Watson made five starts as a freshman, throwing for 435 yards and
a school-record six touchdowns in his first collegiate start against
North Carolina. He broke his hand three weeks later before suffering
what was diagnosed as a LCL strain early in his first game back.
He missed the following game before returning for the regular-season
finale and accounting for four touchdowns against South Carolina.
It was later revealed he had played that game with a torn ACL, which
caused him to miss the team's bowl game a month later. As a sophomore,
the 2013 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year finished third in the
Heisman Trophy voting after becoming the first player in FBS history
with at least 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
Watson saved his best for last after leading Clemson to an undefeated
regular season and College Football Playoff semifinal win over Oklahoma,
setting a national championship game record with 478 yards of total
offense in a thrilling loss versus Alabama, including a passing
total of 405 yards. He was unable to top his gaudy 2015 totals in
his junior year but finished second in the Heisman voting in 2016.
While he was statistically worse in his final season, Watson starred
on the big stage yet again, totaling 463 total yards in a national
championship rematch against the Crimson Tide. This time, his standout
performance in the title game proved to be just enough, as his third
and final TD pass with one second left capped a brilliant comeback
and ended the Tigers' 35-year national championship drought.
High-end NFL Player Comp(s):
Donovan McNabb Low-end NFL Player Comp(s):Tyrod
Best Scheme Fit: An offense
willing to utilize his mobility, like the ones made famous by
Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak over the years. Note: All times listed in parentheses
in strengths/weaknesses section reflect the start time on video
- via Draft Breakdown - that displays that skill/trait.
Exudes the confidence borne out of 38 career games (35 starts),
always appears to remain on an even keel.
Sacked only 32 times over final two seasons (1,181 drop-backs).
Superb and elusive athlete who rushed for 1,934 yards and
26 touchdowns over the course of his three-year career; while
he may not boast game-breaking ability as a runner, he is certainly
more than capable of busting loose for a 20- or 30-yard gain.
Timing and anticipation passer who seems to have a particularly
good feel for corner, fade and most go routes. (3:10,
More than adequate arm strength; fits tight throws in between
corner/safety in Cover 2 (6:22,
and does some of his best work on seam throws. (0:41,
Capable thrower on the move (4:21,
appears more comfortable in this respect than he does as a pocket
quarterback at this stage of his career.
Consistently performed well against the highest level of competition
and is highly regarded for his toughness and leadership.
College offense limited and simplified his reads, did not
allow him to grow much as a passer; despite vast game experience,
he will need to time to learn to make full-field progressions
on a regular basis, improve under-center footwork and correct
other fundamental flaws.
Lacks ideal size, which figures to limit the number of designed
runs he will see at the next level and contributed somewhat
to a high number of batted/tipped balls. (In 2016, he had the
most passes batted at the line of scrimmage of all quarterbacks
invited to the combine).
While aggressiveness (the scheme as well as his own) was part
of the reason he threw so many interceptions in his last two
years (30), he does not always appear to see the field well
and has a tendency to predetermine his target (0:33,
overly reliant on pre-snap reads.
Pocket instincts have yet to fully develop in part due to
his impatience to let the play run its course; tends to "see
the rush" and looks for a running lane too quickly. (0:24,
More of a touch-and-pace thrower than a drive thrower, guides
a few too many of his passes, resulting in too many underthrows.
Inconsistent ball placement and isn't particularly good at
throwing receivers open; will inexplicably throw fades inside
instead of outside (10:39)
or misfire on in-breaking routes. (0:26,
While there are plenty of complexities when it comes to scouting
and evaluating quarterback talent, there is sometimes an assumption
along the lines of "once a spread quarterback, always a spread
quarterback". It's not specifically the spread offense that
causes college quarterbacks to enter the NFL unprepared to play
at the pro level, but rather the emphasis on simplified reads
(such as cutting the field in half) and "check-with-mes"
that stunt their growth. In short, it's hard for quarterbacks
to prove they are pro-ready when their college coaches don't trust
them enough to decipher defenses at that level. The point to be
made here is because quarterback is such an intangible-based position,
it sometimes helps to evaluate them as a manager first (intelligence,
leadership, toughness, etc.) before making a decision on their
ability to play the position athletically at the next level. Once
upon a time, LaVell Edwards' aerial attack at BYU was thought
to be a poor breeding ground for aspiring NFL signal-callers,
yet it helped spawn long pro careers from players such as Steve
Young, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer and Marc Wilson. McNabb was an option
quarterback at Syracuse. The point: a talented player can generally
learn how to be an NFL quarterback if they land on a team with
coaches who are good teachers, are given the time to hone their
craft and intelligent enough to absorb and retain that information.
While Watson has no control over the first two, there's plenty
of evidence he's got the third one covered.
Alabama HC Nick Saban called Watson "the best player in college
football since Cam Newton," last summer and Watson was easily
up to the challenge the two times he faced the Crimson Tide, who
usually boast the most NFL-like defense any college quarterback
will ever face. Still, like North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky,
Watson would be well-served to go to a team with a "quarterback
whisperer" who has enough job security to give his new pupil
the time he needs to learn the nuances of becoming a pro quarterback.
Also like Trubisky, it's not hard to see the talent or why both
are considered fringe first-rounders, although I don't think either
player belongs in the top 32 based on their tape. The major difference
is that despite Watson's obvious edge in experience (35 starts
to Trubisky's 13), Trubisky is further along as a passer.
As noted above, it's as important to bet on the person when drafting
a quarterback as it is to bet on the player. Watson will likely
succeed in the NFL because he wants it bad enough, but sustained
excellence for a quarterback at the pro level almost always comes
back to his ability to dictate terms from the pocket. At least
in his early years, Watson will probably need a strong running
game and a play-caller able to get him out of the pocket consistently.
Landing in a place like Buffalo (OC Rick Dennison is from the
Shanahan/Kubiak coaching tree), Seattle (OC Darrell Bevell does
similar things for Russell Wilson) or San Francisco (new HC Kyle
Shanahan obviously learned a thing or two from his dad) might
do the trick. Watson is going to need to find the right fit just
to be an average NFL quarterback, but there within lies the rub:
he's not a good fit for more than a handful of teams at the moment.
He will either be a star in the league if he can find a scheme
that caters to his skills (and can coach him up) or settle in
as a long-term backup if he doesn't.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.