Clemson didn’t win the national title Monday night, but Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson won over folks in the NFL. One NFL QB coach told FOX Sports he thinks Watson can be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
The coach also said he traded a few texts with some of his peers around the NFL and heard back from guys who were similarly impressed by what Watson did Monday night. The coach said he liked Watson before the game but was wowed by what he saw against the Crimson Tide: “Those are NFL players he was going against. He threw with anticipation. He was very accurate. He responded well to adversity. He’s a smooth athlete, and he showed he’s tough.”
Watson torched the Bama defense for 405 yards and four TDs on 30-of-47 passing in the 45-40 loss. He also ran for 73 yards on 20 carries — no QB has run for 100 or more yards on a Nick Saban defense since 1998, when Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El did it. The fact that the 20-year-old Watson was able to excel on such a big stage probably meant more than any other single attribute because it speaks to his mental make-up, according to the QB coach, who pointed to the tough throws Watson made downfield, often into tight windows against pretty good coverage.
“And, it’s not like he has the talent around him like (former Clemson star) Tajh Boyd had,” he said. “Boyd was playing with Pro Bowlers."
Asked about whether some NFL personnel people might hold the Clemson offensive scheme against him, since he’s not playing in a pure pro-style system, the QB coach said, “Some coaches probably will be uncomfortable with him because that’s not the style they’re used to, but guys that know what they are doing won’t have an issue with it."
One longtime NFL scout FOX Sports reached out to said he, too, was impressed by Watson, but didn’t want to speculate on his future draft prospects. “Well, he’s still just a sophomore,” the scout said.
Watson finished the season throwing for 4,104 yards and 35 TD passes with 13 interceptions. He completed 67.8 percent of his passes and took just 15 sacks in 15 games despite playing behind a completely rebuilt offensive line. He also ran for 1,105 yards and 12 TDs.
For his part, Alabama coach Nick Saban certainly sounded like a Watson believer.
"He did a fantastic job in the game,” Saban said. "We didn’t cover as well as we’re capable of, and we weren’t able to handle him up front with our rushers, and I think they had 80-some plays, and we got tired probably in the second quarter, and once that happened, it was even worse. We like to play more man-to-man, but when you play against such an athletic quarterback and you’re playing man-to-man, nobody is looking at the quarterback. So that makes it tough, and when we did play zone tonight we didn’t do a very good job, we didn’t tackle very well, break on the ball like we needed to. He extended some plays and made some big plays, but the guy is a fantastic player."