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Deshaun Watson is by far the 2017 NFL Draft’s most tested QB

“Of course he is! He went to two title games!” Well, it’s even deeper than that.

CFP National Championship Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even if we knew for sure a QB would be going in the top five of the 2017 NFL Draft, we’d have to argue about who it should be. North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is the media favorite, but not by a lot. SB Nation, ESPN, and one analyst rank Trubisky second; USA Today has him third; and SI and Sporting News fourth.

Trubisky’s also expected to be the first QB picked, maybe even No. 1 overall.

Also considered among the top five QBs by one major outlet or another: Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes, Pitt’s Nathan Peterman, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and Cal’s Davis Webb.

Lotta names! I dunno how you distinguish them. There are arguments for and against each. Lemme add one more argument!

As a college fan, one subject I feel NFL people overlook is the level of competition already faced by these players.

NFL fans fairly worried about the quality of Carson Wentz’s FCS opponents, but there’s a wide range within FBS as well. Throwing for 400 yards against Alabama twice — just to pick a totally random example — means more than doing the same to Kansas.

Let’s rank them by opponent-adjusted numbers.

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

Watson’s raw stats are a little worrying, especially the turnovers, as is his arm strength, apparently. In 2016, Mahomes threw for way more yards per game (421 to 306), Trubisky threw about a third as many INTs (six to 17), Peterman had a far superior yards-per-attempt number (9.3 to 7.9), and so on.

But considering the schedules Watson faced, his 2015 and 2016 top-10 rankings in completion percentage, TDs, and total yardage look even more impressive.

As Bill Connelly wrote in a statistical study of 2016 college QBs:

The most interesting name is one not in the Power 5 top five: Watson, who ended up in the 81st percentile, 10th among P5 dual-threats.

Opponent adjustments would have been kind to Watson (Clemson did play eight teams in the S&P+ top 25, after all). I’m assuming he’d have been in the top five had that been taken into account. (And as soon as I figure out a decent way to do that, I will.)

But if you’re trying to poke holes in Watson’s résumé — and we know draft scouts love to do that — you could note that Watson was drastically below-average in a few categories.

Whereas Trubisky was at the 73rd percentile or higher in four of six categories and wasn’t below the 50th in any, Watson was 45th percentile in yards per completion, 49th in interception rate, 41st in opportunity rate, and 32nd in highlight yardage. He was really good at scrambling for necessary third-down yardage, but ... maybe that’s a thing? Maybe he’s not a great enough runner to scramble the same way in the pros?

I’m not sure I believe that, but it might have some merit. (Gun to my head, I’m still picking Watson over Trubisky, though.)

Being on a team that made the ACC Championship and Playoff in both years boosted his schedule strength, yeah.

Clemson wouldn’t have made either Playoff without Watson, though, and the fact that his team went 5-1 in his postseason starts — can you imagine how few QBs in college history can boast of six postseason starts? — reflects stupendously on him.

He lit up Alabama, Alabama again, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech, and did most of his damage against Ohio State and Oklahoma on the ground.

Even without those, he was still quite tested. Overall in 2016, Clemson faced nine of the top 22 defenses and no truly bad FBS defenses. The best defense Mahomes faced in 2016, No. 37 West Virginia, ranked worse than Watson’s average FBS opponent.

Some other QBs on our list were challenged sufficiently in their biggest games, but none faced relentless competition like Watson did.

You know what, though? Trubisky looks good here, too.

Of course, the two SEC QBs who had to play Bama rank well, but in Trubisky’s single year as a starter, he had to face tough Florida State, Miami, NC State, Stanford, and Virginia Tech defenses. His only really bad games came against Georgia and against VT in a literal hurricane.

Adjusting QB stats for opponent quality would make Watson soar, but it’d boost Trubisky, as well.

College fans have been puzzled by the Trubisky love, since he didn’t really leave us with a ton of memories, and the knock on him from the NFL side is his lack of starting experience. But if we agree games against hard defenses count more, then maybe he’s not all that inexperienced.

To echo Bill: gun to my head, I’m picking Watson over Trubisky, though.