I contacted a friend Monday night who does NFL scouting and asked the following: If Deshaun Watson was eligible for the 2016 NFL draft, he’d be …?
The guy said that’s not what he does, that anyone not eligible for the next draft isn’t really on his radar.
So I replied: Really? You didn’t even watch Clemson-Alabama?
He chuckled. So I pressed him.
Did you watch the game?
Did you chart the game?
Was your primary focus on Watson?
A big laugh followed by a “No comment.”
College fans will remember Monday’s 45-40 Alabama victory as Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban’s fifth national championship (four won at his current school, plus one at LSU). I suspect NFL fans will see Monday as the night everyone got to see what Watson might be. He assembled nearly 500 yards of total offense between his arm and his feet.
At 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds, he isn’t as big as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (and never will be), but he’s maybe more elusive. The best thing he does is what Newton (and before him Ben Roethlisberger) do: Extend plays far longer than your typical quarterback.
Clemson took a major hit this season when wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a season-ending neck injury in the opener against Wofford. If you pre-wrote the 2015 Clemson story, you’d see Williams as essential to them being anything special.
The Tigers understood Williams’ value, yet they pretty much shrugged at the perception this was a season-ender, the same way they shrugged off all the linemen they lost to the NFL. Great recruiting conveys great depth, which is why the Tigers won their first 14 games.
Eric Mac Lain is an offensive guard for Clemson with more gravitas than talent. He’s a fifth-year graduate student eligibilitywise and this season was finally a full-time starter. That gave him a voice on this team, and he enjoyed it.
Someone asked Watson on Monday what he must improve to be an elite college quarterback, after he threw for four touchdowns, 405 yards and rushed for 73 against Alabama.
“Nothing.” Mac Lain interjected before Watson could reply.
Mac Lain’s comment was funny and what you’d expect from an offensive lineman guarding his quarterback’s flank. Watson went in a different direction. If Clemson lost, there must be plenty to improve.
“Get back to school and start watching some film – fix some of the mistakes I made,” Watson said. “Put on some weight, get in the weight room more.”
Watson went on to say he approached Alabama’s Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner, about working out together over the summer, to see what else he could learn about greatness.
I like Watson living in the here and now. Under NFL rules, he doesn’t yet have the choice to turn pro. I sense he won’t cover himself in Bubble Wrap until he’s drafted, maybe No. 1, in 2017.
Cool things might happen with Clemson football in 2016. Watson’s grandchildren will someday hear all about it.