The Bears have painted themselves into a QB corner and the balloon payment is about to come due. Many observers (myself included) believe Jay Cutler's reign as the starting QB in Chicago has come to a close, and the cupboard is not exactly well stocked behind him. That means the Bears need a QB and they need him now. They'll definitely look at all the free agent options but most of the available players are regarded as "bridge" starters at best, not long-term solutions. That means they'll need to take a shot at a QB in the draft too, so they can legitimately start the process of trying to find an answer at a position that has plagued Chicago for far too long.
Most draft watchers agree that 2017 is not flush with QB talent. Every QB in this draft has flaws, but they all have upside as well. Deshaun Watson of Clemson is the reigning national champion and one of the most seasoned of this year's passers; having registered 20 college starts with an 18-2 record. DeShone Kizer burst onto the national scene at Notre Dame and flashed both prototype size and tantalizing talent. That combination made South Bend a must scouting stop for any NFL team still looking for a franchise signal caller. Both are considered top QB's in this draft so I'll compare them this week. Next week in Draftwatch I'll round out the QB field by looking at 3 more passers to fill out 5 of the top arms available from the college ranks.
Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Clemson
Watson is a gamer; as the stage got bigger and the lights got brighter this season he got better. I watched 2 games from earlier in his season (Auburn & Louisville) and then I watched the semi final against Ohio State. Deshaun clearly rose to the occasion in that game. It was obviously the best performance of the 3 tapes and so much better that he looked like a different player for most of it. It almost made me wonder if he was struggling with an injury earlier in the year, because his level of play was so vastly improved against the Buckeyes. I’ll never know for sure but it bears consideration because we all know that he carried that momentum into the national championship against Alabama and knocked off a defense that will send about 8 defenders into the NFL this year. Saying that's impressive would be a major understatement. So what makes this former Clemson Tiger tick?
Deshaun has decent but not great size at 6'2" and 215 pounds. His arm is strong and he has a quick flick of a release when he keeps his mechanics in check. He does progress through two reads on many plays or at least attempts to look the DB's off his intended target. He can throw with anticipation although he does not do so with regularity.
The most notable distinction in Watson's passing game is defined by distance; under 15 yards he’s effective and composed. Deeper than that his throws can be beautiful or way off the mark, especially outside the numbers. His full game tapes are full of throws that are 3 or more yards off their intended target deep down the sideline. On the flip side, his highlight tapes are full of nice strikes to streaking wideouts, so it’s a mixed bag.
The first 2 games I watched gave me pause about his accuracy at all levels, even screen passes. He made his receivers work hard to catch the ball and limited their chances to gain yards after the reception with poor placement or velocity. In the OSU game he was a completely different thrower in the short zone. Balls were out on time with proper zip and he routinely led receivers into their routes so they could carry momentum forward after the grab. He threw with decent touch over the middle and his most deadly aerial skill, the back shoulder fade, was on full display. When he is in tune with his favorite target (WR Mike Williams), nothing can stop that throw.
It's worth mentioning that Williams is so dominant that he makes Watson look better than he is. I noted many throws that Williams turned into catches with his incredible range that other receivers (even some pros) would have no chance at. Worse still, when Watson misses he tends to miss high and behind his target. That placement will lead to likely picks o’plenty at the next level if he fails to correct it
- Has quite a few balls batted at the line, not sure if it's due to height or vision but it happened regularly in the tapes I watched
- His placement leaves the ball in a spot where the defender can often knock it away - has high percentage of his throws contested
- If his mechanics break down he'll push the ball and the results are bad/dangerous
- Warms up as the game goes on, makes better throws in the 4th than in the 1st
Deshaun is a good runner with solid athleticism. His vision with the ball in his hands is good and he definitely has some shake in him to juke defenders. He can turn plays that looked like losses into gains using his legs. He is not terribly sudden but smooth and has deceptive speed to him. Watson is not generally a home run threat but certainly can pick up some key first downs when he needs to. My biggest knock on his ground game is that he tends to take big hits when he runs. He's upright and lacks that special something to slither off heavy shots like some other ballcarriers. When he gets hit running the ball you feel it. That alone will limit his options to carry the ball in the pros. Dependability is one of the most important abilities at the next level and if he runs a lot he'll have more than his fair share of impact.
Watson score very highly in the leadership category. His teammates clearly want to play well for him. Knocking off a favored Alabama team for the title this year is a huge plus. Deshaun comes up big in big games and gets the job done, even when it is not overly pretty. His play level is better as the game goes on and apparently when there is more on the line. Those are great intangibles to have. He can recompose himself when flustered in the pocket and make something happen. It's usually with his legs, but that's better than a loss on the play. He doesn't usually seem to panic but he's rarely going to take a broken play and turn it into a difference-maker (a la Aaron Rodgers).
DeShone Kizer, Quarterback, Notre Dame
Kizer is a somewhat like a baseball pitcher that blows up in the minor leagues and starts tossing 100 mph fastballs. People notice him because of his physical traits and abilities. Standing over 6'4" and weighing 230 pounds he cuts an imposing silhouette. Then he takes off running and your jaw drops. Guys that size rarely have that kind of burst. Before you can recover he'll flick a ball 65 yards in the air under a heavy rush and put it right on the receiver's outstretched hands. Much of what Kizer has can't be taught. If he lands in a spot where his coaches have talent and patience he could be good as Cam Newton... or even better.
DeShone can flat out drive the ball. When he is relaxed and throws from a good, balanced base the ball just moves. Against Michigan State early this season he tossed a ball with plus velocity that went 64 yards in the air and hit the wideout in the hands, all while being charged by a ferocious rush (it’s at the 4:36 mark in the Draft Breakdown clip of that game). That's a big boy throw on any stage and his tapes are full of them. He can drop the ball in the bucket over the shoulder of a streaking WR down the sideline or flick a touch pass to the TE on delayed cross. He can make any throw he'll need to in the pros and make it look effortless, but sometimes he tries too hard.
Kizer is young as a passer and that can lead to impetuous mistakes, His most common one is wanting to really crank up fastballs, which is both odd (he can drive the ball plenty hard without any windup) and correctable. When he feels the need to throw a heater his stride lengthens and it causes his accuracy to suffer. This is a highly correctable flaw that good QB coaches can counter. It causes some ugly results but in the overall scheme of things is not hugely worrisome.
The most notable lacking in DeShone's current aerial game is his tendency to lock onto receivers and stare them down. His inexperience means that he is not making multiple reads to find his targets. In certain cases he even tips the defense off pre-snap by looking too long at the target he plans to throw to. He might have gotten away with that in college but in the NFL those balls will be picked early and often, forcing him to develop his eye discipline or suffer failure after failure.
As a runner Kizer has a true gift. His physical ability is part of that but his innate understanding of the running game really sets him apart from his peers. It's well beyond his years and leads to some spectacular plays. Usually young, athletically-gifted QB's look to the option of running too quickly but DeShone does not. Even when he does run he has incredible patience, using his blockers and waiting for just the right time to really turn on the boost. Additionally he knows when to get down and rarely takes a big shot from defenders. He shows a wisdom about when to push and when to slide that will serve him incredibly well in his career.
His burst is amazing for a player his size. When he presses an inside gap on a read option run the safety has to adjust angles immediately, and sometimes still gets run by. That's astounding. A guy that big shouldn't be that fast. Near the goal line he combines patience and speed with great vision to find the hole and slip in for the score. It almost doesn't look like he's trying but I think that's because it comes so easily to him. He just makes it look easy, even though it is not.
If Kizer has a gap in his resume' this is where scouts will take issue with him. His lack of experience and success in big games compared to someone like Watson, is readily evident . When heavily pressured the play often breaks down for DeShone. In time that may change but it will take some patience from the team that drafts him while he gains those reps. He was benched this season after some poor play at Stanford, but came back later in the year to start and play fairly well. That shows resilience in a young player. His physical skills and demonstrated abilities easily warrant some patience while that side of his game rounds out. Athletes like Kizer simply don't come around that often and when they do you often have to make some sacrifices to see how good they can really become.
The Bottom Line
If you have a team built to win sooner rather than later and need a QB who can step in this season and take meaningful snaps under pressure, Watson is the choice. Even so, Deshaun will not be a fit for every offense. His best fit would be a system that relies heavily on short throws and some mobility in the pocket. Kansas City comes to mind as a near-ideal fit. If he heads to a team like Arizona where Bruce Arians relies heavily on a deep passing game that requires accuracy down the field, Watson could struggle.
If you are building for the future and want a passer to be the centerpiece in a year or two Kizer has the higher ceiling. His deep passing abilities and accuracy all over the field (when he sets his feet consistently) lend themselves very well to a modern NFL aerial attack. Add in his wise-beyond-his-years sense of the run game and breakaway speed and you get a QB with a rare blend of physical skill and demonstrated abilities needed to succeed in the pro game. DeShone will need patience from an organization while he files the rougher edges off his game (read: a suitable bridge QB to take snaps while Kizer learns behind him). He will also require a QB coach who has firm hand and absolutely drills fundamental footwork into Kizer’s muscle memory so he make the amazing plays he's capable of with consistency.
The choice comes down a player with more current polish on his game or one with some polish but more overall potential. If I am Ryan Pace and I have to choose between these two players, I choose Kizer and get a solid veteran option to lead the Bears for the next 1-2 seasons so DeShone has a chance to reach his theoretical apex as a pro quarterback.
Who would choose if these were the only two cards on the table?