Because Deshaun Watson was a successful shotgun, speed/tempo spread quarterback in college, he’ll draw some comparisons to Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott.
Watson might need an advantageous situation in the NFL, especially early on (like Prescott had with the Dallas Cowboys last season). In watching Watson’s film at Clemson, nothing in his game suggests he’s a big-time NFL prospect like Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck or Matthew Stafford when they came out of college. Watson is probably best suited as an orchestrator and distributor in a quick-game offense with quality skill position weapons. His ability to make plays out outside of the structure will enhance his value, though because of his size he’s probably not going to run a lot of read option or quarterback power/counter plays.
Here’s what I see as Watson’s strengths and weaknesses after watching his 2016 film:
One thing that has to be noted about Watson – and will be a factor for some NFL teams – is he is a very poised and composed player who has played in many big games and has experienced many big moments. His performance in the national championship game against Alabama will be remembered for a long time.
Physically, Watson is a natural thrower who spins it well. He’s more of a touch and pace thrower than a drive thrower, but he has a live arm. His arm is a little more live than Mitch Trubisky, another top prospect in this draft.
At times Watson showed the ability to make some tough sideline throws that demanded some velocity and precise ball placement. Let’s look at a nice throw on a 34-yard touchdown to Mike Williams against South Carolina. Once the safety stayed inside, Watson knew to throw the fade to Williams, a nicely schemed play in the offense. Watson did a good job with ball placement so Williams could make a play.
Here’s a well-designed play that Watson executed perfectly. On a bootleg action to the right, Watson threw back to the left to Jordan Leggett for a 31-yard touchdown that ended up beating Louisville. He delivered the pass with pressure coming – this is the type of play you can call for Watson in the NFL. He’ll give his team a boot-action passing game.
Watson has the athleticism and movement to make plays on the move, both throwing and running. There are playmaking tendencies with his ability to extend plays, and he’s normally a steady and consistent player who is effective within the context of the offense.
A lot of the questions I have about Watson come from his play in the pocket. He’s not a comfortable pocket quarterback, and playing from the pocket has to be the foundation for any NFL quarterback. He’s not as good from the pocket as Trubisky.
My sense is Watson doesn’t see the field well. There are issues with his vision in the pocket and understanding and feel for route concepts. And for a quarterback who isn’t a turn-it-loose thrower and a risk taker, like Jameis Winston for example, Watson had too many bad reads and poor throws last season. He exhibited poor judgment too many times.
Here’s a three-man bunch concept on a fourth-and-5 against Auburn, with a well-designed concept. Instead of seeing the open receiver, Watson threw quickly over the middle to the clear-out receiver and the linebacker knocked it down. It was the wrong read on a play that was wide open.
Watson threw two interceptions against Pitt that are troubling, especially for a quarterback who played as much in college as Watson. At the end of Clemson’s first drive, Watson threw to the end zone and it was an easy interception for the cornerback in zone coverage. That’s as bad as it gets for a veteran college quarterback.
On second-and-goal later in the game, Watson threw into traffic with no awareness of the defense. Again, this isn’t a mistake a veteran college quarterback can make.
There are other things NFL teams will have to evaluate with Watson: He can be erratic at times with ball placement, and his deep accuracy was definitely a concern last season. He is not a refined pocket mover; there’s too much of a tendency to look to leave the pocket. He also has a little bit of a hitch in his delivery, with a tendency to separate his feet rather than plant his back foot as he starts his throwing motion, which changes his eye level, negatively impacts vision and also impacts his ability to drive the ball.
TRANSITION TO NFL
How will NFL teams feel about Watson’s learning curve? Clemson’s pass game was very basic with routes and concepts. He has a lot to learn to run an NFL offense from the pocket.
There were some games in which Watson didn’t have great accuracy and missed too many routine throws. There are questions about his ability to drive the ball with velocity, though that could be a function of a Clemson offense that didn’t consistently demand he make those kinds of throws.
Watson may not be a building block, foundation quarterback for an NFL team. In my opinion, he has a similar skill set and physical traits to Alex Smith. Teams will have to figure out if he can develop as a pocket quarterback, become more consistently accurate and eliminate some bad decisions. In the right situation, that could happen.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.