When you really think about the things that make quarterbacks great, you end up pinpointing traits Clemson’s DeShaun Watson has already displayed.
Being great in college doesn’t mean a player will be great in the NFL, but it’s the closest league we have to an apples-to-apples comparison and Watson was the single best player in that league last year.
Alabama was supposed to have one of the greatest defenses in the history of college football each of the last two years. They couldn’t stop Watson. His performance in the National Championship Game two years ago was impressive. And it pissed Alabama off. With one of the greatest defensive minds in the sport designing their game plan and a roster full of future NFL stars, Alabama was determined to stop Watson last year.
It left the Alabama players breathless and impressed. When you hear them talk, including Nick Saban, it’s like 1990s NBA players talking about Jordan; as if he was so great, they couldn’t do anything about it. His coach Dabo Swinney echoed this by directly comparing Watson to Jordan this off-season.
Watson isn’t Tim Tebow or Vince Young. Watson can throw the ball. He threw for over 4,000 yards (and ran for over 600 more) each of the last two seasons. Tebow and Young never even came close to 3,500. As great as Cam Newton was at Auburn, he was a running quarterback too. Watson is a passer who can run, there’s a big difference.
Watson has a couple significant flaws. He threw too many interceptions and he doesn’t have a canon. The turnovers were more a matter of breaking down mechanically than bad decisions. He also had a handful that were flat out dropped by his receivers. Even with that, he was intercepted on a fewer percentage of his passes than DeShone Kizer and a similar rate to Nathan Peterman — who people insist is an intelligent player.
Nobody questioned Watson’s arm until the radar readings from the combine were made public. I don’t know what that number means, and neither does anybody else. I do know that Watson can make all the throws he needs to make. I also know his arm is stronger than the last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and more than half of the guys currently starting in the league.
Some have criticized his accuracy, but I think that’s mostly nitpicking. He missed on some deep passes last year, but was among the best on throws more than 20 yards down the field two years ago. Pro Football Focus has his adjusted completion percentage third overall last year and he was second on throws between 21 and 30 yards.
My comp for Watson is Russell Wilson. His passes might not always be the prettiest, but they usually get where they need to and he makes a ton of plays with his feet.
Where Watson separates himself is all the intangibles you hear so much about. By all accounts, teammates love him and he gets the most out of them. At the biggest moments of the biggest games, Watson makes plays. There are so few guys who do that.
Will he be able to do it in the NFL? Hell, that’s anyone’s guess. Just like it is with any player at any position. The draft is a crap shoot at every position, especially quarterback. The next person to master it will be the first. But if I’m betting my job on somebody, I’m going to bet it on somebody who has already shown everything a quarterback needs to succeed in the NFL.