2017 NFL Draft Scouting Report: DeShaun Watson
By Charlie Campbell
Summary: There has been a ton of hype for Watson from the national media, and there is no doubt that he was a winner at the college level. As a sophomore, Watson took his team to the brink of a National Championship and was a superb point-producer for the Tigers. The junior guided his team to another appearance in the college playoff in 2016.
In 2014, Watson started five games and played in eight, completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,466 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. As a sophomore, Watson completed 68 percent of his passes in 2015 for 4,104 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. On the ground, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry for 1,105 yards with 12 scores. In reviewing my notes from preseason study for 2016, I gave Watson much higher marks on accuracy and ball placement in 2015 compared to how he performed as a junior.
Watson completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 4,593 yards with 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He had nine rushing touchdowns as well. Watson put together some huge games statistically, but he also had a lot of underwhelming performances as a passer in which he left a lot of plays on the field. Watson turned in a few subdued outings this season against Auburn, Troy, Georgia Tech and Louisville - all teams which he should have dominated.
Watson, however, finished the season in tremendous fashion leading Clemson to a comeback win in the National Championship against Alabama. He led two late fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including the game-winning score in the final seconds. Elevating his team to a championship does help Watson in the eyes of NFL evaluators and improves his chances of going higher in the 2017 NFL Draft.
In this draft analyst's opinion, I would grade Watson as a third-round pick for the 2017 NFL Draft. Watson was off with his accuracy for much of 2016, displaying poor ball placement, especially when going downfield. He missed a lot of potential touchdowns as a result. Watson has a lot of room for improvement with his field vision, ball placement, and accuracy. There were instances where he flashed accuracy, but he had too many missed and poorly placed throws. Watson was better down the stretch in 2016, but he still has room for improvement in his accuracy for the NFL.
Watson has some strengths for the NFL that cause many to compare him to Dak Prescott. Like Prescott, Watson has great intangibles as a hard worker with good character off the field and leadership in the locker room. They both bring toughness and mobility to the table. When plays break down, they can use his athleticism to pick up yards on the ground and also can avoid sacks.
Where the comparison breaks down is in terms of accuracy and ball security. Prescott was much more accurate in college and threw far less interceptions. Prescott threw only five interceptions as a senior with 11 as a junior. Thus, Watson threw more interceptions (17) in 2016 than Prescott did in his final two years combined.
There are a lot of growth issues that Watson will need development for in the NFL - aside from his passing skills. Watson is also going to need to learn how to work under center, call plays in a huddle, and develop his footwork to make drops from being under center. His college offense has a lot of quick throws, screens, and designed runs that inflated his numbers but don't translate to the NFL. Some NFL sources believe that Watson is going to need his pro offense to be catered to him and that he could have issues fitting a NFL system.
In speaking with sources from teams around the NFL, their grades on Watson didn't match the media hype that he has received. I surveyed many teams to see where their initial draft grades were for Watson. Two playoff teams told me they had third-round grades on Watson. One said it was on the low end as a third- to fourth-rounder. Another playoff team told Walt that they had a third-round grade on Watson. Two other teams said they had second-round grades on Watson. All that being said, teams believe that Watson could be a late first-round quarterback, similar to Teddy Bridgewater, because of the dire need at the position across the NFL. A team could move back into the first round for Watson like Bridgewater. A general manager of an AFC team said that in the draft meetings in April, Watson will benefit from the 'Dak Prescott effect' and rise. Thus, it wouldn't surprise anyone if Watson is taken in the middle of the first round during the 2017 NFL Draft.
Just because most teams have Watson graded on the second day or mid-rounds doesn't mean that he won't go in the first round. Last year, many teams had second-round grades on Jared Goff, yet the Rams traded up to the first-overall pick for him. There were teams that had mid-round grades on E.J. Manuel and fourth-round grades on Christian Ponder, yet both of them went as top-16 picks in their NFL drafts. Many teams had second-round grades on Teddy Bridgewater, yet he went late in Round 1. Thus, you can't rule out that a quarterback-needy team won't be desperate enough to take Watson at any point in the first round.
Player Comparison: Robert Griffin III. Watson and Griffin are similar size signal-callers with excellent athleticism, but both have deficiencies as passers. Both also played in a college point-machine spread offenses that don't correlate to the NFL. Watson may not get drafted as high as Griffin was, but Watson's work ethic and character could make him more successful than Griffin as a pro quarterback.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, Jacksonville, Buffalo, New Orleans, Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona, Houston, New York Giants, Kansas City and Pittsburgh
There are a lot of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, and that will help Watson's chances of being drafted higher than where he should go. Obviously, the Browns are in dire need of a solution to their quarterback quandary. Cleveland also is loaded with draft picks, including two in the first round, two in the second, and one in the third. Watson could be in play for the Browns with their second first-round pick or the top pick in the second round. Cleveland expressed interest in Watson by asking him to participate in the Senior Bowl. Watson has some similarities to Jared Goff, and that was the quarterback that Hue Jackson wanted for the Browns last year. It wouldn't be a shock if Watson lands in Cleveland.
The Bills restructured Tyrod Taylor's contract, but he may not be their long-term quarterback. The new coaching staff might want their own signal-caller. The Bills would probably want to move up from their second-round pick to get Watson, but they may not be able to trust that they will be able to do that. They could be forced to take Watson at 10 if they really want him.
The 49ers are also desperate for a starting quarterback and a face of the franchise. Chicago moved on from Jay Cutler and brought in Mike Glennon, but Watson could be worthy of consideration for the Bears. Both San Francisco and Chicago could considering moving back into the first round for Watson.
After Brock Osweiler was traded away, Texans owner Bob McNair said they will target a quarterback in the early rounds. Ergo, Watson could be in consideration for Houston in Round 1 during the 2017 NFL Draft.
Arizona would make sense for Watson. He could be a fit in Bruce Arian's offense, and with Carson Palmer returning to the desert in 2017, the Cardinals would have a year or two to develop Watson before playing him.
The Saints, Chargers, Chiefs, Giants and Steelers all fall into the category of teams that have aging starting quarterbacks. Each one could consider drafting Watson and developing him with hopes that he could be the heir apparent.
2017 NFL Mock Draft: Charlie's | Walt's
2017 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings
2017 NFL Draft Scouting Reports
NFL Picks - Dec. 8
2023 NFL Mock Draft - Dec. 7
NFL Power Rankings - Dec. 6
Fantasy Football Rankings - Sept. 7
2022 NBA Mock Draft - June 23