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As a finalist for the Heisman Trophy as a true sophomore, the trendy preseason pick to be the No. 1 overall selection of the 2017 NFL draft and the star quarterback for the national title contending Clemson Tigers, perhaps no player in college football has been as scrutinized this year than Watson.
With Watson (and three other Clemson underclassmen) opting to be recognized with the seniors for the Tigers' final home game of the 2016 season, his intent to declare early for the draft is clear. Watson has the statistics, dual-threat ability and track record of delivering on the big stage to intrigue but is not the polished passer most associate with early first round picks.
STRENGTHS: The first thing that stands out about Watson is his remarkable athleticism. He is a fluid athlete with the vision, elusiveness and speed to make even well-coached defenses look silly. Even better, Watson looked no worse for the wear following the knee surgery, demonstrating the flexible joints and explosive acceleration that often takes a year (or more) to return. He shows impressive spatial awareness, recognizing when defenders are near and either sliding or running out of bounds to keep himself from absorbing unnecessary hits. Though Watson is aided by Clemson's shotgun-heavy offense, he shows the quick mental processor scouts expect at the position. Watson can move defenders with his eyes, creating passing (or rushing) lanes to take advantage of over-aggressive defenders. He has a tight release and possesses at least adequate arm strength to deliver long sideline throws. When he sets his feet properly and throws with balance, Watson can place the ball beautifully, fitting the ball through tight windows, including while on the move. He possesses excellent touch on bucket throws, laying the ball out in front of his receivers on deep passes down the seam and sideline.
WEAKNESSES: Watson is shorter than ideal and possesses a relatively slim frame with limited room for additional muscle mass. The same durability questions which dogged Jared Goff (and Teddy Bridgewater a year earlier) will be an issue throughout the pre-draft process for Watson. Of even greater concern in the projection to the NFL is Watson's upside as a passer. Clemson's offense is a relatively simple one, frequently asking the quarterback to make simple underneath throws off of pre-determined reads. Often the ball is out of Watson's hands so quickly on these throws that he fails to set his feet properly, tossing the ball flat-footed or while drifting back, negatively impacting his accuracy on these "simple" throws. Watson needs to improve his consistency in this area, as well as show greater willingness to move on from his initial pre-snap read.
IN OUR VIEW: Watson lacks ideal measurements and his accuracy can be sporadic but he has consistently delivered on the big stage and has the improvisational ability to extend the play. Complementing him with speed at the other skill positions could be the key to Watson parlaying his success in college to the next level.
COMPARES TO: Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills: Watson is taller and slimmer than Taylor but offers similar dual-threat abilities, as well as a history of proving doubters wrong.