Ryan Pace had no interest in drafting Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who played in two National Championship games, leading Clemson to the title in 2016. The quarterback who chucked 90 touchdowns to 32 interceptions in collage and ran for another 26 more touchdowns. No interest. This wasn’t the case of Patrick Mahomes, who tore up horrendous defenses playing for a bad team. This was a guy at the next-highest level dominating great defenses.
Watson was a stud, but Pace had no interest. He’ll surely never tell us why.
It’s not fair or accurate to say Pace didn’t scout Watson. The two actually met and spoke at the Combine. The scouting is what led him to conclude he didn’t want to draft the most prolific QB in college football. It was either something medical or a flaw Pace saw on tape. The medical questions were legitimate. Watson suffered a knee injury at Clemson and another as a rookie with Houston. He has a slender frame and tends to take a lot of hits as he plays off schedule. He has been banged up quite a bit in his NFL career. But, if it were injury-related, Pace or someone within the Bears medical staff almost certainly would’ve made that known by now.
The other reason is physical.
Watson is certainly big enough and fast enough, but there were concerns coming out about whether or not he had enough of an arm. The only modern quarterback who has had any somewhat consistent success in Chicago had a cannon. Green Bay’s nearly 30-year run of success at the position has come with guys with huge arms, and they spent a first round pick on another who qualifies.
It isn’t that Watson has a weak arm, but whether it can cut through the Chicago wind in January is another story.
The truth is, we still don’t know.
Watson can make all the throws he needs to make indoors, but his numbers drop drastically when he hits the fresh air. Last season, he had a passer rating of 91.7 with 6 of his 12 interceptions coming outdoors. For his career, he has thrown 15 of his 29 interceptions outdoors and has an average passer rating of 95.5, well below his career rating of 101.
The kicker is that he hasn’t really played in harsh conditions either. He has never played in a game that was below 25 degrees at kickoff and only one that was below 32. That one came in the playoffs last year as he threw two touchdowns in the first quarter then faded in a 51-31 loss to Kansas City on a 29-degree day. That’s the only sub-40 degree game Watson has played in.
As Watson continues to stay healthy and tear the league up, questions about if he could handle the Chicago cold are all that’s left to defend Pace’s decision to pass on him. That excuse, however, could go up in smoke this December. Watson will leave the warmth of Houston and the NFC South to come to Chicago and play the Bears on Dec. 13. Like many December games in Chicago, there’s a good chance it will be cold and windy. If Watson struggles in the harsh Chicago conditions, Pace could use that to defend his decision to management. If Watson thrives, while the Bears still struggle at the position the blunt question will be asked: Why didn’t you even call him? And Pace won’t have an answer.
When a GM picks a bad player over a great player, he better have a good reason. If Watson shows he can thrive in the cold, Pace won’t be able to answer when the Bears brass asks why he should be allowed to pick the next quarterback.
Two Other big non-divisional games:
Week 4 vs. Indianapolis
It’s no secret that Colts’ GM Chris Ballard was the runner-up for the Bears job. So much so that there were rumors that he had it locked up until Pace surged in and stole the spot.
Did the Bears make a mistake? One game won’t tell us that, but Ballard has put together an impressive roster with the same big weakness at QB. We know the McCaskey Family prides itself on being fans and, with that, they just might react as a fan would seeing the guy they could’ve or should’ve hired beating the guy they gave the job to.
Week 7 @ LA Rams
The Rams aren’t a rival and don’t figure to be a great team in 2020, but this was a tough break in the schedule.
The Bears head to LA on a Monday night, a week after playing in Carolina, and then they come back home to host the Saints the following Sunday. That is a lot of travel in a three-week span and the Bears have to hope to win two of three against NFC foes.
The Rams game might be the most important because they figure to be battling for a wildcard spot. If the Bears can’t win the division, they have to keep an eye on the rest of the conference.