2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2017 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in while a few others will play top-ranked players.

Today, we will kick off our profiles with a breakdown of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson #4 6’2” 207lbs


– Career Passing: 35 Starts, 67.4% Completion Rate, 10,168 Passing Yards, 90 TD 32 INT
– Career Rushing: 435 Carries, 1934 Yards (4.4 Avg), 26 TD
– Heisman Voting: 3rd in 2015, 2nd in 2016
– 2017 College Football Playoff Champion and Offensive MVP

The Good:

– Natural Leader and Winner: In three seasons at Clemson, Watson finished with a 32-3 record as a starter, including two National Championship appearances.
– Clutch: Watson rises to the occasion in the biggest moments. He threw for over 400 yards in both of his National Championship appearances, with 7 TDs and only 1 INT. Additionally, in 2016, Watson led Clemson to 4th quarter comeback victories against No.1 Alabama, No.3 Louisville and No.12 Florida State; as well as an overtime victory against NC State.
– Playmaking Ability: Several times a game, when things didn’t go according to plan, Watson was able to step-up and make a play. He demonstrated this skill both subtly (e.g. avoiding a sack and throwing the ball away) and spectacularly (e.g. off-balance, cross-field touchdown pass with pressure in his face). Some of these plays are shown below.
– Throwing Mechanics: Overall, Watson has a smooth, compact and over-the-top delivery. Very efficient motion that is well-suited for throwing within the confined spaces of an NFL pocket. Footwork is generally good; throws with a solid-base and balanced posture. He occasionally over-strides causing the ball to float and sail; however, this is a fixable defect that should be corrected with NFL coaching.
– Mobility: Although he is not typically an explosive, big-play runner, Watson is a constant threat in the run game. He frequently picks up first downs and extends plays with his feet, forcing defenses to commit a player to “spy” responsibilities.
– Chemistry: Watson had great chemistry with his receivers and coaches. He regularly completed difficult Back-Shoulder Fades or deep Corner routes for big gains; patterns which require the ball to be in the air before the receiver is aware.

The Bad:

– Accuracy: The biggest red-flag in Watson’s game is his accuracy on both short and deep passing. He regularly overthrows wide-open deep Fades, throws low on Out routes and behind on Slants. I didn’t notice any reoccurring mechanical problems that led to these miscues, so I suspect that the heart of the problem is simply related to his subconscious tracking of his receivers’ speed/movement. Difficult to say for certain.
– Tipped Passes: Despite his 6’2” frame and always throwing from shotgun, Watson often had his passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. His wide base is probably to blame, as it obviously diminishes his height advantage. Additionally, because Watson sometimes telegraphed his passes by staring down receivers or “double-clutching” on throws, pass rushers were able to anticipate the time and direction of his release and obstruct the passing lanes.
– Field Vision: To be clear, Watson was not a risky passer and generally made good decisions with the football. However, there were head scratching plays in many games that made me wonder whether he was throwing solely off his pre-snap reads. It only takes a few poor-decisions a game to affect the outcome. I included several of these plays in the Film Breakdown below.
– Pro-Readiness: Clemson’s spread offense never ran plays from under-center and rarely required Watson to make certain throws that are routinely called on Sundays (such as traditional play-action passes or 5-step drops without a reset). Moreover, because Clemson’s passing game consisted mainly of half-field reads and mirrored route combinations, Watson has limited experience in scanning the entire field or working through a full-field progression. As a result, it’s difficult to project how his game will translate to the NFL. We’ve recently seen quarterbacks who played in similar college offenses (such as Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton) make the jump without any major problems, so it’s possible that Watson makes a similar transition, however it’s still a major unknown.

Film Breakdown:

– Watson’s playmaking ability, particularly in pressure situations, is a significant reason he is considered a top QB in this year’s draft. Look here at his throw on 3rd and Goal (from the 16-yardline), in the 4th Quarter, in a one-possession game against Auburn.

Clemson is running a Smash concept against Auburn’s Cover 0. Since Watson knows it’s man coverage across the board with no safety help, he picks his best match-up pre-snap, buys time by taking a deep drop (his only 5-step drop that I remember watching), and throws a safe and accurate pass to the corner of the end zone. He stands strong in the face of a heavy blitz, takes a huge hit, and seals the game with a throw on the money.

– His running ability is also huge draw for pro-scouts. Although most of his successful runs were between 5-10 yards for first downs, this run against Ohio State showcases his elite athleticism and dynamic running potential:

– Sometimes Watson’s play-making ability is demonstrated subtly with plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet. Here against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal game he (miraculously) survives a sack and throws the ball away; saving field position and preventing a momentum shift in favor of the Buckeyes:

– Here is an example of Watson’s sound pocket mechanics and composure in the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfield throughout the play, feels and side-steps the inside pressure, keeps both hands on the ball, moves the ball away from the incoming defender, resets his feet and delivers a strong and accurate pass to his receiver on the sideline. Textbook play:

– On the negative side, Watson’s inconsistent accuracy is concerning. Below are several, sure-fire touchdowns that were not even close to being completed.

vs. Georgia Tech:

vs. Louisville

vs. South Carolina:

vs. South Carolina:

– Lastly, at times Watson’s decision-making and field vision were questionable.

Here against Pitt on Clemson’s opening drive, Watson was fooled by a coverage disguise, leading to an end zone INT. Pitt had played Cover 2-Man for the entirety of this drive and showed the same Cover 2 look on this play pre-snap. However, on the snap of the ball, the corner on the short side of the field bailed into Quarters coverage. Watson failed to recognize the change and assumed the coverage was the same, resulting a costly turnover. His field vision must improve at the next level:

Later against Pitt, I cannot figure out what Watson saw that made him think this pass was a good idea. Possibly his wort throw and decision of the season:

– Overall, Deshaun Watson is a very good quarterback and a dynamic playmaker. He has a lot of the raw tools that are necessary to succeed in the NFL and he should improve with professional coaching. His mobility, leadership and work ethic are all positive attributes that will undoubtedly make his transition to the NFL much easier. However, his accuracy issues and inexperience playing in a pro-style offense are red-flags that I think may cause him to slip in the draft, possibly out of the first round.

Projection: Day-one

Games Watched: at Auburn, vs South Carolina, at Georgia Tech, vs. Louisville, vs Pittsburgh, vs. Ohio State

About the Author

Sean McKaveney

Sean McKaveney is currently a student at the UCLA School of Law and was formerly the starting Quarterback and Team Captain for Claremont McKenna College, a Top 10 Liberal Arts school in Los Angeles. Although he grew up in Southern California, Sean was raised as a diehard Steelers fan by his father, a Pittsburgh native. The Steelers are undefeated in games that Sean has attended.

  • Conserv_58

    To say that Watson is considered a top QB in this year’s draft means little to nothing compared to the 2004 draft. Many experts have placed a “Buyers Beware” sign on the QB’s in this draft class. The overall consensus is that this QB draft class is one of the weakest in many years. If the top QB’s in this draft class were in the 2004 draft class all or most would have gone undrafted.

    Given that fact and the fact that Ben is contemplating retirement I would rather see the Steelers keep Landry and bring in a free agent veteran than draft any QB in this draft class.

  • T3xassteelers

    Mahomes > all others QBs

    Like Watson second though.

  • Steelers12

    Watson and Kizer are the only QBs i would draft if they fell to us in the 2nd round and VTECH”S Jeremy Evans in the 5th

  • T3xassteelers

    Both overrated. Mahomes is the guy I’d want. Raw, needs to sit a year or 2. Great, now sit behind Big Ben for a few years and come into a situation like Rodgers. Most potential out of everyone by a mile.

    Kizer is the most laughable prospect in the mix to go #1 ever.. dudes all technique.. nothing more, nothing less.

  • Spencer Krick

    Great report!

    He reminds me of a less athletic Michael Vick. I think he needs to redshirt for a season or two before he’s NFL ready. Still, I bet someone reaches for him. If it’s not the Browns, it may be the Jets.

  • Steelers12

    i honestly dont see a qb that deserves to go in 1st round

  • budabar

    No thanks I’ll pass

  • Spencer Krick

    I think Pete Carroll said the same thing two years ago. 😉

  • srdan


  • taztroy43

    I would rather wait for the USC QB Sam Darnold next year!!! Reminds me of Big Ben

  • pittfan

    inaccuracy in an NFL QB is a nonstarter.

  • Dan

    Can he clean up his accuracy, and pick up on the nuances of the pro game? That will define his career.

  • Dennis Nevinsky

    There are a few QBs to take a flier on in later rounds, to compete with our backup QBs. Now if Ben retires, I don’t see another QB in free agency, the draft, or trade to take up back to the playoffs. “Playoffs, did you say Playoffs.”

  • Charles Haines

    Unfortunately you can’t coach accuracy so 31 teams should pass on Watson. (Browns drafted Johnny Cocktail so you never know). Davis Webb and Peterman might be as good as it gets in this class as all other have red flags. Trubinsky with 12 starts, Mahomes playing high school offense, Kizer looked bad against decent teams. Desperate teams do desperate things but I agree with another reader here, there aren’t any QB’s worthy of 1st round.

  • LucasY59

    I dont like this years QB talent in the Draft, and it is only worse because Im no longer sure if Ben is playing out his contract (and they might need a new #2 QB as well) my replacement scenario is still waiting until Ben retires (whenever that will be) and then having a down yr where they will have a early draft pick to hopefully get a quality QB prospect, the other scenario is that they hopefully fill the remaining holes on D (and keep the Offensive players, that have it pretty much set as well) so next Draft they will have the luxury of taking a QB early (this yr they need to get the final pieces to hopefully win a SB)

  • LucasY59

    the one thing I really like about Watson is that he is a winner, if he goes to a good team he can probably be successful in the NFL (with talent around him) but if he goes to a struggling team he will struggle as well, if the Clowns pick him, he will be another failed 1st rd QB draft pick for that franchise

  • Jeff Drummond

    I’ve always wondered how many guys in the past may have panned out if they had gotten into a winning organization prepared to help them immediately rather than these guys almost always going to a terrible organization hoping to hit the Powerball.

  • RickM

    I think the “accuracy” issue is inflated. There are throws he needs to improve, but he’s not a ‘Jake Locker inaccurate’. He actually had a higher completion percentage in his college career than Luck, Winston or Newton. And his final year TD-INT ratio was tons better than Winston. I’m not suggesting he’s a guaranteed Top 5 pick, although he could easily move up there. But I think if he’s available at #12 the Browns will take him and address the O-line with their two Round 2 picks.

  • NinjaMountie

    Tim Tebow had great college stats as well. I’m not sold on Watson. On the other hand I didn’t think Winston would do as well as he has though. That being said Winston’s completion percentage is a little lower than you’d like and his TD/INT ration isn’t great.
    I said all that to say that I worry tremendously about college QBs that have accuracy problems because the windows are only tighter in the NFL.

  • RickM

    I don’t know whether Watson will be a good pro QB. But QB’s get elevated in the three months before the draft and his last drive against Alabama, his Heisman, etc. will make a team think he could be a franchise guy. As the the Tebow comparison, yes he had the good stats but everyone knew he had significant throwing mechanics issues.

  • Nothing against him but I don’t see him making it in the NFL. Maybe not even as a backup. It’s not so much his accuracy, which isn’t very good, it’s the lack of velocity on his throws. I imagine defensive backs baiting him into throws just so they could pick him off. But what do I know. Gotta tip the cap for the fact he did thrive in the spotlight. Many a QB has looked like a can’t miss prospect, only to shrink in the spotlight. So, there is that to consider I guess

  • jsteeler

    Any team that passes on Deshaun and needs a QB will regret it.
    It will be like passing on Michael Jordan- Dabo Swinney.
    Yes, I am a homer and a Clemson Alum. class of 91″ I think his (WATSON) potential is better than Tajh boyd was but not a top 10 pick. Go Tigers and Go Steelers.
    Steeler Nation is waiting on your return Baby.

  • steelburg

    What the hell does all technique mean? Generally when a guy has good technique he is a good player see Richard Sherman for an example. I think Kizer is the best QB in this draft IMO. But I would take both Kizer and Watson in the 2nd.

  • T3xassteelers

    You can have good technique but average arm strength, accuracy, etc

    I don’t see the hype with Kizer one bit. He’s going to be a backup at best imo. I do like Watson though, if he’s miraculously there in the second, easy pick.

  • T3xassteelers

    There’s nothing special about Kizer is what I’m saying basically

  • steelburg

    We will just have to agree to disagree on this one.

  • popsiclesticks

    Undrafted? Come on. Mahomes is a much better version of JP Losman and Losman went first round that year.

  • popsiclesticks

    You think the Steelers are drafting first overall next year?

  • popsiclesticks

    I think you possibly can. Cam Newton wasn’t the most accurate thrower in college but he’s improved in the NFL. Guess it depends on how much you think is due to technique and how much of an overhaul it would require.

  • popsiclesticks

    Winston’s issues were decision making – he was a highly accurate thrower in an NFL style offense. I like Watson but man are his WRs wide open. Then again so were Mariota’s at Oregon.

  • Garrett Hunt

    Deshaun Watson is going to be an All-pro one day. He is the type of player that makes all of his teamates on the field better and yet is still the best player on the field.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Though the opinion is not a totally popular one, I think Watson is my favorite QB of the top guys in this class. And this class is NOT particularly impressive, like at all. But if I had to have one guy, it would be Watson. But yes, I hope Pittsburgh passes on all of these QB’s this year.

  • Darth Blount 47

    He’s back!