When you were a college superstar a.k.a. the “face of college football”, such as former Clemson quarterback, Deshaun Watson, it may seem jarring to face the limitations of your game. Limitations that you need to fix to succeed in the NFL.
The constant scrutiny through a draft process where NFL evaluators are picking apart every aspect of your ability and life, ever invasive, even while you feel like you have nothing else to prove, can be overwhelming.
For Watson, it’s different. As the Chicago Bears and others in the first round of the upcoming draft keep a close eye on him, he knows he has a lot to show.
Watson knows what he has to work on to be the man as a passer. He understands the criticisms levied against him as a “spread” quarterback. He’s admirably accepting responsibility (not the easiest thing to do) for what he’s shown on film and for those who believe he won’t pan out as a professional.
He’s not relenting in his confidence that his ability will show out in the end.
“They obviously are going to poke holes,” said Watson of his detractors during March’s Scouting Combine. “If I were in their shoes, I would poke holes, too. I take full responsibility in all of that.”
It does seem odd that a quarterback who accomplished everything as an amateur, now has to answer for those “holes.” This is part of the draft process and every prospect has questions. Every single player.
With that in mind, I keep trying to find areas to poke into with Watson. It becomes increasingly difficult in comparison to his strengths.
What you see in the 21-year-old Watson is an impeccable winner with arguably the best intangibles of any passer in this class. A guy you can feel comfortable handing the keys to your franchise because he’ll make everyone better. He’s a solid well-built athlete at 6-foot-2, 221 pounds who can make plays on his feet and move around in the pocket. As a note, he also possesses a lightning quick release and gets better as the game goes along.
Watson is a dynamic playmaker who is at his best under the pressure of a tight game, and of a highly developmental class, is the most NFL-ready right now.
In that light, the weaknesses are present but they’re nothing Watson can’t fix.
First being, as ironically enough, Bears head coach John Fox weighed in on, is the “easy-read” spread offense Clemson ran with Watson.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is [having] the recall,” Fox said of up-tempo college quarterbacks like Watson. “In college football, you’ll see them at the line and the whole offense will look at the sideline. The recall in the huddle takes a little bit of practice. It’s like memorizing a poem.”
This isn’t an uncommon issue for just Watson either.
The Titans’ Marcus Mariota had to go through it after his time at Oregon - a comparable prospect in style to Watson - and multiple other spread guys have as well in the past. There’s a lot of play design that allows a quarterback to thrive here without much effort, without reading defenses. It makes it difficult to project how a guy will be able to learn and digest a playbook and translate that into being a successful NFL quarterback, but that’s all natural.
That’s a part of the college game some coaches have to accept.
All of this fear doesn’t mean that Watson didn’t read defenses. In fact, he wouldn’t have had as much success at Clemson without possessing that skill. He’s going to have to do it more in the NFL is all, like every college guy.
Understand that if you’re an NFL coach and you can’t frame a playbook that fits your talented players like Watson to help them grow, maybe your evaluations are off. Maybe there’s a bit of false myths at play, too.
You know, as opposed to failing in an attempt to fit a square peg of a player into your round complex hole of a scheme and throw off all development. It’s supposed to be about making players comfortable and seeking the positives in their game under a magnifying glass.
Watson could receive that in the NFL. Areas like terminology or reads in transition don’t become much of an issue, and shouldn’t be too much of a problem over time.
In other cases of said overblown myths labeled on Watson, it’s the sometimes questionable accuracy and particularly, the interceptions.
Watson threw 17 picks in the 2016 season, an alarming number for a quarterback designated as the franchise for a team. It’s important to understand the context of those interceptions and realize that this can be alleviated while you accept the positives of Watson’s playmaking.
Bleacher Report’s lead scouting analyst, Doug Farrar, agrees and notes that while it’ll be a lot of work, Watson can eventually come into his own and strive away from his deficiencies.
“It's fairly easy to assert that Watson is the player with the most positive and obvious attributes at this time,” said Farrar. “Yes, he'll need a system that works for him, but you could say that about the majority of NFL quarterbacks over time.”
Ultimately, you have to dispel said narratives that passers such as Watson can’t transcend past their criticisms in a good fit. That in the end, they can still be great.
Watson can make throws from the pocket, he only has to work on his throwing mechanics, like every young player.
Watson can read a defense, he just has to polish up on how he goes through his progressions and the machinations of a faster NFL defense, like every young quarterback.
Watson can fix his interception issues, he just has to fix his footwork and base-setting that throw his balls off-kilter on occasion - a very common issue that Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and others share. Established professionals like the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and Buccaneers’ Jameis Winston threw picks aplenty in their respective senior college seasons too. They’ve turned out okay so far, as they were properly taken care of by professional coaches.
Once you understand the work that goes into this development - that can be done - you note the dynamic leader and playmaker you possess in Watson and appreciate him. Because he’ll take your franchise to a new stratosphere if you let him.
Good thing for the Bears in the case of potentially taking Watson then is that he would more than likely sit behind new free agent acquisition, Mike Glennon. That’s all in the idea of getting used to the NFL for a year or two before taking over. Which would be the scenario for any of the young quarterbacks Chicago selects in this draft.
You let Watson season to an extent, and in the end he could become the field general general manager Ryan Pace is looking for in year three of a Bears’ rebuild. It’s not a “reach” if the Bears determine this is the player to get them to contention.
There’s tremendous risk in selecting Watson or any quarterback so high at No. 3, but the reward can be equally great with the most critical position.
For now, Watson isn’t concerned with that notion of risk or whether he’s even the first quarterback selected on April 27th. He’s not getting caught up in comparisons.
Such as how his head coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney said “if they pass on Deshaun Watson, they pass on Michael Jordan” during January’s Senior Bowl practices.
Always humble, Watson wants to create his own legacy.
“I thanked him for the compliment,” Watson said. “It’s pretty cool, but I’m no Michael Jordan. I’m Deshaun Watson. My goal is for one day, to be able to have people talk about me like they do Michael Jordan.”
Who knows, one day the Bears could speak of Watson in a similar way.
Bears position outlook: Quarterback
Bears’ need: Very high
Current depth chart: Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, Connor Shaw
The situation: There was a lot of confusion over the Bears signing both Glennon and the veteran Sanchez in free agency. It changes nothing on their future at quarterback.
Barring an explosion from Glennon, the guaranteed money on his deal which roughly translates to only a year of commitment at $15 million next season, means the Bears are looking to him as the “bridge” passer. All while they select a quarterback this year to mold in the meantime. Playing the short and long-term view.
Best available: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
There’s hardly a consensus at quarterback this year. Some think North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is the best. Some have Kizer as the best. Some stick with Watson. For the purposes of this on my evaluation, I think Watson’s the top choice. Although you can’t go wrong with Trubisky, Kizer, or much larger projects such as Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs in the later rounds.
Something to keep an eye on:
Depending on how high the Bears pick a quarterback this year, how long before he’s starting in 2017?
There’s always the chance that Glennon could surprise and he may actually be adequate regardless. Watch out for a young guy to possibly take over by mid-season.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy CIty Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.