Deshaun Watson led Clemson to the national title last night, upsetting what may have been Nick Saban’s best Alabama team. That, no surprise, has inspired some revisionist history of his 2016 season and some too rosy projections about his NFL future.
Watson may have been college football’s best player in 2016. He didn’t play like it much of the season. The primary reason Lamar Jackson held on to win, by a comfortable margin, despite Louisville’s late collapse was Watson’s numbers being middling.
He averaged 7.9 yards/attempt, ranking outside the Top 30 nationally. Watson threw 17 interceptions which ranked outside the Top 100 nationally. Seven Clemson regular-season games were decided by a touchdown or less. Watson threw multiple picks in four of them.
Moreover, Watson was less effective as a runner. He had five 100-plus yard games down the stretch in 2015 and totaled more than 1,100 yards. In 2016, he averaged just 3.81 yards/carry en route to 629 yards rushing.
Watson deserves some credit. Clemson’s offensive line was not what it was in 2015. Though, he also worked with better receiver talent than just about everyone in the country. If the Heisman is about “Heisman moments,” Watson did deliver them. But, he did so in the playoff after the Heisman was awarded.
Both Watson and Clemson proved the doubters wrong, but their regular season left reason to doubt them.
NFL scouts will pick apart Watson’s game. That’s what NFL scouts do. But, it’s not unfair to Watson to do so. Watson showed against Alabama that he can lead a team and can make the “NFL throws” that great quarterbacks make under duress. But, Watson was also inconsistent and inefficient much of the season. Again, he threw 17 interceptions, against college players.
If playing Alabama was a preview of his NFL future, that future was often picking the wrong running lanes and getting hit really hard. If he ends up going early to San Francisco or Cleveland, much of his time will be spent just trying to survive.
Watson is the hero of the moment. He was a phenomenal college player. So were Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Robert Griffin III. That’s not a guarantee of what is to come in a different league.