NFL draft profile: No. 17 — Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, extraordinarily accomplished leader

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
6-foot-2, 221 pounds

Key stat: Accounted for 116 touchdowns (90 passing, 26 rushing) and 41 turnovers (34 INTs, seven fumbles) in 38 college games (35 starts).

The skinny: Raised by a single mother (who survived oral cancer when Deshaun was in high school) with three siblings, living in a Habitat For Humanity house presented by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn. Started four years in high school, committed to Clemson as a sophomore and led his school to its first state title in more than a century. Watson stuck with his commitment despite nearly every school in the country continuing to recruit him and seeing his recruiting rankings rise to elite levels.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson is one of the most decorated college quarterbacks in recent college history. (AP)
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson is one of the most decorated college quarterbacks in recent college history. (AP)

Enrolled at Clemson and started five games as a true freshman, suffering a broken throwing hand, a sprained MCL, a bone bruise in his knee and a torn ACL that cur his season short. Still managed to play through the injuries — including the ACL — in a win over rival South Carolina before having season-ending surgery before the bowl game. Started 15 games the next season (despite missing all of spring practice) for the national runners-up and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Finishing second in the Heisman voting in 2016, Watson — who was named a team captain as a junior — led the Tigers to a national championship, beating the Alabama team that had defeated him in the BCS title game the year prior with a TD drive that was capped in the waning seconds, being named game MVP. Watson won countless awards in his decorated career and declared early for the 2017 NFL draft after completing his degree in three years. He will turn 22 in September.

Best-suited destination: Among all the quarterbacks in the 2017 class, Watson is most equipped to step in quickly and handle the speed, talent and mental requirements of most NFL systems. He likely would flourish best in a rhythm passing offense or West Coast-type system that also sprinkles in read-option and RPO plays into the game plan. Among the teams that could be especially interested in Watson’s services include the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, New York Jets or Pittsburgh Steelers.

Upside: Incredibly mentally and physically tough. Mature and grounded. Driven to be great. Work ethic is off the charts. Strong character. Handles adversity well and never looks panicked on the field. Won more than 90 percent of his games (32-3 record as starter) and raised his game on the biggest of stages. Threw for 825 yards and 7-1 TD-INT ratio in two title-game appearances against Bama, coming back to win one. Usually puts the ball where it needs to be. Shows very nice touch downfield and throws a very catchable, tight pass. Smooth throwing motion without too much unnecessary movement or hitch, even while on the move. Quick release. Sets his feet well and quickly most of the time.

Wasn’t always asked to make NFL-caliber progressions, but is he able to? Absolutely. Even though the TV copy doesn’t fully show it, Watson manipulates Ohio State S Malik Hooker with his eyes by looking to the other side of the field before going down the left sideline with the pass. Never mind the pass being slightly overthrown — this is good stuff here:

Deshaun Watson moves the Ohio State safety with his eyes beautifully, even though the pass is slightly overthrown. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
Deshaun Watson moves the Ohio State safety with his eyes beautifully, even though the pass is slightly overthrown. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Another terrific progression read — and an example of toughness — as Watson releases the pass at the final second … to probably his third option on the play against North Carolina State:

Here Watson goes through his reads until he finds an open defender. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
Here Watson goes through his reads until he finds an open defender. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Smart, instinctive runner who can mentally defeat a defense with 9-yard scramble on 3rd-and-8. Great athleticism for the position. Also can pooch punt effectively. Added 15 pounds of muscle prior to junior season to better withstand hits.

Downside: Arm strength is average at best. Doesn’t always have the zip to fit passes into quickly closing windows or rip the deep out. Registered a combine-worst 49 mph max on his passes, which also was one of the lowest maximums in recent years. Operated in shotgun, pass-happy, screen-heavy, half-field-read offense with top-tier skill-position talent. Had many passes batted down at the line, especially with three-quarters motion. Threw 30 interceptions in his past 30 games. Will lock in on primary target and let defensive backs read his eyes too easily, as seen against Pitt:

Deshaun Watson can stare down his receivers, as this led to an easy Pitt INT. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
Deshaun Watson can stare down his receivers, as this led to an easy Pitt INT. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Here’s another case of Watson (just before the play above against NC State) staring down his receiver and failing to recognize the underneath defender staring right back at him:

Watson doesn’t see the North Carolina State defender and throws it right to him. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
Watson doesn’t see the North Carolina State defender and throws it right to him. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Watson also must learn not to lead his receivers too much and leave them vulnerable to stalking safeties.

Scouting hot take: “I watched every game this year and charted him with 11 [of his 17] interceptions on him, the other ones on his receivers. He needs some work, but it’s stuff we can teach him. There’s a lot to like. You know he’s going to work. If you want a rah-rah leader, our [scouts] say that’s not him. But if you are OK with the Eli Manning personality, which works fine in this league by the way, then you go get him and just give him time. He hasn’t worked from under center and little things like that; we’d need to work with his eyes a little. But he’s got what you want.” — AFC quarterbacks coach

Player comp: Elements of Alex Smith and Marcus Mariota

Expected draft range: First-round pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
No. 24: Michigan DE Taco Charlton
No. 23: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
No. 22: Utah OT Garett Bolles
No. 21: Western Kentucky OG-C Forrest Lamp
No. 20: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
No. 19: Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
No. 18: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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