What a wonderful time to be Deshaun Watson.
First, he displayed guile and guts in a classic two-minute drill to march Clemson down the field in the college football championship game against Alabama. Then he finished it off with a game-winning touchdown pass with one second left on the game clock.
That’s the kind of finish that creates legends and Watson, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, rates as one these days on the campus at Clemson.
A day after the championship game, he passed up his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL draft. This is called striking while the iron is hot, and right now, Mr. Watson’s iron is on fire.
His next stop will be the NFL Combine, a football player meat market, where he will be poked and prodded, checked from the top of his nose to the tip of his toes. He will run dashes against stop watches, throw short passes and long ones, answer myriad questionnaires and generally certify his status as perhaps the best quarterback available in this year’s college grab bag.
Oh sure, there are other big names like Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina and DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame on the radar. But right now, thanks to the season’s final game, Deshaun Watson is the flavor of the month.
Sitting on the sidelines and watching intently will be scouts from the NFL. Most interested will be officials from the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears. They own the first three picks in the draft and each of them is in dire need of a franchise quarterback.
The Browns thought they might resurrect Robert Griffin III who was a washout in Washington. That worked out about as well as the Johnny Manziel adventure did for Cleveland. The 49ers’ best quarterback is probably Colin Kaepernick, but he spent much of his time last season kneeling on the sidelines in protest while the National Anthem was being played. In Chicago, Jake Cutler’s time is over and the Bears need some new blood at the most important position on the field.
And then there are the New York Jets, sitting at No. 6 in the draft order. They finished the season with four quarterbacks on the roster, none of whom appears to be the answer to their signal calling problem. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are free agents who will not be invited back. Bryce Petty was only so-so in his limited chances and they gave rookie Christian Hackenberg no chances at all, even when the season had fallen apart on them, which tells you how far down the depth chart that second-round draft choice last year remains.
All of this means that Deshaun Watson will be a very early pick in the draft. And why not? The young man has the credentials. He is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, ideal size for a quarterback. And he brings with him a portfolio crammed with impressive statistics.
Against Alabama’s world class defense, Watson completed 36 of 56 passes for three touchdowns and added 43 yards and another touchdowns on 21 runs. He was an offensive juggernaut in a performance that certified his status as a top prospect.
And yet, before the Alabama game, there were some doubts about Watson. He threw 30 interceptions in the last two seasons, an alarming number, the kind of turnover number that can be alarming for NFL teams. There was some question about his ability to throw a long ball but he had no problem doing that in Clemson’s two College Football Championship games against Ohio State and Alabama.
Drafting quarterbacks can be a dicey proposition. Rookie Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick, took Dallas to the NFC East title this season. Ryan Leaf took San Diego into oblivion when he was the second player picked in 1998.
Now it’s Watson’s turn and he’ll get his chance very soon, thanks to his championship game heroics. There’s no question about it. This is a wonderful time to be Deshaun Watson.