NFL scouts spend an almost inane amount of time evaluating college prospects fit for the league. Their success in finding gems and efforts are appreciated, while not always lauded publicly. These are the people that ultimately determine whether guys who are full of promise, but are partly surrounded by question, are worth investing a future in that coveted pursuit of championships.
The most crucial decision waiting in the wings for the Chicago Bears in which scouts will heavily factor in, is the selection of a young quarterback come the weekend of April 27th. This quarterback needs to be the guy. He needs to be the answer. He needs to be the man who revitalizes a football city desperate for a consistent contender and title.
None of Jay Cutler (likely to be released for salary cap space), Brian Hoyer, and Matt Barkley are the answer - and the Bears know it too. Surely, no pressure for a guy stepping into the fold.
So brings to mind now former Clemson star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who declared for the NFL Draft immediately after his magnum opus college moment - that being the electric show he put on against Alabama on college football’s biggest stage. The second time he’s done so while chased by a squad of future NFL starters and stars, in fact.
In two games combined against one of football’s greatest dynasties - let alone college football - Watson had beyond prolific numbers. 994 yards passing and eight total touchdowns is remarkable. That’s comfort and poise beyond any measure.
Slaying Goliath while down by two touchdowns early and by 10 points in the fourth quarter - is legendary, a supposed impossible feat. It’s a display of Watson’s impeccable ability to respond to unrelenting adversity after being pummeled for most of Monday’s first half. It’s a testament to Watson that he returns to go 23-34, throw for 234 yards, and three touchdowns in the second half - adding to his overall 420 yards and four total scores. All coming on the heels of seemingly most every non-paid talent evaluator giving up on him for one bad half of football as is the typical reactionary public consciousness.
And yet, there Watson was, despite whatever beating he was taking, slinging away, undeterred. With two minutes to go and Watson’s star two minutes away from shining brighter in the national spotlight than ever, he was as collected as you could imagine.
A 68-yard drive to win a title against basically an NFL front seven as a college quarterback isn’t supposed to be easy, but with the words Watson told his teammates, “Let’s be legendary,” it all of a sudden became a leisurely stroll.
It’s a mind-numbing cliche, but it’s what you need out of your team’s leader. A lack of fear - or in this case - channelling that fear into controlled energy in crunch time.
That’s not something you can coach. That’s not an ability a player acquires over time. Willpower is a talent only the great ones possess. Enjoying pressure and translating “it” into success is special.
Don't permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure of the moment.— Deshaun Watson (@DeshaunWatson4) January 10, 2017
In that “moment”, whatever “it” is, Watson has “it”.
The conversation going into Monday’s game was either, “How large of a margin will Alabama win by?” or “Will Watson will Clemson to victory?”
And Watson, showcasing his innate steely resolve, defiantly wrote his team’s destiny on the latter. A microcosm of a man who’s always shown up in clutch moments.
You’d be hard pressed to find any scout who will solely go all in on a player because of one or two performances, but it’s not an aspect any professional discounts too. It’s merely a small part of the entire scouting process. After all, other all-time college quarterbacks have done the same when under pressure. Tim Tebow or even Vince Young - a quarterback of a formerly similar mold to Watson (except Watson wins primarily with his arm, not just legs) - come to mind.
It’s up to the Bears scouting and coaching staff to determine whether Watson is instead a far cry from that kind of comparison. Because in this case, a staff with their careers on the line while under the direction of general manager Ryan Pace, can’t get caught up in the moment. They need to only add to their already no doubt extensive portfolio regarding Watson.
The questions Watson will have to answer and adapt for to prove his worth in the NFL, demand that due process.
Is he big enough at a listed, thin 6’3 and 215 pounds? Will he be able to withstand the NFL’s punishment?
Watson could stand to add to his frame. You only need look at previous examples of quarterbacks with a comparable size such as Robert Griffin III - who has rarely been healthy in his career. He could also do well to learn to protect him himself while on the move instead of recklessly throwing his body out on the line. The Bears could ill afford to experience durability issues with the man they invest the franchise in.
Is he consistently accurate enough?
Evaluators have questioned Watson’s ball placement at times as he threw for 17 interceptions this season. Many have believed this could be fixed with a slight but detailed refinement in his throwing mechanics and motion that will come with time, but it’s a concern nonetheless.
Can he play under center? Can he adjust to the rigors of an NFL playbook?
Clemson’s system is catered well for quarterbacks to thrive with plenty of quick releases, but it shouldn’t be a complete detractor against Watson. He just needs to prove he can excel outside of a finely tuned machine in a professional scheme. What the definition of that kind of scheme has become fluid, with more and more NFL teams adopting a mix of a spread system and going under center, such as with Marcus Mariota and Tennessee. It just has to be ingrained in a player from the outset.
What Watson does well - it’s obvious.
There’s the mental fortitude and unwavering intelligence as mentioned. Watson almost always makes the correct read when going through his progressions. He’s not a half-read quarterback in that light, either. He doesn’t stare down receivers. He looks off defensive backs. He doesn’t only throw to a spot. And, he’s capable of making the crucial anticipation throws that require instinct as well trust in receivers and system.
Everything above his shoulders is exactly what you look for in a star quarterback. To boot, he also has the added dimension of the necessary physical tools and mobility to transcend in the NFL.
Watson doesn’t have a rocket of an arm by any means, but he can make every throw and work through tight coverage. As a dual threat, Watson’s also quite effective at making plays outside of the pocket, either as a runner or to create space and shift the attack point at the last moment for oncoming defenders. Sometimes he’ll run into trouble in a bit of over-eager exuberance while manipulating the pocket and in turn get pressured, but those are few and far in between. Escaping pressure and either rattling off a first down run or firing off demoralizing throws is regularly no thing for Watson.
So the professional abilities are clearly there, it’s just that the questions of an adaptation and learning curve are present as well.
But who’s to say Watson is any less of a prospect at the moment with a full body of work as opposed to someone such as the proposed number one quarterback in Mitch Trubisky - who only has one year as a starter under his belt? Trubisky has some of the same flaws as Watson, yet somehow he has a higher ceiling. Why? Because he’s bigger or taller?
It goes to show you the decision on hand won’t be cut and dry for the Bears, whether they take a quarterback at number three overall, or later on. Choosing the right quarterback is an inexact science. We’re about to enter the period where each of these prospects are under the greatest microscope and ripped apart by it’s conclusion. Who knows who sits atop most boards by the end of all evaluations.
One thing’s for sure: I don’t know if Watson’s the answer, but the idea is tantalizing enough given the information on hand. If they come to that point, and the Bears higher-ups have done their homework on Watson to decide he’s their guy - then they need to select him - reach or not. Go all in with a royal flush.
Regardless, the endorsements won’t stop ringing in. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney - a man who said who he was inspired by Chicago Cubs manager, Joe Maddon’s team’s resolve - starkly reminded everyone what he thought of his former quarterback in the post-game on Monday.
“Maybe now everyone will understand when I say Deshaun Watson is the best player in the country,” mused a proud Swinney.
Only with time will we learn whether another coach will be glowingly speaking of Watson as the same kind of quarterback for the Bears.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.