Early in the 2017 League Year, two quarterback-centric decisions shaped the future of the Texans for the foreseeable future.
The first happened early in March 2017 when the Texans traded 2016 starting quarterback Brock Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns. The second happened when former Cowboys star quarterback Tony Romo decided to take his talents to the broadcast booth, instead of entertaining the thought of playing elsewhere, including Houston for the 2017 season. Those two decisions made it crystal clear that the Texans needed to find a quarterback for the future, preferably in the 2017 NFL Draft.
That Draft included three quarterbacks that were thought to be first-round selections. One was the one-year wonder Mitchell Trubisky from North Carolina, one was the gunslinging, uber-talented wild card from Texas Tech, Patrick Mahomes, and the third candidate was a National Championship star from Clemson. His name? Deshaun Watson.
The Texans sat at No. 25 in the 2017 Draft, and I was convinced that two of the three, at a minimum, would not be available at that spot, but to create content and think out loud, really, I wrote an in-depth scouting report for each quarterback for the Texans site. Suffice to say, each one was really spot on. When I went back to read what I wrote and/or projected for Watson, I remembered thinking at the time, "Man, what if he ended up in Houston?"
That was the extent, really, of my yearning as I thought there was really no way it was going to happen. Then, a trade moved the Texans up to No. 12 and one quarterback was left on the board - the best one in my Harris 100 that particular year. Soon thereafter, Deshaun Watson's name was called and the future of the Texans franchise changed on the spot. So, it's fun to throw it back to 2017 and take a look at my scouting report on Deshaun prior to being drafted by the Houston Texans. A huge thanks to Deshaun for making this report look fairly accurate.
----- Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
6-2, 221 lb.
Attended Gainesville (GA) HS
Rated as the number three player in the nation in 2014 class (Tom Lemming)
Rated number one dual-threat quarterback in the nation by ESPN
Broke the state of Georgia record for passing touchdowns and total offense AFTER JUNIOR YEAR
Still holds Georgia state records in yards, touchdowns and total offense (**2020 update - current Clemson star Trevor Lawrence broke all of these records later in 2017)
1st Team Parade All-American
Enrolled early in January 2014
Led Clemson to first national championship in 31 years - National Championship Game MVP
2016 Fiesta Bowl MVP (win over Ohio State)
2016 ACC Championship Game MVP
2x Heisman Trophy Finalist
2x Davey O'Brien Award winner
2x Manning Award winner
2016 Johnny Unitas Award winning, top graduating quarterback in college football
2nd Team All-American by numerous outlets (2016)
3rd Team All-American by Phil Steele (2016)
1st Team All-American by numerous outlets (2015)
ACC Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year (2015)
All-ACC Academic selection as a freshman (2014)
Hand: 9 3/4"
40-yd dash: 4.66 seconds
Vertical Jump: 32.5"
Broad Jump: 10-11
3-cone drill: 6.95 seconds
Short Shuttle: 4.31 seconds
On New Year's Eve, we were in Nashville getting ready to take on the Titans and as I was watching Alabama lay waste to a game Washington team in one national semifinal game, I couldn't help but think, man, I hope Clemson beats Ohio State. Why?
Deshaun Watson was the one gunslinger that didn't fear the Alabama defense. A Crimson Tide defense that featured NFL first rounders at nearly every single position, and then some, ran roughshod and appeared to be on its way to a second consecutive national championship.
Appeared, being the key word.
Watson and the Tigers made short work of Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl later that night to set up the titanic rematch with the Crimson Tide. It was one of the best college football games we've ever seen and Watson had the ball in his hands one final time, down by three. He had taken a pounding throughout the game and led the Tigers back from down ten late in the third quarter.
Watson rolled right and found Hunter Renfrow on The Play that Changed Everything with just one second left in the game to seal the win.
That night, Watson threw or ran on 77 plays against the number one defense in the nation, one that had submitted teams, truly made opponents quit during the season.
463 yards of total offense, 43 hard earned rushing yards. One rushing touchdown. Three passing touchdowns. He did the unthinkable.
In a way, though, it was a maddening performance when juxtaposed against some of his other head scratching performances during the season, in particular, his decision-making. 17 interceptions had everyone's attention, including a trio of back breaking picks against Pitt. Two against Troy. Two against Florida State where he was baited into some awful decisions.
Which quarterback is he? The one that picked up his slingshot to beat Alabama or the one that threw a gut-punch pick against Pitt on the verge of scoring to essentially end that game? Let's take a look.
"He comes to every meeting prepared. That's how you change things, you change the culture, for me it's through discipline and recruiting, staffing and all that stuff. For them, it's decision-making, it's who you pick. And I'm just telling you: They pass on Deshaun Watson, they're passing on Michael Jordan. I mean, I don't know what the heck I'm talking about, I'm just an old funky college coach, but Deshaun Watson is the best, by a long shot."
--Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney on Watson
"Watson plays his best football when the lights are bright and that's an important characteristic at any position, but especially quarterback. He's a quiet leader, a little bit like Marcus Mariota"
--NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock
Check out the full 2020 Harris 100 here.
What to like
Ball placement is better than some people think Composed and difficult to rattle, poised Doesn't always look to run when he scrambles, does keep his eyes downfield All ball, all the time - a football geek, nerd with a high football understanding and IQ Not a howitzer arm, but throws a comfortable ball for receivers to catch Throws well on the run Excellent back shoulder placement - could work a clinic with receiver Mike Williams Tough as a $2 steak, played his freshman year with a torn ACL v. South Carolina Fearless, took some hits, including one from Reuben Foster (Alabama) that I thought knocked him out - didn't miss one play Compact throwing mechanics - quick release Players look to him late in the game to make a play - he typically does
What needs some work
Decision making in 2016, in particular, was questionable Misread coverages that cost him dearly, especially in the red zone Lack of ball velocity could cost him on deep outs/comebacks in NFL scheme Getting to his second read wasn't always his priority - would pull and run Has to know when the running journey is over - took some unnecessary hits Deep dig/in gave him trouble - ball sailed on him
No one will ever forget the throw to Renfrow for the game winning touchdown, but the throw that Watson made with :17 seconds remaining is the throw that his scouting/coaching supporters should use to lead their argument.
It was 2nd and 10 and Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was now blitzing Watson on just about every play. He sent a litany of Crimson Tide defenders at Watson, hoping to get one final play made. On this play, Pruitt called for Foster to loop inside and work a game with star outside linebacker Tim Williams and defensive end Da'Shawn Hand.
All three burst into Watson's face while he stood strong in the pocket. He had tight end Jordan Leggett on a short corner/sail route in man coverage. Watson knew, absolutely knew, he was going to take a shot. Yet, he stepped right into the throw, one of his best fastballs of the night.
He was right; he did take a shot from all three Tide defenders.
He also delivered a seed outside the numbers to Leggett where the athletic tight end was the only one able to make the catch. Leggett held on with :15 seconds left and a key first down. Two plays later, Watson found Renfrow and made history.
Sure, Watson's career isn't just a two game episodic mini-series against Alabama, although those games go a long way to tell the story of perseverance, guts and clutch at work. He did make decisions in other games that can give scouts/coaches pause. But, Swinney's right, in a sense...passing on him is going to be a mistake. Quarterbacks like him can learn to get it right and make the right decisions in due time because he'll give anything to be put in that position over and over and over.
Game on the line, you have one choice to make - who do you want with the ball in his hands?
I don't need Sherlock Holmes to figure the elementary answer to that question.
Check out the full 2020 Harris 100 here.