Defining Moment: Deshaun Watson vs Alabama
Hello beautiful people. Before I get into the actual article, I want to spend some time introducing my new series called Defining Moment. Defining Moment is a series that will go in-depth in the film of a NFL or NBA draft prospect’s best game of his career. It is designed to show all the tools that make a prospect special or unique, and show how these tools will translate to the next level. Now without further ado, let’s look at the first prospect under the microscope, Deshaun Watson.
Deshaun Watson is special. The 6–2 QB from Clemson is a consensus top 3 QB prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft among NFL Draft pundits, but I believe he’s the best QB this draft has to offer. The game that exemplifies the greatness of Deshaun Watson is the 2016 National Championship game vs Alabama. Against one of the top defenses in the nation, Watson was 30/47 (64%) and threw for 405 yards and 4 TDs, along with one INT. In a losing effort, Watson was nothing less than surgical against a fierce Alabama defense, carrying Clemson in a game where they were outmatched talent wise.
On Clemson’s very first play, Watson displayed his arm strength, throwing from the left hash all the way to the right sideline accurately. To be a good NFL QB, those throws outside the numbers must be made, and Watson showed he’s capable of making those throws on this play.
Two plays later, Watson made Alabama’s defense wrong when they were right with his mobility. Alabama had great coverage on the back-end, and looked as though they would get a coverage sack, but Watson was having none of it. He calmly rolled to his right, avoiding pressure, and found Leggett for the first down. He did throw it slightly behind his target, but he still was able to give his intended target a chance to catch the football while on the move and in the face of pressure. This is the first of many examples of Watson’s special escapability.
Here, Watson shows off his mobility once again. Instead of forcing a throw into a stingy Alabama secondary, Deshaun brilliantly uses the pump fake to freeze the Alabama defense, which gave him a chance to scramble for the first. Also, pay attention to A’Shawn Robinson (#86) and Reuben Foster (#10). Robinson has contain on the left side, but Watson, albeit with a little help from his left tackle, is able to break his contain and run to the left for the first because of his very good speed. Foster’s role in this play is to spy Watson. He shadows every step Watson takes, but that pump fake thrown by Watson, Foster hesitates for a split second and is unable to catch Watson in time before he gets the first. This is not only another example of Watson’s elite escapability, but also of Watson making the defense wrong when they were right, which is extremely valuable in the NFL.
On the very next play, Watson uncorks one of his elite deep balls. Watson has absolutely zero margin for error on this throw, because if he throws this one short, both the safety and the corner could intercept the pass. Instead, Watson calmly sets his feet and threw a perfect deep ball to his receiver, to a spot no one but his receiver could catch the ball. Watson’s ability to stretch the field with dimes with ease will undoubtably be a coveted asset at the next level. On a kind of unrelated note, I’m pretty sure by the angle Eddie Jackson took, he was expecting Watson to throw this one short. But Watson wasn’t like another QB’s this Bama defense faced that year.
On this play, Watson makes a play where there is no play to be made. With none of his initial reads open, Watson starts a scramble drill, which gives his receiver enough time make a sharp right cut after the slant is covered. The receiver doesn’t get much separation, but it doesn’t matter, as Watson rolls to his right and delivers an accurate dart to his receiver. Watson did something on this play that a lot of QBs struggle with, which is looking back down the field after dropping his eyes. Many QBs would’ve tried to scramble once their eyes dropped, but Watson picks his eye back up and finds his receiver open for the first down.
On this TD throw, it’s the little things that makes this play great. Watson throws the ball with a little anticipation, releasing this ball just as Renfrow is about to cut inside and finish his route. Also, Watson masterfully puts this ball in the perfect spot, just over Foster’s head and just out of Fitzpatrick’s reach. If this ball is thrown flat or behind the receiver, this is an INT.
This doesn’t look like much on surface level, but there’s some really good stuff here. Watson patiently waited for his pulling guards to clear a lane, and hit the hole hard once the first guard wiped out the edge defender. Then Watson showed a unique trick in his arsenal that most QBs don’t possess, which is the stiff arm. He delivered a strong stiff arm to #24, and another effective one to Cyrus Jones (#5). Whether or not that’ll translate to the next level is up in the air, but showing he’s capable of using the stiff arm is huge.
Superman came out of the phone booth for this play. With no receivers open, and the DLine closing in, Watson showed amazing mobility and strength, spinning out of the hands of one lineman and sprinted past the other three lineman, dashing for the first down on a borderline miracle play. These are plays that change complexion of games on the college and professional level, plays Watson will use to bring another element to his offense at the pro level. Amazing escapability shown here, once again.
I’m about to sound like a broken record. Watson stays strong through the swipe of #30, not being knocked off balance, keeping the play alive. Watson calmly repossesses the ball, picks his eyes back up and delivers a strike to his running back with imminent contact incoming. These are plays that change complexion of games on the college and professional level, plays Watson will use to bring another element to his offense at the pro level. Oh, I just used that sentence last paragraph? It’s because I can not stress how important plays like these are. These are plays that start to separate Watson from the pack of the QB class.
Gonna keep this one short. He smartly steps up in the pocket, rolls to his right, throws slightly across his body, hits the receiver straight in his hands. Can’t do it any better than Watson did it here.
Another pretty deep ball from Watson here. Great spin on it, once again in a spot where only his receiver could catch it. This is an end zone trip for six if Hunter Renfrow isn’t interfered with.
Another touchdown left on the field out of Watson’s control. This is a perfect ball, Watson dropped the ball right into his receiver’s bread basket and should’ve been brought in by his receiver. Once again, Watson shows his pinpoint precision on his deep ball that is rare among QBs in college.
Watson clowned #54 here. It looked as though he had a clean shot on Watson, but Deshaun got him in the air with a pump fake and ducked under him and blasted past #9 and #90. Not many QBs on this Earth can make this play, and this is probably the 3rd or 4th gif I have of Watson escaping certain doom in this article so far. As I said earlier, this dude is special.
This is just another example of Watson’s big arm. Another tight window with minimal room for error, with Foster (#10) and Harrison (#15) closing in from the front and the back, Watson hits Leggett right on the numbers on a crucial 3rd down, keeping the drive alive.
On Watson’s last throw of the game, he once again shows his outstanding ability to fit balls in really tight spaces. With #15 right on Leggett’s hip and Eddie Jackson right over top, Watson once more puts the ball right where only Leggett could catch it. This magnificent throw capped off a masterful performance by Watson, which to this day I feel is his best performance. Also significant, Watson had his best game on the biggest stage of his career against one of the best if not the best defense in the nation, showing no stage is too big for him, which is crucial for NFL franchise quarterbacks to have.
Additional: Huge shoutout to Draft Breakdown for the brilliant work they do to produce this film to study.