Tom Sorensen

NFL draft: Mitchell Trubisky or Deshaun Watson? If I have my choice, I take ...

NFL Draft 2017: Panthers preview

With the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers have plenty of options to address several needs. Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue breaks down who the team might pick in the first round and offers other names to look out for.
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With the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers have plenty of options to address several needs. Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue breaks down who the team might pick in the first round and offers other names to look out for.

Mitchell Trubisky spent four years at North Carolina, the first as a redshirt, the next two as a sub and the final season as a starter. Now he potentially is the top pick in the 2017 NFL draft. Trubisky’s fans and friends and Trubisky wonder why so much time was required before he was deemed worthy of being North Carolina’s starting quarterback.

He started only 13 games for North Carolina, but in those games he did what big-time quarterbacks are supposed to do. He demonstrated accuracy and poise. He completed 68 percent of his passes, some while he was in the pocket and some on the move. His arm is good, his reads are true and when he chooses to throw the fastball, it sings.

No defense shut him down as effectively as North Carolina coach Larry Fedora did.

While Trubisky watched, however, the Tar Heels had a perfectly good quarterback on the field. Marquise Williams was a very good runner and a good passer who set 20 Tar Heel records. In high school, he started for Charlotte’s Mallard Creek. So he had to be good.

No NFL team invested a pick on Williams, although the Green Bay Packers signed Williams in May. They released him Sept. 3, the day of the league’s final cuts.

Williams has yet to catch on in the NFL. But you can be a very good collegiate player, regardless of the sport, and fail to make it (yet) as a professional.

There is another ACC quarterback who will be selected in the 2017 draft – Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. A question: Can you envision any circumstances under which Watson (who like Trubisky and Williams was redshirted), fails to crack the starting lineup until his junior year?

Watson is intriguing. He became the Clemson starter five games into his freshman season and made the team his. He went 32-3, and the bigger the game the better he became.

In two championship games against Alabama – the Alabama – Watson generated 941 yards and eight touchdowns. Alabama couldn’t get him. It couldn’t fool him. It couldn’t stop him.

The team that drafts Watson will get a franchise quarterback. Some compare him to RG3, a quarterback who had a great run-and- pass college career but has washed out as a pro. The comparison is unnecessary. It’s like comparing Trubisky to Ryan Leaf.

Watson is not infallible. Even last season he’d throw passes that made you say aloud, “Why?”

But he’s charismatic and a natural leader, and if he tells his teammates they will get the first down, the touchdown or the victory, they believe him.

If I’m an NFL general manager, and Watson and Trubisky are available when I draft, I wouldn’t select the quarterback that best fits my system. Good coaches don’t slam their quarterback into an existing system. They amend the system to accommodate the talent they have.

I like Trubisky. But if I’m the perpetually quarterback poor New York Jets, and I have the sixth pick in the 2017 draft, and both quarterbacks are available, I take Watson.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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