As the pre-draft process begins to shift into high gear, I am stunned with the degree of doubt surrounding Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. But then again, I have never truly understood how or why some collegiate players are ranked where they are by draft evaluators or NFL teams.
A few months after Watson dismantled Alabama’s top-ranked defense to the tune of 405 yards passing and four touchdowns, not to mention 73 yards rushing, which led the team, in the Crimson Tide’s 45-40 comeback win over the Tigers in the 2015 College Football Playoff championship, which earned Nick Saban’s program a fourth national title in seven seasons, the Bama head coach told ESPN that Watson was “the most significantly dominating player we played since Cam Newton in 2010.”
Saban also added: “I think he’s a fantastic competitor and a great player and he played a fantastic game against us.”
Look, no offense to North Carolina’s Mitch Tribusky or Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, who some evaluators rank ahead of the former Tigers’ QB, but Watson is the best signal-caller available in the 2017 draft.
Yeah, he may have played in a “quarterback-friendly” offense. And yeah, he had some serious talent surrounding him, especially at the skill positions, but offenses are supposed to be QB-friendly. And Watson proved time and time again that he could not only perform in the biggest games, but he could also win the biggest games. And winning is what Watson did best as evidenced by his 32-3 career record as Clemson’s starter behind center.
After his freshman season was cut short by a knee injury, Watson, a former three-time Georgia High School Player of the Year, which is unheard of by the way, became the first player in FBS player in history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for a 1,000 in leading the Tigers to an ACC title and the school’s first-ever berth in the College Football Playoff as a sophomore.
He followed that up with another 4,000-yard passing season — 4,593 to be exact — and 41 touchdowns as junior. And despite throwing 17 interceptions in 579 passing attempts (which INTs happen when a team passes as much as Clemson did), Watson completed 67 percent of his passes.
In the thrilling 2016 College Football Playoff championship game win over Alabama, Watson was the best player on the field for a second consecutive season. He passed for 420 yards and three touchdowns and led the game-winning scoring drive after Alabama had taken a 31-28 lead with 2:01 left in regulation, hitting slot receiver Hunter Renfrow from 2-yards out for the winning points with a second left on the clock.
“We work on [the] two-minute drill pretty much almost every day in practice whenever we have time,” Watson said about the game-winning score. “I just flashed back from last year when they scored, and when we scored, and we were down five but we ran out of time.
“I just smiled right when they scored. I saw the two minutes and one second on the clock, and I just smiled and I just knew, I just told my guys, ‘Hey, let’s be legendary; let’s go be great.’ I told myself, ‘They left too much time on the clock.’ Last year they ran out the time, but this time they left us a little bit too much.”
“Maybe everyone will understand when I say Deshaun Watson is the best player in the country,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said afterwards.
Watson is a stud. Period. And the fact that he completed 66 of 103 passes for 825 yards and seven touchdowns in two — count ‘em two — games against an Alabama defense slap-full of future NFL stars is enough to convince me that Watson is the best quarterback available in this year’s draft.
Now will those stats, plus all the other accomplishments Watson has achieved, be enough to convince the Cleveland Browns brass that he should be taken with the No. 1 pick?
Only time will tell. But since 1999, the Browns have started 28 different quarterbacks… and none of those have turned into that franchise gun-slinger every organization seeks.
But Cleveland finally has a chance to land its QB savior by snatching up Watson with the first overall pick. And if head coach Hue Jackson, a known quarterback guru, has any doubts about arguably the greatest player in Clemson history, he may need to make calls to Swinney and Saban, who would likely tell him all he needs to know.