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If Deshaun Watson isn’t the first QB drafted, college fans will be so confused

Amid rumors that another ACC QB might go No. 1 overall, let’s remember how good this guy was in college.

CFP National Championship Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Hello. I cover college football and only pay attention to one NFL team. “NFL Draft expert” does not appear in my Twitter bio. I am unqualified to break down an NFL prospect’s intangibles based on his hat angle and can’t look at a YouTube highlight and immediately discern his ability to Read A Defense. All I can tell you is who was good at football in college.

Every year, college fans and NFL people (a group that includes everyone from actual experts to Message Board Experts to people who just like pro sports) disagree to extreme degrees on several players.

In 2012, every college fan would’ve told you to draft Russell Wilson before Ryan Tannehill.

This isn’t revisionism. I remember seeing universally astonished college fans when the former Texas A&M wide receiver went No. 8 to the Dolphins and Wilson, the NC State/Wisconsin miracle worker, lasted until No. 75.

That year, college fans would’ve also stanned for players like T.Y. Hilton, Lavonte David, Vontaze Burfict, Nick Foles, and Alshon Jeffery, all of whom made at least one Pro Bowl as non-first-rounders. College fans would’ve nailed 2012.

The 2014 draft would not have gone so well for a team being GM’d by CFB fans.

Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 would’ve still happened, Teddy Bridgewater wouldn’t have lasted until anywhere near No. 31, and Aaron Donald would’ve gone about 10 spots higher than No. 13, but ...

Johnny Manziel would’ve been top-five, even if only for entertainment value. (If we’re talking a certain segment of college fans, at least. He had plenty of detractors, all of whom ended up being proved right about his game and otherwise — if you’re a Texas fan who’s had little to celebrate over the last five years other than Manziel’s pro career, then congratulations — but most younger fans like those in SB Nation’s aura would’ve co-signed Johnny.)

I say all that to say NFL fans should sometimes listen to college fans and sometimes ignore us.

It’s up to NFL fans to know which is which. No pressure.

So who’s this year’s beloved?

I polled Twitter on one position:

Can you believe Deshaun Watson — the guy who led the Clemson Tigers to their second-ever title and rang up 941 total yards in two games against the Alabama Crimson Tide — is highly thought of by college fans, even more so than the one-year starter who’s still rumored to be a potential No. 1 overall pick? Can’t wrap my mind around this.

I know what you’re about to say, NFL fan.

“But Watson’s arm lacks velocity.”

He had enough velocity to sling 825 yards in two games against Nick Saban, alongside another 116 via his foot velocity.

“But a promising statistical system rates him as likely to be a career backup, well behind Trubisky and Miami’s Brad Kaaya.”

For the numerically inclined:

+ 116
= 941

“But I heard Clemson runs one of those lil point-and-click, IKEA, spread gimmicks that don’t work up here in [Vince McMahon voice] the En Eff El.”

A. I mean, it’s a modern college offense.
B. Nine-hundred-and-forty-one of them things.

“Stop box-score scouting based off one game.”

He had many other good games.

“Stop box-score scouting in general.”

Listen, neither you nor I knows how to diagnose footwork and whatever as well as we’d like to, most likely. So let’s just stay in our lanes. I’ve watched him with my delighted eyeballs in real football games, but I’m also not very smart.

“But he threw all those interceptions.”

OK. Yeah! He did throw a bunch.

His 30 INTs over the last two seasons came in 1,070 attempts, or one every 35.7 throws. That’s about the same as DeShone Kizer’s 36.6, a step behind Mahomes’ 46.6, and well behind Kaaya’s 67.5 and Trubisky’s single-season 74.5.


Watson also played a far harder schedule than his peers.

Take a look at this:

2017 NFL draft QBs, ranked by 2015/2016 schedule strength

QB Average opposing defense Top-10 defenses Top-30 defenses Top-60 defenses
QB Average opposing defense Top-10 defenses Top-30 defenses Top-60 defenses
Deshaun Watson, Clemson 35.1 6 14 23
Mitch Trubisky, UNC* 36.9 1 5 9
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee 39.6 6 11 16
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss 41.9 6 10 12
DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame 45 3 9 18
Nathan Peterman, Pitt 49.3 1 5 16
Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech* 51.2 1 4 8
Davis Webb, Cal and Texas Tech** 51.3 2 7 12
Brad Kaaya, Miami 52.5 1 6 14
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech 70.3 0 2 9
* = only started one year; ** = 2014 included due to transfer Defensive S&P+ ratings by Bill Connelly. FBS opponents only

Also, we took a close look at all of Watson’s 2016 picks, finding a few that weren’t his fault.

But I’m sure that’s the case for lots of passers.

I dunno. Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston threw oodles of INTs right before delivering on high draft picks. Peyton Manning threw a billion picks as an NFL rookie. Protecting the rock is crucial, but a raw number can’t tell a whole story.

You don’t have to agree. Watson might not pan out. But he was designed to be treasured forever by CFB fans.

He was a blue-chip recruit ...

... he was the best athlete in the history of a prominent athletic department, he was the most memorable player nationwide from two straight seasons, he ended Saban’s tyrannical reign in championship games via an instant classic drive, he’s seemingly a good dude ...

... and he’s got some straightforward personality to him:

I’m just saying: if you want to totally stump a college fan, tell her or him you’d rather have UNC’s 2015 backup QB than this all-time college legend.