By Greg Gabriel–
Editor’s note: You can read Gabriel’s other scouting reports on highly regarded NFL Draft prospects by clicking here.
(CBS) Over the next several weeks, I’ll be breaking down a handful of players the Chicago Bears could be interested in taking early in the upcoming NFL Draft. Last week, I scouted Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, while today we focus on another highly touted quarterback: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
What first sticks out about Watson is that he comes up big in big games. In 2015, he played his best football in the College Football Playoff, leading his Clemson team to the national championship, where it fell in a close game to Alabama. He followed that up this year with not only leading the Tigers back to the national championship but also beating the Crimson Tide for the title.
Watson’s numbers the last two years are excellent. In 2015, he completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 4,104 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In 2016, he completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He’s also a prolific runner, rushing for 1,105 yards in 2015 and 629 yards in 2016. He had a combined 21 rushing scores over that time span.
We will find out at the NFL Combine exactly how tall Watson is. He’s listed by Clemson as being 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. Scouts I know who have seen him in person swear he’s under 6-foot-2 and closer to 205. Of course, they’d love to see him measure taller than 6-foot-2.
Going into 2016, a lot was expected from Watson. Many thought he would pick up where he left off in 2015, and most draft analysts had him as the odds-on favorite to be the top pick in the 2017 Draft. Watson started out slowly and looked average for the first four games. While his numbers may have looked good on paper, his play was inconsistent.
After the slow start, he regained his form and played really well for the rest of the season. Watson’ strengths are he’s really athletic with extremely quick feet. I would estimate that he will run in the low 4.6s at the combine. He has a strong arm and is accurate with good ball placement. He has shown that he can make some outstanding throws, be it short or long. With his athleticism, he can extend or make plays with his feet, and he’s excellent at throwing on the run.
On the negative side, Watson played in a rather simple half-field read spread at Clemson. He didn’t have to go through a full progression, and he had a tendency to have periods when he forced some throws and/or makes some poor decisions. His 30 interceptions over the last two seasons are concerning. Watson lacks a real quick delivery, and there’s almost a pause at the top of his throwing motion, though the ball does come out of his hand nicely and he spins the ball well.
Watson has some special to him, makes big plays, is intelligent and is a strong leader. His teammates at Clemson always believed he’d lead them to a win, and that’s an important characteristic for a quarterback to carry.
Going forward, it will take Watson some time to adjust to the NFL game. He needs to learn how to go through a full field progression, make adjustments and audible at the line of scrimmage. If the club that drafts him is smart, it won’t force him into action too soon. It will let him learn the NFL game, as that time on the bench watching can be invaluable.
Once Watson adjusts, I’ve no doubt that he can become a really good NFL quarterback. He has some special to him, and there aren’t a lot of players we can say that about.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.