Deshaun Watson Deserves Hype, but He's Not a Transcendent QB Prospect

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2016

Clemson's Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates his touchdown against North Carolina during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone/Associated Press

The market for franchise quarterbacks is simple: Bad teams typically lose because of their passing game, as that portion of football is emphasized when playing from behind. When down late in games, the exposure of how good or bad a franchise's quarterback is becomes very clear.

Teams with worse records are rewarded with higher draft picks in the following draft. The NFL is also a league that is built off of acquiring favorable contracts, as they have a hard cap, instead of simply acquiring overall talent.

When a player like Chase Daniel, who will likely be the Philadelphia Eagles' third-string quarterback at some point in 2016, has an average salary of $7 million per year, it's evident that rookie contracts assist in maximizing the value of young quarterbacks, the most expensive and influential position in the sport, more than any other role on the field.

This creates a cycle in the draft world. Bad teams generally need a quarterback, and bad teams generally draft a quarterback high. This year, the prized jewel is Deshaun Watson of Clemson.

In an early mock draft, Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus had Watson coming off the board with the first overall pick. So did Walter Cherepinsky of Walter Football. Chad Reuter of NFL.com named Watson as his first overall player on his top-100 board this past May. You can add popular names like Josh Norris of Rotoworld and Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated as draft writers who think highly of the Tiger passer.

For fanbases of teams like the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, who both have questions at the quarterback position and are not favored to win a single individual game, at least by Vegas' standards, in 2016, focus is already being set to the incoming true junior passer.

Often, though, the media crowns a top-five quarterback too early. There are plenty of passers, like Logan Thomas, Jevan Snead, Jake Locker and Matt Barkley in recent years, who have been anointed as "the next big thing," just to fall short during their final collegiate seasons. On the other hand, quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton had meteoric rises to vault them into the top-five conversation.

Since Sam Bradford was drafted first overall in 2010, before Watson was a freshman in high school, only three quarterbacks who were drafted within the first five picks of their respective drafts actually entered their final seasons with that type of hype: Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

Because of the desperation to find the next savior passer, which has led to a high boom-bust rate of those named "top-five quarterbacks," it's important to cross-check an entire passer's catalog to make sure he's really worth the title.

The last note that Watson left off on was the national championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide, possibly his best game to date at Clemson. When digging deeper into his film and injury history, though, there are blemishes that most seem to gloss over.

During his senior year in high school, Watson sprained his MCL, which meant he had to skip the Under Armour All-American week. As a true freshman, Watson had surgery on his hand due to an injury against South Carolina, sustained an LCL injury and bone bruise against Georgia Tech and tore his ACL in practice. That all happened after he broke his collarbone leading up to his freshman year, which kept him out of Clemson's spring game.

In 2015, he played injury-free with a knee brace on his left leg, but after five injuries in about a year, durability concerns should come up more often for a passer who is listed at 6'2" and 210 pounds by NFL Draft Scout. It wouldn't be surprising if he was compared to Griffin, who has had major knee injuries in the past, based on Watson's injury history and dual-threat ability.

On film, Watson has flashes. His sometimes unconventional throwing style leads to amazing plays. In terms of excitement, there are few passers who can go toe-to-toe with Watson, but efficiency is key in the NFL.

The one thing that Luck, Winston and Mariota all had was a master handle on their schemes. Luck and Winston were more traditional passers, but Mariota was near robotic in how efficient he was as a passer, and his vertical ability was tested in specific games, such as against Washington as a sophomore, and his ability to play against heavy blitzes, like against Michigan State as a junior, were still displayed on film.

The issue with the "spread quarterback" label is assuming that a player can't do something that he hasn't been asked to do. Mariota was afforded the luxury of facing multiple defenses by the time he declared for the 2015 draft as a redshirt junior. Watson, while doing very well in Dabo Swinney's offense, has yet to even reach robotic efficiency against typical college defenses.

It should be the fact that Watson often runs quarterback draw plays with cancelled out bubble screens based off of pre-snap looks that knock him. There are attributes in his control that he hasn't fully developed to the ability of a "top-five" quarterback, even in a spread offense.

Drifting his front leg back against pressure can be a struggle at times. Some easy passes, like a casual speed out or a man flying up the seam, end up as incompletions due to accuracy. Sometimes, he's not even on the same page as his running back as to which side he's supposed to open up to hand off the ball. That's not Mariota-like.

He can also be an over-agressive passer. The best example of that is Clemson's drive to end the half against Oklahoma in the playoffs. The Tigers won the game, so everyone forgot about the sequence, but Watson threw an interception in the end zone, in scoring territory, when the team was down one point with a timeout and 21 seconds on the clock at the time of the ball being snapped.

If he simply threw the ball away, the team would have entered halftime with a lead, after the presumed fourth-down field goal was made, but he wanted to be a hero on a broken play. Luckily, it didn't come back to haunt Clemson.

We saw some of that with Winston, who was labeled as a "gamer" like the Johnny Manziels of college football during his time at Florida State, but there weren't many "what is he thinking?" plays in the careers of Luck or Mariota out west. Still, Watson's receiver-like speed in space and his ability to strike on roll-out passes will remind many of the former Oregon Duck.

At this point in time, though, that's who Watson should aspire to be, not who he is. If you were asked which combination of recent quarterbacks could fuse to make a close comparison for Watson, it would be a high-variance passer with the average traits of Mariota, who was drafted second overall in 2015, and Teddy Bridgewater, who was drafted 32nd in 2014.

Consistency on the field and in the trainer's room will be the key to Watson's draft stock. He's undoubtedly a player who should be highlighted for any quarterback-needy team's wish list, and he might be the best passer from the 2016 through 2018 draft classes when it's all said and done, but he's far from a player you can take to the bank as an elite-caliber prospect presently.

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