semifinal starts; his numbers look just as good: He compiled an average of 308 passing yards, a total of fifteen passing touchdowns with eight interceptions, and posted a 63% completion rate. Oh, and he also added eight rushing touchdowns on the ground on a roughly 4.5 yard per carry average. So his performances against ‘Bama weren’t a fluke. Watson consistently came up huge for the Tigers.
So the real key as it relates to Parcells’ maxims (which, for reference, were outlined in detail in the Trubisky article linked above) is that Watson’s big numbers led to big victories. Parcells always looked for quarterbacks who won at least 23 games in college because, as he states, “passing numbers must come in the context of winning games.” To prove his case, just look at how many successful starting quarterbacks today surpassed this threshold. In random order: Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan. Watson, ironically, won more games than all of those guys with the exception of Rivers. Yet while Rivers had four years to win 33 games, Watson only need three to win 32.
Another thing to like about Watson is that his game is suited to current NFL trends. Successful quarterbacks these days are increasingly mobile. It goes beyond the obvious examples like Wilson, Prescott, and Rodgers. Even noted pocket passers like Tom Brady have shown an ability to extend plays with their legs. Watson clearly has the athleticism to make similar things happen, as evidenced by many of his highlights from Clemson’s win over Florida State last season:
As you can see in that video, there is little doubt that Watson can make plays with his arm, too. In short, he clearly fits the mold of a Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott.
What’s really confusing about the drama surrounding where the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft will be selected is that they’re all flawed relative to Watson. Mitch Trubisky is inexperienced and he wasn’t good enough to start until his fourth year at North Carolina (he was redshirted as a freshman). Plus, he only won eight games in his lone season as a starter. DeShone Kizer, meanwhile, was even more underwhelming in college. And as for former Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahones, his numbers in college look terrific (recall that he set a record for passing yards with 734 against Oklahoma last year), but he was only 13-16 as a starter and will face major questions as to his ability to transition to a pro-system. It doesn’t help his case that past Texas Tech quarterbacks have failed to adjust to the NFL, either.
Watson may not necessarily evolve into a superstar. He had troubles protecting the football in college, throwing 30 interceptions over his last 30 games (his interception totals, however, were roughly the same as Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan’s INT rates in college). His footwork and mechanics have been questioned by scouts as well. Even so, he is still the surest bet among this year’s quarterbacks to at least be a competent starting quarterback. For those who focus primarily on “upside,” pay more attention to the other end of that spectrum when it comes to Watson. Teams like the Jaguars and Browns, who have consistently failed to draft solid quarterbacks, should be thrilled to have the services of someone like Watson who succeeded enormously in college, particularly when it mattered most, and whose game is tailored to today’s NFL.
Yet above all else, there’s Waton’s leadership. Despite the fact that he posted one of the highest winning percentages in college football history, led his team to two national title appearances, and finished in the top three in the Heisman voting twice, it’s Watson’s leadership that stands out to scouts the most. He has me sold. The dysfunctional Browns front office should spend less time thinking about drafting Trubisky number one overall and more time figuring out how to trade up from the twelve slot to draft Watson after selecting defensive standout Myles Garrett.