Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had one of the all-time great national championship game performances, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns against the vaunted Alabama defense to give the Tigers their first national title since 1981.
Despite that final showing after another strong season where Watson completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, there are still questions from some about his draft stock going into the 2017 NFL Draft, even in an otherwise weak quarterback draft. There are many that have Watson graded solidly as a first round pick for this year, but there are some that question his status as a first day selection.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Watson rated as his No. 3 quarterback in this year’s draft and has a second round projection on him with 100 days to go until the first round starts. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah has Watson rated as his No. 32 overall prospect, right on the edge of the first and second round, with both he and Kiper calling into question Watson’s decision-making this season that led to 17 interceptions.
On Tuesday morning, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney took exception to projections having Watson outside the first round and went on a rant on the Rich Eisen Show when asked about criticism of his star quarterback’s prospects at the next level.
Swinney going on a long, winding rant shouldn’t come as a surprise as he’s one of the most excitable coaches in college football during interviews. He makes valid points about Watson’s abilities and there is something to be said about there being a bit of paralysis by analysis when it comes to the Clemson star. He entered the season as the nation’s top quarterback and a sluggish start to the season, coupled with the issues with turnovers, made it easy to poke holes in his draft stock. Meanwhile, less experienced quarterbacks like North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer shot up draft boards.
The interceptions are a legitimate concern with Watson, who has a tremendous amount of confidence in his arm talent to fit the ball into tight windows. However, against ranked opponents this season he averaged 354 yards passing, 2.6 touchdowns and 1.7 interceptions in seven games this season, going 6-1 in those games.
It’s also important to note that a late first round or second round grade on a quarterback doesn’t mean a whole lot as teams with needs at the quarterback position are almost always willing to reach for a signal-caller. With a clear break in this year’s draft after the top three quarterbacks, it wouldn’t be surprising to seen all three go on the first night, whether they all grade out in the top 32 or not.