Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton can throw a ball so deep and so hard that it’s tough to believe his arm is attached to a human. Deshaun Watson can’t.
New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees throws deep passes so consistently accurate that they often feel like like long handoffs. Watson doesn’t.
At Clemson, Watson lined up in the shotgun. How would he adjust to standing under center in the NFL?
There were reasons Watson was not a top 10 pick at the 2017 NFL draft. But not one of them made sense.
The Chicago Bears traded up to select North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky with the draft's second pick. Watson fans initially were furious, and some blamed Trubisky. But if you were the second pick in the draft, would you say, “Nah, I’m not worthy, go with Deshaun.”
The Kansas City Chiefs traded up to take Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes with the 10th pick. He might turn out to be good or even very good, as could Trubisky.
But the best quarterback in this draft was always going to be Watson, whom the Houston Texans took with the 11th pick. It’s easy to write that now. I also wrote it before the draft, and it was easy then.
Watson has been exceptional. He didn’t start Houston’s first game but came in to replace Tom Savage, who had been ineffective. Watson immediately made that huddle and that offense his.
The Texans were up against it Sunday in Seattle. Houston owner Bob McNair, who grew up in Forest City and graduated from South Carolina, said at the NFL owners' meetings last week that “the inmates were running the prison.” He said it when the meeting was open only to owners.
His players were understandably angry. McNair apologized. But two players skipped practice Saturday, and 30 knelt or sat before they played Seattle.
Ever seen a game in Seattle? The crowd is attuned to he rhythms of their team more than any group of fans in the NFL. The Seahawks feature as many defensive stars as any team in the league. Fans are disruptive and loud.
Into this environment came the rookie quarterback. Watson passed for a staggering 400 yards, ran for 67 yards (he was Houston’s leading rusher) and threw four touchdown passes. Watson also threw three interceptions, the last of them a desperate attempt as time was running out.
Watson plays quarterback as if he’s like a point guard. He scrambles and gambles and turns a football game into a pickup game, and I mean that as a compliment. You can't tell what he’ll do next. Seattle couldn’t. Here was a rookie, not yet halfway through his first season, and he was moving, throwing and leading.
Leading is what Watson did at Clemson. It’s not a quality at which he has to work. It’s him.
The research the NFL does is extensive, and if a draft candidate has a flaw, head coaches and assistant coaches and scouts and other scouts will find it.
But there are attributes even the professionals miss. Man, did they miss on Watson.