I've never understood the media backlash against former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
It seems like one major outlet started to criticize one or two aspects of his game and the rest of the country hopped on board the Watson hate-train. He's inconsistent. They say he has poor mechanics. He's inaccurate at times. He doesn't eat the right food for breakfast and watches too much Netflix.
Obviously I'm exaggerating a bit, but it just doesn't make sense.
I'm far from an NFL scout or general manager, but the eye test taught me everything I need to know about Watson. A few months ago, I wrote a piece comparing the Tigers star to North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky — who many have predicted will be the first QB off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft.
It's been said enough, but Trubisky only started 13 college games. The North Carolina signal caller didn't drive is team down the field for the go ahead touchdown with 2:06 remaining in the national title game. Trubisky didn't consistently deliver on the biggest stage, in the biggest moment. Can he do those things? Maybe so, but we know for certain Watson can.
Watson accounted for 941 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns in the two title games against Alabama. In the victory last January, he either passed or ran the ball on 78 percent of Clemson's offensive plays and accounted for over 90 percent of the team's 511 yards. CBS Sports projects seven defensive players from the 2016-17 Alabama team will hear their names called in the 2017 NFL Draft.
This isn't a scenario where Watson shined against sub-par talent. He consistently produced against the very best defensive players in the country.
Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples is one of the few college football media minds who believe Watson is the next major NFL franchise quarterback. Staples released a piece detailing the Clemson QB's rise to glory while pointing out several reasons why he should clearly be the first signal caller selected April 27.
"He has since been pressing his case to be the first QB off the board," Staples said after detailing Watson's body of work at Clemson. "To those who watched him at Clemson, it's mind-boggling this is even a debate. The other top prospects don't have anything approaching Watson's body of work. He went 32-3 as a starter, with two transcendent performances on the biggest stage, both against the mighty Alabama defense. But this isn't some nebulous, Tim Tebow, he's-just-a-winner stuff. Watson's skills translate to the NFL."
The naysayers will point to the absent-minded interceptions and moments where Watson appeared to struggle in routine situations. Staples mentioned the interception he threw in the end zone against Pittsburgh that ultimately led to a Tigers loss.
I tried to come up with my own analysis of this play, but couldn't top the way Staples framed it:
"Watson was supposed to hit receiver Hunter Renfrow running a drag from left to right. Tight end Jordan Leggett was supposed to run hard to the flat to create space for Renfrow, but instead floated toward Renfrow and created a clog. Watson released the ball anyway, and linebacker Saleem Brightwell — who should have been following Leggett into the flat — made the pick. Critics will use that throw to paint him as an up-tempo spread automation who can't adjust to the defense."
In today's NFL landscape, it feels like fans, media and even talent evaluators are searching for the perfect passer. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck back in 2012, but we've seen him struggle at times. Did we forget Peyton Manning set the record for most interceptions by a rookie, throwing 28 in his first season with the Colts in 1998?
You can find flaws in any quarterback at any level. Those intangibles though? Those can be like finding your best friend wearing orange on game day in Memorial Stadium.
The critics shy away from Watson's great throws, and there are plenty of them. Let's start with this dime, with pressure closing in against Boston College, one of the better defenses in the country. Watson sets his feet and launches a beautiful ball that only his receiver can catch.
— Aaron Bloch (@FootballBloch) March 2, 2017
Then there was this one, right from the national title game with everything on the line. Watson shows veteran maturity freezing the safety with his eyes, waits for tight-end Jordan Leggett to make his break, and hits him with a perfectly accurate pass.
Revisiting Deshaun Watson this morning. This throw, though. Holds safety out of the middle with his eyes, waits for Liggins, perfect pass pic.twitter.com/qmvuEEr8VX
— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) April 8, 2017
The point is you can find positives and negatives from any quarterback in this draft, or any draft in the history of the NFL. We now live in a world of over-analysis as teams desperately search for a QB who can lead their team for the next 5-10 years. A narrative gets tossed out there and everyone runs with it.
Arm strength, decision making, even with all the knocks — I'd be shocked if Watson didn't thrive at the next level.
There's no way to accurately predict where the best QB to play at Clemson will further his football career, but some team will strike gold. Part of me feels like there are several NFL decision makers who are fully aware of his ability, but are playing up the narrative with the hope to steal him off the board.
I feel the same way every Clemson coach and player does about Watson's NFL future. He's the clear-cut best quarterback of the 2017 NFL Draft.