49ers: Should Proceed with Caution on Drafting QB Deshaun Watson

Niners Live continues its focus on the draft by now highlighting Clemson standout junior quarterback, All-American Deshaun Watson. We’ll recap his career, breaking down his strengths and weaknesses as we assess why we think the 49ers should proceed with caution on drafting quarterback Deshaun Watson.

 

Career Recap:

The 6’3” and 215lbs Deshaun Watson came out of Gainesville, Georgia as the number one dual-threat QB in the nation, and the 41st prospect overall. He was rated a four-star quarterback and committed to Clemson University at the beginning of his sophomore season in high school. After receiving offers from nineteen institutions (Tennessee, Ohio State and Alabama who heavily pursued him, just to name a few), Watson kept to his word and officially signed with Clemson and enrolled a semester early to begin collegiate football, via Rob Rang of CBSSports.com.

Achievements:

2 X Heisman Trophy Finalist (Runner-Up 2016)
2 X Davey O’Brien Award Winner (2015 & 2016)
Manning Award Recipient (2015)
Johnny Unitas Award Recipient (2016)
Archie Griffin Award Recipient (2015)
ACC Title Game MVP (2015 & 2016)
ACC Player of the Year (2015)
National Runner-Up with Clemson (2016)
Orange Bowl MVP (2015 against Oklahoma CFP)

During his career at Clemson, Watson did amass some stellar numbers. In just three years, he had accounted for 10,168 passing yards, 90 touchdowns, 32 interceptions, while boasting a 67.4 completion percentage, along with a 157.5 quarterback rating. He also showed great versatility, using his legs as an asset, and racking up another 1,935 yards on the ground and 26 touchdowns. Watson finished 3rd and 2nd for Heisman voting in 2015 and 2016, respectively, while leading his team to the national championship playoff both season, and finally raising the banner this season with a victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Championship.

His Strengths:

To the untrained eye, Watson looks to be everything that you would want in a young signal caller and the future of a franchise. Watson has a very quick release, which allows him to complete the short, intermediate, and deep throws down the field with touch. He moves very well in the pocket, avoiding rushers and extending plays a la Aaron Rodgers. He seems to perform his best when the pressure is at its climax, and the spotlight is shining its brightest, not to mention his mental toughness and leadership make him one of the best young prospects in the game. Not only has Watson been a class act, his leadership on the field has escalated him to that next level. He has heart, articulates himself well, and is oozing with the confidence of a champion. The great Nick Saban, head coach of Alabama, summed it all up by saying, “That guy (Watson) is the most significantly dominating player we played against since Cam Newton.” Via ESPN.com.

So why would any team pass up a chance to get a player with so much upside and talent in the earlier rounds?

Especially the San Francisco 49ers who will go into this offseason with vast uncertainty at many different positions on the field, including the quarterback position. With a strong possibility of Colin Kaepernick opting out of his contract and testing free agency, and not much else on the shelf, wouldn’t it behoove the 49ers to take a chance on Watson, based on his production/potential and hand him the keys to the future of your franchise? Because if you didn’t wouldn’t that be like passing on, “Michael Jordan?” Wait for it…….

Watson certainly seems to have much more upside than the much-maligned Robert Griffin III, who’s been tossed around like a rag doll at times since his dynamic rookie season in 2012. Remember how scouts raved about him before the 2012 draft? He was called “not only the most physically gifted quarterback” but also “the most talented player” in an NFL scouting preview. He was credited with having “Joe Montana-like ability” to extend plays, via NFL.com. The report said he was “built for the position.” While he lacked size a la Cam Newton, he made up for it with some of his “same natural talents.”

Proceed with caution:

Clemson’s win over Alabama in the National Title game showed what Watson can do when he is clicking on all cylinders. But he also took some significant punishment; he can’t take in the NFL, including the old helicopter ride courtesy of none other than Alabama Star-prospect middle linebacker Reuben Foster. So much so that Watson decided to skip out of the Senior Bowl, due in part to the grueling season, which was probably a smart move by Watson given his injury-riddled past as Clemson’s signal caller. In his 2014 freshman year, he suffered a cracked collarbone, a broken bone in his right hand that made him miss four games, and to top it all off he tore his ACL near the end of the season in which he still wears a brace to support his knee today, via Sports.yahoo.com.

As tough as Watson may be, taking punishment on the professional level is a whole different beast and ballgame. Just ask the 49ers, who have had over 50 players on the injured reserve over the past few seasons. The 49ers need to draft players with size and toughness; however, without question, they need to draft players who are durable and have the potential to have a long career in the NFL.

Another glaring concern is Watson’s field vision which was brought to the forefront again this season where he was shown to have been prone to interceptions. Watson tends to throw the ball into traffic at times, trying to get the ball out too quickly and ran primarily out of the shotgun and wasn’t asked to make many reads on the field, throwing to his first read on a high percentage of his passes. His decision-making can be very inconsistent at times, and with elevating his game to the next professional level, the windows to throw in will be much smaller than the ones he has been afforded to so far in his career.

Important to note: Deshaun Watson led the country in interceptions over the last two season with 30 total, via ESPN.com.

I leave you with this:

With a possible opt-out/departure of Colin Kaepernick in the fold, and the downward regression of other similar quarterbacks, such as Vince Young, Michael Vick’s up and down career, and the aforementioned Robert Griffin III, starting to become a trend of mixed reviews, it looks like the life of a dual-quarterback in the NFL is becoming endangered/crapshoot or, at the very least, unsustainable in the long-term.

Could it be possible having a more traditional pocket passer may be a safer bet nowadays?

Interesting perspectives and questions that Niners Live had to ask indeed… Will the new coaching staff value size, pocket presence, and be able to go through progressions seamlessly? The 49ers also look all but set to hire Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who runs more of a West Coast-style offense that is effective with a quarterback that can make multiple reads from the pocket like Matt Ryan, “a la Matty Ice,” and Tom Brady. If so, Deshaun Watson might not be that guy. #eyeswideopen

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Irvin Johnson Staff Writer at Niners Live. Co-Author, Editor Niners Live.

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