To some it’s a miracle that Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is even here. After suffering a hand injury in mid-October, and weeks later a catastrophic ACL tear in late November that left Watson crumpled and helpless on the turf. The hope of Deshaun Watson ever evolving into Clemson’s most coveted star and potential Heisman front-runner for this season all of sudden reached its breaking point.
Now, eight months later, Watson’s maturity and resiliency that was pushed to the limit through numerous surgical procedures and grueling rehab starts will be put to the ultimate test this fall before Clemson’s season opener on September 5th against the Wofford Terriers.
Even though the largest hurdle in Watson’s life may have already been cleared this off-season. Clemson’s hopes of finally eclipsing prior failed pre-season expectations will be hindered on Watson’s paper-thin knee, as the pressure of completing his first full season as a Tiger will decide on the growth of Watson’s game management this year.
Watson already knows the task set out in front of him will be daunting. After all, he was the sole man in charge after senior All-American Tajh Boyd graduated two seasons ago. In fact, as a freshman last year it almost seemed as if Watson, the raw, wiry built “lightning in a bottle” that head coach Dabo Swinney calls him was placed in situations that were above his head.
In retrospect, Watson’s freshman campaign was filled with many highs and many lows. While Watson’s good games primarily came when he was healthy particularly in a three-game stretch starting with Clemson’s Sept. 20 overtime loss at Florida State, a game where Watson nearly took Clemson on his back to victory, revealed strong signs of his immediate potential. But then there were other games that Watson and the entire Clemson offense would have liked to forget. Such as the two games against Louisville and at Georgia Tech, oddly enough both of these were the games that derailed Watson’s season and caused the Tiger offense to sputter out of control.
During Watson’s three game absence in late October through early November, Clemson averaged only 22 ppg and backup Cole Stoudt threw for 720 yards and 5 interceptions. Much of the struggling offense was due to Watson’s inability to remain healthy and if in fact Watson starts every game for the Tigers fully functioned, then Clemson’s ability to put points up more easily will start to show.
Many have Deshaun Watson as a favorite to win ACC Player of the Year and possibly this year’s Heisman trophy. Before any of this speculation takes fold, there are several reasons why Watson, not only fits into Dabo Swinney’s offense well. But can become one of the nation most improved quarterbacks.
Extends plays in the pocket with his legs and arm
Watson a lot of times was forced to do much more than he needed to and as a result made risky throws in coverage. However, when Watson had time or if he had the space to run outside the pocket and cut up defenses with his legs he did.
Watch here as Watson beats NC State linebackers on the outside edge and scooted into the end zone while literally hurdling one in the process.
Watson was sacked 8 times last season and it was mainly due to the lack of support he had in front of him with a shaky offensive line. In order for Watson to avoid any more injuries, he needs his own offensive line to help keep him safe amid constant blitzes thrown his way. Regardless, Watson’s reckless running style will need to be put at a premium since the torn ACL he is currently nursing needs to be fully healed if he wants to improve.
Sees the field well considering his small frame
Even at the height of 6’2”, Watson’s durability is looked upon as a problem. Watson weighs 205 pounds and every bit of it will be watched closely by Clemson’s training staff this year as he tries to exceed passes downfield. He did in fact gain 15 pounds over the spring to help build up his stamina.
Nonetheless, the reason why many opposing coaches are so high on Watson’s skill-set this year isn’t just his canny ability to avoid pass rushers, but his tremendous insight to see downfield.
It took a few weeks for Watson to get accustomed within Swinney’s offense as a freshman and coming into the fall the biggest improvement Watson possess might just be his arm strength. Through the first 3 weeks of 2014, Watson never registered a completion past 30 yards, while some of it had to do with him hobbling on basically one leg, this was a part of his game that needed the most growth.
Shown here in this video against North Carolina at home. Watson, amidst a flurry of chaos around him fires a long TD pass even while getting crushed during the play.
Accuracy is lethal when it’s on
Similar to his growth of seeing the field completely, Watson’s accuracy was a work in progress last year. Watson had to compensate greatly by rushing out of the pocket, but to his benefit he was at his best when he was forced to throw on the run.
Through the eight starts he made, Watson’s completion percentage was 67%. Furthermore, Watson’s accuracy was more pinpoint in the later weeks of 2014. During the last game of the regular season, Watson rode out a sprained MCL against South Carolina and completed 74% of his passes for 273 yards.
Considering Watson will have two large bodied receivers in Mike Williams and Charone Peak to get up and catch his passes. The necessity of hitting his man in stride perfectly won’t be as strenuous due to the fact that Clemson’s most experienced receivers can be security blankets for Watson when dealt with multiple defensive coverages.
For a larger interpretation of Watson’s budding accuracy. Here is a 2 minute video clip.
It is hard to predict how high Watson’s ceiling is entering this year. The plays he made on a regular basis was down-played by constant knee injuries. Though, remember Watson is still 19 years old, with all things considered it’s hard to fathom by the countless life experiences he has been faced with.
Yes, his mere 14 touchdown passes over parts of eight college football games doesn’t at all stand out in the grand scheme of things. The fact of the matter is that Watson carries himself as perhaps the most intriguing college football player in the country, which speaks volumes to how far he has come.
In glimpses last year, Watson looked like one of the most naturally gifted quarterbacks to come along in quite some time, a football savant with a cannon arm and unnatural poise who could take a team to the top of the college football ranks. His insane peeks of brilliance is why former Florida State’s former offensive coordinator who witnessed Watson’s dominance first hand in the depths of Tallahassee spoke highly on the young Watson.
“Everything he did was just like, man, this guy is going to be special,” Morris said. “Everybody knew he was going to be really good, but at what point? And how special was he going to be? It was just, ‘Wow, holy cow, he’s every bit and more at this stage in the game as we ever thought he would be.”
As Clemson enters the 2015 season, everyone believes they’re poised to win the ACC for the first time since 2011. While all of the pieces are in place for this to happen, all there is left to do is for Watson, the unsung hero and journeyman to step up and prove his worth to the nation.
From a fan base that has been patiently waiting, it would only make sense for the seasoned Watson to carry “his” team out on top from the constant adversity he possessed nearly eight months ago.