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Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson stick out as clutch performers

A recent study has Watson leading the 2017 quarterback class in crunch time. Meanwhile, Mahomes makes a name for himself as well.

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NCAA Football: Kansas at Texas Tech
In the red zone and fourth quarter, Mahomes is unmatched among his 2017 counterparts.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Intangibles. A simultaneously overrated and underrated trait, mostly because many believe them to be unmeasurable. But how a player - particularly a quarterback - steps up in crunch time situations, whether it be in the fourth quarter, in the red-zone, or on third down, does matter. It’s these moments where the true franchise leaders stick out the most.

For the Chicago Bears and their potential search for a young quarterback to build around long-term in the 2017 NFL Draft, have no fear that they’re definitely taking pressure performance into account. After all, no matter how complete and talented your team may be, sometimes the man under center is going to have to go out and make a play to win a game.

The “Draft Maverick”, Mike Margittai, who runs a considerably large NFL Draft page on Facebook, did an analysis (the chart explains everything in more depth) on clutch ratings of the quarterbacks in every year’s draft class in the past nine seasons. His metric factors in everything from yards per attempt and completion percentage, to touchdown-interception ratio. Primarily, the clutch factors focuses on play on third down (minimum 50 attempts), in the red zone (minimum 25 attempts), and how a passer plays while losing by a margin of 1-7 points.

Note: These are all individual seasons.

Of all of the quarterbacks in the 2017 quarterback class, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes were the only ones to have their ratings on these platforms go up last year.

For Watson, his highest total in each of these “clutch” groupings over his three-year career in college was his freshman season. It would be easy to qualify Watson’s freshman season as better as it’s the highest with a 6.96 clutch rating on a scale to 10. But considering he wasn’t the full-time starter yet then, that’s on a limited sample size.

What some believe was Watson’s actual best season, was 2015, when the Tigers fell to Alabama in the National Championship Game. But his clutch rating was a low and meager 5.08 that year. In 2016, that mark jumped up to 6.10, as Clemson found itself behind in a lot of games en route to a national title. Watson’s greatest strength this past season was a 204.38 red zone rating. Scouts have marveled at his best decision making in the red zone so that makes sense and the intangibles he possesses so these all fit his descriptors.

Overall, Watson seems to be the most balanced with these numbers as well, with no mark overly excessively high or low, which shows how some believe his ceiling to improve isn’t very high.

Though, I wonder where we’ve seen this innate instinctive play show out for Watson. Doesn’t seem to ring a bell other than on paper ...

Oh right, this year’s National Championship Game in a redemptive victory over Alabama in the final seconds.

Anyway, what was really fascinating about the study was that Mahomes was actually the only passer to end up with a final improvement in each of his three years at school. That’s across every quarterback evaluated in the three keys of the metric over the past several years. For example, he went from a 169.73 rating on third down as a freshman to a 180.17 mark as a junior.

Not by coincidence, that 180.17 peak was Mahomes’ greatest strength in that respect as it paints a picture of a guy who extends drives as he pleases. Seeing as how many believe Mahomes to have the highest ceiling of all the 2017 quarterbacks, he has a lot to work on - his instinct on third down not necessarily included.

Other notables in the 2017 class include Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman slotting in at 5.20 and 6.49, respectively, in their final seasons at school. Both, like Watson, were at their best in the red zone with 167.38 and 195.23 ratings there, respectively. A mark of excellent ball placement and touch many have praised both for. A good ability to have, because if you can’t get it done in the tight spaces of the red area when it’s time to score, how will you be successful as an NFL quarterback?

North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and his one year as a starter came out behind those two with a 5.12 clutch rating. Trubisky also excelled in the red zone with a 194.75 rating but alarmingly graded out less than average with a subpar 116.58 mark when a game was close. One of the knocks on the passer is serious questions of how he performs in pressure moments and this reflects that concern greatly. How Trubisky eliminates that concern will be determined (winning close games).

To top it all off, a highly touted developmental prospect in Miami’s Brad Kaaya graded out in the mediocre red overall, twice, with a 4.06 and 3.96 clutch rating in each of his last two seasons as a college starter. He’s going to be a huge project someone undertakes, so it’ll be fascinating to see if his clutch play improves as a professional over time.

And just who was the most clutch passer in this entire study?

Why none other than the Seattle Seahawks’ face of the franchise, Russell Wilson, who had an 8.47 clutch rating in his senior season at Wisconsin. With three Pro Bowl appearances to date, and a Super Bowl championship under his belt, that would make sense for the former four-year incredibly polished starter in Wilson.

What would be really interesting is to see this kind of analysis applied across a greater scale over a few decades to then see who came out on top after college when performing in the clutch. That would provide an even better insight on the history of the position. My bet is someone such as Joe Montana or Tom Brady would then lead, but a dark horse could always lead the list.

On that note, more active notables include a 8.13, 2013 season, from the Buccanneers’ Jameis Winston at Florida State, and a 7.60 rating for the BrownsCody Kessler while as a junior in 2014 at USC. The Bears of course, notably could have drafted Kessler in the third round last year instead of defensive end, Jonathan Bullard.

This is but one statistical analysis of how the coming influx of quarterbacks will translate into the NFL. But it no doubt demonstrates an excellent idea of just how these guys like Watson, Mahomes, and Trubisky, perform when games and drives are on the line.

What it really does, is it may offer a true glimpse of how they’re asked to come through in the crunch time moments that will inevitably come crashing down.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.