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Clemson's Deshaun Watson could be poised for Mariota-like rise

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  • By Bucky Brooks
  • NFL Media analyst

It's not whether you win or lose, but it's how you play the game.

 

Youth coaches frequently utter that phrase to young players around the country, and NFL scouts adhere to that philosophy when evaluating top prospects in big games.

 

With Deshaun Watson putting on a spectacular performance (478 total yards and four scores) in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the Clemson quarterback is squarely on the radar of evaluators searching for a franchise player to track at the college level.

 

Measuring 6-foot-2, 205 pounds with outstanding speed, quickness and agility, Watson is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback poised to set the college football scene on fire with his magical skills. He capably picks apart opponents with pinpoint passes from inside the pocket, but he's also a deadly playmaker capable of ripping off long runs on impromptu scrambles and designed QB keepers. Watson's unique combination of athleticism and arm talent should allow him to easily transition into a pro-style offense that features several movement-based concepts on the perimeter.

 

In addition, Watson displays the pocket poise, football IQ and pocket-passing skills to thrive in a system that's built on West Coast Offense principles. With Watson also capable of executing the zone-read and "RPO" (run-pass option) game from the backfield, he could be the ideal new-school quarterback to build around at the next level.

 

Against Alabama in the CFP National Championship Game, Watson showcased his diverse game on the biggest and brightest stage. He connected on 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. Watson picked apart the Crimson Tide with an assortment of quick-rhythm throws (slants, seams and sticks) from the pocket out of empty and trips (3x1) sets. While most spread quarterbacks shine on these concepts, Watson's anticipation, accuracy and ball placement was outstanding for a sophomore quarterback appearing in just his 23rd collegiate game.

 

From his footwork to his poise and judgment, Watson plays the game like a seasoned veteran from the pocket. The Tigers took advantage of his skills by featuring a ton of "catch-and-fire" throws that allow him to target a receiver on a quick pass or find an available running lane on a QB draw. This combination concept not only tested the discipline of the Crimson Tide's coverage, but the integrity of the pass rush at the line of scrimmage, as well.

 

On seam throws directed between the hashes, Watson shows exceptional touch and timing delivering the ball between multiple defenders. He repeatedly connected on in-breaking routes to Hunter Renfrow and Jordan Leggett with the ball released well before the receivers hit the top of their routes. With "middle-of-field" throws considered the toughest for young quarterbacks to master, Watson's pinpoint passing on these routes will pique the interests of scouts looking for a deadly playmaker from the pocket.

 

Watson was also impressive pushing the ball down the field on vertical throws on a variety of movement passes from the pocket. He repeatedly delivered "dimes" to his receivers running free along the boundary, including his 31-yard touchdown pass to Renfrow on a wheel route in the first quarter. Watson's ability to make accurate throws on the run, particularly to his right, prevented the Crimson Tide from sending heavy pressure due to the unpredictable launch points on the perimeter. With Watson also displaying dazzling skills as a "scramble-and-toss" artist on the move, the young passer has the potential to create chaos on the perimeter.

 

As a deep-ball thrower, Watson shows outstanding arm strength and range on vertical routes. He easily drops the ball "down the chute" on throws down the boundary, but also displays the zip and velocity to fire the ball between defenders on seam routes along the hashes. Although he misfired on a few deep balls early in the game, Watson's deep-ball anticipation and touch is something scouts will rave about when reviewing the tape in the coming weeks.

 

From a critical standpoint, Watson needs to continue to work on exhausting the pass progression before fleeing the pocket. He occasionally drops his eyes and looks to flee the pocket before he waits on his second and third read in the progression. Granted, Watson's athleticism and elusiveness make him a dangerous threat to score from anywhere on the field. However, the sophomore must show scouts he can deliver pinpoint passes with pass rushers in close proximity to cement his status as the top playmaker in the collegiate game.

 

Overall, Watson reminds me a lot of Marcus Mariota as a dual-threat quarterback. He possesses rare athleticism and movement skills, yet also has the potential to pick opponents apart from the pocket. With at least another year to refine his skills, Watson could join Mariota as a Heisman Trophy winner and top draft pick down the road.

 

Areas where Watson needs most improvement

 

Coverage recognition: To be an elite quarterback as a pro, Watson must be able to quickly diagnose coverage and target the vulnerable areas of the scheme. Although Watson shows outstanding awareness and intelligence in executing the Tigers' spread system, NFL scouts and coaches will assess whether he's capable of deciphering pre-snap disguises and post-snap movement to find open receivers.

 

Accuracy on the move: As an athletic playmaker, NFL coaches will want to craft schemes to maximize his talents as a run-pass threat, but Watson has to show evaluators that he can make pinpoint tosses while rolling to either direction. Watching Watson on tape and in the CFP National Championship Game, he's more accurate and precise when moving to his right. Although it's not uncommon for quarterbacks to thrive on rollouts or bootlegs to their strong side (throwing arm), Watson could become an unstoppable weapon as a run-pass threat from the pocket.

 

Size and strength: Given Watson's slender frame (6-2, 205) and injury history (torn ACL in 2014), NFL scouts will closely monitor his physical development. He must bulk up to withstand the physical pounding administered by pass rushers at the next level. Thus, Watson must commit to the offseason program to enhance his strength and physical stature. While he must retain his flexibility, agility and athleticism to terrorize opponents on the edges, Watson needs to hit the 215-pound mark to convince scouts that he can withstand the pounding at the next level.

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NFL comps for eight top Heisman Trophy contenders

Excerpt:

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

NFL comp: Tyrod Taylor

Watson is averaging more than 400 yards of offense in the past three weeks, leading the Tigers to big wins over North Carolina State, Florida State, and Syracuse. Watson's arm strength is very good -- he throws the deep ball with touch and accuracy -- and he's a great athlete in the open field. But like other quarterbacks with great athleticism (Robert Griffin III, Jake Locker, Mike Vick), Watson will have to prove he has the pocket presence -- and an ability to stay on the field after taking hits as a runner -- to succeed at the next level.

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Rotoworld:

Deshaun Watson - QB - Tigers

Clemson sophomore QB Deshaun Watson said, "We have a chance to be one of the best offenses ever in college football, so that's our motivation, to be the best ever."

We appreciate Watson's confidence, but whoa now. There's no denying that Clemson's offense should put up a boatload of points in 2016, but for reference's sake, they ranked 16th in the country in points scored during the 2015 campaign, averaging 38.47. That's a strong number, but almost 10 points fewer than Baylor averaged. And that's with Baylor suffering a slew of injuries near the end of the season. On the more positive side of Watson's hyperbole, lead wideout Mike Williams (neck) should be a contributor in 2016, while RB Wayne Gallman opted to return to the team rather than jump for the draft. And, of course, Watson should continue to progress as a quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound wizard went on to invoke math, noting that Clemson will "take it one day at a time and try to get 1 percent better each and every day, and if we do that, everyone's on the same page, the sky's the limit."

Source: ESPN.com

Jan 14 - 9:07 PM

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Deshaun Watson ready to "do it all over again and finish the deal"

Rotoworld:

Clemson sophomore QB Deshaun Watson told Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman that he's looking to improve on his "footwork, mechanics and reading defenses."

The Clemson prospect had a huge year for the Tigers, throwing for 4,104 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Watson set ACC records this season for total offense with 5,209 yards and total touchdowns with 47. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound should be another strong Heisman Trophy candidate again in 2016.

Source: Bruce Feldman on Twitter

Jan 14 - 3:45 PM

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Watson is not a great prospect...he might not even be a good prospect.

Would love to see your analysis here.

Small/skinny with injury issues, not a good enough arm talent to deserve the hype he's getting.

Since when is 6'2 205 small, while he has a skinny frame im not sure how that makes him a bad prospect, yes he has had injury issues but if he goes all next year without an injury then that was just his freshman season...I didnt watch a lot of clemson this year but when i did it seemed like he was throwing a lot of really good balls that were really accurate and placed right were it needed to be. Does he have the strongest arm or is he super accurate, no, but he is perfectly capable of making a lot of throws

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Watson is not a great prospect...he might not even be a good prospect.

Would love to see your analysis here.

Small/skinny with injury issues, not a good enough arm talent to deserve the hype he's getting.

Seems like a more athletic Teddy Bridgewater to me.

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His arm looked a little weak on some throws in that game. Otherwise the rest of his game looked really good to me. I've only really seen him in the championship game though.

He actually has a pretty strong arm. His problem tends to be more that he always tries to finesse the ball when gunning it would be more appropriate. He can make the throws, he just needs to learn more when to do it. Here's two examples of bigger armed throws I can pull out real quickly.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_WUYZlMa-Zg

Fast forward to 42 seconds - the stepped into it, but the ball travelled 60 yards in the air. Now on the next video, check the throw at 1:42. It was a huge 3rd down and he gunned it between defenders.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uRCmvzqBEY4

Edited by bigmarc27
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Watson is not a great prospect...he might not even be a good prospect.

Would love to see your analysis here.
Small/skinny with injury issues, not a good enough arm talent to deserve the hype he's getting.

Seems like a more athletic Teddy Bridgewater to me.

Except Bridgewater was a very cerebral prospect, he was advanced in the pocket in ways Watson isn't, yet. And even with that additional leg up Bridgewater still has struggled in the NFL.

As for the athleticism...If he doesn't have a good feel for the pocket, who cares? It's not like he'd survive at his size, with his build, running much in the NFL. He will thrive or fail depending on if he can apply that mobility in the pocket, and it's not really one of his strengths.

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Watson is not a great prospect...he might not even be a good prospect.

Would love to see your analysis here.
Small/skinny with injury issues, not a good enough arm talent to deserve the hype he's getting.

Seems like a more athletic Teddy Bridgewater to me.

Except Bridgewater was a very cerebral prospect, he was advanced in the pocket in ways Watson isn't, yet. And even with that additional leg up Bridgewater still has struggled in the NFL.

As for the athleticism...If he doesn't have a good feel for the pocket, who cares? It's not like he'd survive at his size, with his build, running much in the NFL. He will thrive or fail depending on if he can apply that mobility in the pocket, and it's not really one of his strengths.

Who's to say Watson isn't a cerebral prospect either? Clemson doesn't ask him to stand in the pocket and make multiple reads...they just don't run that kind of offense. I do think Watson will have to make some big adjustments once in the NFL but watching him play he seems to have the "it" factor that's hard to quantify. He seems like a natural leader as well.

I by no means am saying he's a can't miss sure fire stud but I do think you are seriously underselling him. I guess we'll find out.

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Rotoworld:

Clemson sophomore QB Deshaun Watson was the No. 2-graded QB versus Power-5 competition in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus' grades.

Included in that is the No. 1 QB grade as a runner. Watson threw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and ran for 1,105 yards and 12 scores in 2015. "Watson got better and better as the season wore on, and he nearly won the Tigers a national championship with his phenomenal performance against Alabama in the title-game loss," wrote Jeff Dooley. "He earned his third-highest game grade of the season versus the Crimson Tide, and for the season overall his numbers were excellent." The site says Watson is the fourth-best returning player in college football. That standing is heavily based on last season's advanced metrics. We'd say he's the best and most valuable returning player. An anonymous NFL quarterbacks coach has already said that Watson could be the 2017 draft's No. 1 overall pick and Watson himself says he's already considering early entry into that class.

Source: Pro Football Focus

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Had Clemson junior QB Deshaun Watson been eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper believes he would have "challenged Jared Goff to be the first quarterback taken."

 

Kiper ranked Watson No. 4 overall on his first 2017 Big Board. "Sure, he's a gifted mover (1,105 rushing yards in 2015), but Watson is a very good passer; he can drive it down the field and displays consistent accuracy and touch," he wrote. Rotoworld's Josh Norris slotted the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Watson No. 1 overall in his first 2017 mock draft exercise.
 
 
Source: ESPN.com 
May 11 - 5:01 PM

 

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Pro Football Focus ranks Clemson QB Deshaun Watson No. 3 on its preseason Heisman list.

 

PFF graded Watson as the best quarterback in the nation after Week 9 last year. "Watson is the early favorite to become the top pick in next year’s draft as he has the ability to make accurate downfield throws while bringing athleticism and power as a runner that Clemson often uses in the designed running game," wrote Steve Palazzolo. "The challenge for Watson’s campaign is the nature of the quarterback position that almost demands perfection in the eyes of the voters, so any slip up by Clemson along the way could hurt his chances." Las Vegas has the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder as the early favorite to win the hardware.
 
 
Jun 22 - 5:08 PM

 

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Clemson junior QB Deshaun Watson gained 16 pounds this offseason and now weighs 218 pounds.

 

Interestingly enough, NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah wrote a scouting report last month urging Watson to add bulk. Watson was a few steps ahead on that front. The Heisman frontrunner is also a contender to become the No. 1 overall pick in 2017.
 
 
Aug 2 - 5:54 PM

 

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ESPN's Todd McShay ranks Clemson junior QB Deshaun Watson No. 1 among quarterbacks in the 2017 draft.

 

"A dynamic playmaker, Watson has the ability to both throw from the pocket and extend plays with his mobility," McShay wrote. "Watson (6-foot-2, 210) lacks ideal size and will need to adjust to a pro-style system, but he has the tools to develop into a good starter in the NFL if developed and utilized properly." The analyst gave Watson an "88" scouting grade. Watson took out a $5 million injury insurance policy and is expected to opt into the draft after this season.
 
 
Source: ESPN.com 
Aug 22 - 6:40 PM

 

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A personnel executive told NFL.com that he's concerned by Clemson junior QB Deshaun Watson's struggles completing "easy throws."

 

"He's got tremendous ability but he just misses too many easy throws," he said. "He needs to improve his touch on fades and improve his ball placement on underneath throws. His lack of anticipation is a major concern. I think the hype might've gotten to him. More than anything else, he just needs to relax and let it rip." Watson and his Tigers host Louisville on Saturday night in one of the season's most anticipated matchups.
 
 
Source: NFL.com 
Sep 30 - 7:38 PM

 

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1 hour ago, CaptainJT said:

How much does he want to be a Cleveland Brown?   If I were him I would probably return for my senior year...

as much as I like Watson (a lot), he's far from a lock to be the top pick.  Top 3 sure.  If I'm him, I declare and let the browns know, privately, that I'm not interested in playing for them. 

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Clemson junior QB Deshaun Watson completed 23-of-36 passes for 259 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions while scoring two additional rushing touchdowns in Saturday's 31-0 win over Ohio State in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl.

 

Earlier on Saturday, Alabama secured a spot in the title game. The only question was whether we would all have the joy of seeing a rematch of last season's classic championship showdown. Indeed. Watson did throw two first-half interceptions, but neither proved damaging. His one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter came on a beautiful fake. He would proceed to hit C.J. Fuller from 30 yards out in the closing minutes of the first half to give Clemson a 17-0 advantage at the break. They didn't budge off of that in the second half. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Watson hasn't been perfect this season and his tendency for turnovers could cost him against a turnover-happy defense like Bama's, but he also proved last year that he does not flinch in the face of monsters. We can't wait for the rematch.
 
 
 
Sat, Dec 31, 2016 10:40:00 PM

 

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On 11/3/2016 at 9:40 PM, FUBAR said:

as much as I like Watson (a lot), he's far from a lock to be the top pick.  Top 3 sure.  If I'm him, I declare and let the browns know, privately, that I'm not interested in playing for them. 

 

Do you think that should happen before or after the Browns let him know that they aren't interested in drafting him?

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  • Faust changed the title to Deshaun Watson - In Limbo with no real news happening, speculation & rumours filling the thread

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