I’ve praised Deshaun Watson as the best quarterback in the 2017 class leading up to the draft. And, on one hand, I’m even more confident that he’ll become a successful pro quarterback after being selected by Houston. He’s got a head coach known for grooming quarterbacks in Bill O’Brien, a few dynamic playmakers to throw to in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller IV, and a great defense behind him. Seeing how the Texans won the AFC South with Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler as their starters each of the past two seasons, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the former Clemson star take Houston to even greater heights in his rookie year.
Ironically, there’s actually one thing that now concerns me about Watson’s NFL prospects: His success in college. This thought initially occurred to me while watching Stephen A. Smith and Donovan McNabb gang up on some guy wearing a Cowboys jersey on First Take the other day. Stephen A. and McNabb ranted about how the Bears were stupid for trading up to get Trubisky (but were they?), while the guy in the Cowboys jersey, Will Cain, took the opposite stance. In knocking the Bears’ decision to draft Trubisky, Stephen A. kept bringing up how Watson was clearly the better option, mainly because he was 32-3 as a starter for Clemson. I made essentially the same argument in my Watson article (linked above). How can you take Trubisky, who only started one year at UNC and went 8-5, over Watson, who led his team to two national title appearances?
After Cain brought up Vince Young, however, I’ve begun to question my original opinion:
“You don’t draft the guy with the best college football record. I knew Vince Young wasn’t an NFL superstar even though he won a national championship…I loved me some Vince Young, but what I’m showing is the ridiculousness of your argument that you take the national championship quarterback and the highest winning quarterback in college football…that’s not how it works.”
- Kellen Moore, Boise State: 50 wins
- Colt McCoy, Texas: 45 wins
- Andy Dalton, TCU: 42 wins
- David Greene, Georgia: 42 wins
- Peyton Manning, Tennessee: 39 wins
Obviously Manning turned out OK. But the other guys? Sure, Dalton is pretty good. But McCoy’s impact in the NFL has been negligible. Moore was a disaster for Dallas two years ago. And Greene never even appeared in a regular season game.
Now let’s look at some of the most successful college quarterbacks over the past two decades. In no particular order:
- Vince Young, Texas: Won 30 games for Texas and capped off his career with a national championship. He was out of the NFL within five years.
- Tim Tebow, Florida: Part of two national title teams and went 35-6 in his three years as a starter. Flirted with success as a starter briefly in 2011 before turning to baseball.
- Matt Lineart, USC: Quarterback of one of the more dominant college football teams in recent memory and will soon be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. But he started only 18 games in the NFL (7-11 record) after winning 37 at USC.
- A.J. McCarron, Alabama: I guess the jury is still out on the two-time national champion who went 36-4 as a starter for Alabama. But since he hasn’t done much in his first three years in the NFL, the former fifth-round pick can’t be that good.
- Greg McElroy, Alabama: Led the Crimson Tide to their first title under Nick Saban and went 24-3 in his two years as a starter. Only managed to make one start for the Jets back in 2012.
- Chris Leak, Florida: He was that guy who quarterbacked the Gators before Tebow, remember? Yet despite winning 37 games in college, he went undrafted and was cut after one training camp.
- Chad Henne, Michigan: Had a very solid career for the Wolverines (32 wins). He’s been little more than a good backup in the pros.
- Ken Dorsey, Miami: Ranks sixth all-time in collegiate wins with 38. But that didn’t lead to any sort of NFL success for the eventual seventh-round pick.
- Chris Weinke, Florida State: Captured a Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a national title in his four years at Florida State. Went 2-18 as a starter in the NFL.
This discussion can even be extended to include some of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks of all-time who were not very successful in college. John Elway won only 15 games in his four years at Stanford; Roger Staubach just 14. Joe Montana left Notre Dame with a rather unremarkable 18 wins and as many interceptions (25) as touchdowns (25). Tom Brady didn’t start full-time for Michigan until his senior season.
Of course, plenty of the most successful quarterbacks in the NFL today won many games in college. But, at the very least, it’s clear that those who win the most games in college oftentimes don’t become successful in the NFL. How to explain this? My theory is that most of these quarterbacks play on teams chalk-full of 5-star talent. Look at Alabama. Were Jacob Coker, A.J. McCarron, and Greg McElroy the ones most responsible for leading the Crimson Tide to national titles? No. It was all thanks to those guys you see playing on Sundays now (e.g. Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Eddie Lacy, Marcell Dareus, Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosely, etc, etc).
So does this spell trouble for Watson? Not necessarily. He did play on extremely talented Clemson teams (22 Tigers have been drafted over the past three years), but Watson was arguably their most vital piece. Nonetheless, the assumption that a quarterback like Watson will naturally become successful in the NFL is unequivocally wrong. Stephen A. and others who have recently defended the former Clemson standout, including myself, should rethink their positions.