DeShaun Watson delivered when it mattered in the National Championship for Clemson, in a clutch performance that should influence the 49ers draft board.
DeShaun Watson has many doubters ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft, but he went some way to silencing them last Monday with a clutch performance in the National Championship game that should have made whoever is left in the 49ers front office sit up and take notice.
Watson led Clemson back from a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit against Alabama to clinch a 35-31 victory and the Tigers’ first national title since 1981, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns while running in another against a much vaunted Crimson Tide defense.
His strengths in being able to make all the throws and influence the game with his legs are well known.
However, this performance highlighted Watson’s supreme poise and will have gone some way to allaying any concerns about his capability to throw accurately when under pressure, as he did so in several key moments to inspire an extremely impressive comeback that will see him go down in both Clemson and college football folklore.
Among Watson’s most impressive throws against Alabama was this pass from deep in his own territory in the second quarter.
Given a clean pocket with which to work with, Watson drops the ball perfectly into the hands of his receiver right before he steps out of bounds.
A week on from the National Championship, this Watson throw – deep in his own territory – is still mightily impressive pic.twitter.com/YGOPJzcmeN
That kind of accuracy was not always on display throughout the game but, when under pressure in key moments in the contest, Watson was still able to put the ball in spots where his receivers could make plays.
Here, on the game-winning drive, Watson has late-arriving pressure in his face, but hangs tough in the pocket and is able to step into the throw, putting it in a position where his target can adjust and make an impressive catch.
Watson’s throw to win the game was well executed, though it was far more simple, the signal-caller making an easy completion at the end of a well-designed play to find Hunter Renfrow for the decisive score.
There is little flashy about the game-winning play, but Watson still deserves credit for maintaining his composure in the biggest moment of his fledgling football career.
The Watson game-winner. Good design, nothing spectacular about the throw, but he deserves credit for delivering when it mattered. pic.twitter.com/Yx96Ty6Q5V
And, when surveying the options at quarterback in the draft, Watson’s apparent ability to keep his cool should be an asset that vaults him up the 49ers’ board, regardless of who is running it.
That is because quarterback composure, particularly in game-on-the-line situations, has been in short supply for the Niners for some time.
It is tough to find much to criticize both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick for from the period of success they each enjoyed in the Jim Harbaugh years.
Yet it can be argued that, when it came to the biggest games of their respective time as starters, both were unable to get the job done.
Smith could not deliver in the Niners’ NFC Championship game loss to the New York Giants back in 2012 and Kaepernick – despite leading the 49ers to within mere yards of a Super Bowl victory – did not finish off potential game-winning drives in that thrilling contest or the subsequent season’s NFC title game with the Seattle Seahawks.
Any composure and poise previously exhibited by Kaepernick completely disappeared in 2015 and, while he did appear to be some way back to his old self under Chip Kelly in 2016, the fact he was not able to see out close games with the likes of the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets and only able to claim one win in all of his starts will speak volumes to many.
Kaepernick’s performance in pressure moments was miles ahead of that Blaine Gabbert, whose pivotal underthrown interception in a Week 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys served as an encapsulation of his miserable pro career.
The pros and cons of Kaepernick and Gabbert have been discussed at length, but neither can be considered trustworthy in high-pressure scenarios and neither is likely to be on the team in 2017 with a new head coach and general manager coming into the fray.
It may have been at the college level but Watson, by contrast, has demonstrated that he can come through when the stakes are high.
Having seen the 49ers struggle to sustain success with quarterbacks with questionable mental strength in recent times, the confidence Watson has shown under the brightest of spotlights should have a significant influence on what San Francisco does when its front office is considering whether to make him the team’s next franchise quarterback.