Deshaun Watson proving Dabo Swinney right in rookie year

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Deshaun Watson
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Deshaun Watson /

There was a lot of discussion surrounding this year’s rookie quarterback class, but Dabo Swinney was always behind his guy Deshaun Watson.

2017 was certainly one of the more controversial quarterback drafts in recent memory. Trades lit up draft night, making the development of the respective signal callers selected even more intriguing than usual. Deshaun Watson was in the middle of all that fun.

The Bears dominated the headlines on the night by trading into the 2nd overall pick to select Mitchell Trubisky. However, the limelight has since been stolen by arguably the most debated quarterback in the class.

Dabo knows best

Deshaun Watson was doubted throughout the draft process. Largely due to the system he played in at Clemson and for his supposed physical limitations.

Watson was selected 12th overall by the Texans. A pick acquired by trading the Browns their 2017 and 2018 first round picks. Despite being a top 15 pick, there weren’t huge waves of excitement surrounding the Clemson standout.

Bill O’Brien seamed intent on rolling with Tom Savage as the starter and Watson’s ability to translate his outstanding play in the college game to the pros was continually doubted.

The two-time Heisman finalist had entered the draft process with a public reference from his college coach. Why the honest opinion of a high-end, respected, and experienced coach was so swiftly brushed aside by many scouts and media members remains a mystery.

Dabo Swinney was spot on about his college quarterback. And why wouldn’t he be.

In a football sense, college coaches know these young men better than almost anyone. The intangibles that make the great ones great cannot be measured by a scouting report or anything the combine has to offer.

The coaches that develop young quarterbacks as players and human beings are better placed than any scout or analyst to tell NFL teams what kind of player they are getting. They know what makes these guys tick.

Coaches see the work ethic and leadership. They know how they react to wins, losses, good and bad publicity, and how they are in a locker room.

At the game’s most important position, where mental capability means just as much, if not more than physical tools, the idea that teams could seemingly ignore the advice of a coach of Swinney’s stature is mind-blowing.

But, each team that passed on Watson did just that. The Browns and 49ers each passed on him once as well as trading out of picks that could’ve been used on him.

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Cleveland then selected Deshone Kizer with the 52nd pick. The pick wasn’t an issue. The rush to start him was. Despite Brian Kelly telling the national media multiple times that his former QB wasn’t ready for the NFL, the Browns threw him in at the deep end.

Not only did the Browns brush aside Swinney’s substantial endorsement of Watson, they thought they knew better than Kelly too.

11 teams passed on Watson. 11 teams ignored Dabo Swinney, and every single one of them that doesn’t have a franchise quarterback should, and probably will regret it. At least five of those teams would’ve gotten an upgrade at QB had they taken the Texans star.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at Watson from college to the pros.

College dominance

It will always be a mystery why Watson was not the number one overall pick. His college achievements, both individually and team based, are up there with the best in history.

The 22-year-old compiled over 12,000 all purpose yards and 116 touchdowns. He went 32-4 as a starter, including 28-2 in his final two seasons.

This included two straight trips to the CFB Playoff championship game, statement wins over Florida State, Oklahoma, Auburn and a shutout of Urban Meyer’s Ohio State.

He capped off a remarkable career with Clemson in an unforgettable last-ditch victory of Nick Saban and Alabama to win a national championship.

Watson did everything. He shredded defenses with his arm and his legs, he led his team to comeback wins, road wins, dominant blowouts and he did it all with poise and maturity.

He was never a distraction, when they lost he owned it and vowed to return better. Everyone that came in contact with him had glowing reviews of him as a player and a person.

For all the amazing moments on the field, it is his intangibles and the ‘it’ factor that make him so special.

"Swinney told ESPN that Watson had the same kind of ‘it’ factor that so many of the greats of the game have: “[He’s] uncommon. It’s unbelievable,” Swinney said. “I don’t really know how to articulate what I know about him.” he said.“All those great ones, the Michael Jordans, the Steph Currys, the LeBron Jameses, the Joe Montanas, the Tom Bradys … there’s a uniqueness to them. There’s something to them. Yes, you can see talent. But there’s this other stuff that you cannot see until you really get around it every day.”"

For all the scouts and analysts that doubted Watson due to his arm strength and ability to adapt to the NFL from a spread offense, this quote is key.

Some players just have ‘it’. Watson is one of those guys. You can’t measure something like that and the only way to see it is to be around it on a day-to-day basis.

Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff are the only ones teams should’ve listened to on Watson. They knew what he was and they openly told the world.

Swinney warned the Browns about passing on his quarterback, preaching about his ability to change the future of their organisation:

"“He comes to every meeting prepared. That’s how you change things, you change the culture, through…decision-making, it’s who you pick.” he said. “And I’m just telling you: They pass on Desean Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan. I mean, I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, I’m just an old funky college coach, but Deshaun Watson is the best, by a long shot.”"

Record setter

Everything Swinney has professed about his former signal caller has been proven true to a large extent thus far. Since he took over the starting role after the first game of the season, Watson has played lights out.

Through seven games no quarterback in history has thrown more touchdown passes than the former Tiger. He threw his 19th score to pass Kurt Warner in Sunday’s matchup with Seattle.

Going into Century Link, the toughest place to play in the league, against the league’s best defense, Watson balled out. The first round pick became the first QB to have over 400 yards passing, 4 touchdowns and 50 yards rushing in the same game.

He also became the first rookie with four straight games of three or more touchdown passes.

In the process he helped his team put up 38 points. Only the Cardinals in week 10 of 2015 have scored more points at Century Link in the Pete Carroll era.

Watson left Seattle with the respect of his opponents in a way that this Seattle team has never given anyone. The often brash attitude of the figurehead of the ‘Legion of Boom’, Richard Sherman, was set aside such was his admiration for what a rookie quarterback had just done.

Remembering Sherman’s hostile treatment of most opponents, the All Pro cornerback showered praise on Watson. 

In an interview with the MMQB Sherman shared that he told the Texans rookie the following:

"“You played the best game any quarterback has ever played against us, and we’ve played all the legends. I respect how you hung in there and kept battling and battling,”He added: “By next year he’s going to be a top-five quarterback in this league, and that includes the two big dogs”."

Aside from the statistical excellence, the former Clemson QB has passed the eye test with consummate ease. The two yard touchdown pass he threw to Lamar Miller against Seattle where he spun out of a potential sack before quickly refocusing his eyes down field to find his back in the end zone was vintage Watson.

He made those kind of plays time after time in college and the transition to the pros has been seamless so far. He isn’t just making the athletic plays like that one either.

The 22-year-old has often stretched the field with deep balls, none more impressive than the 59 yard bomb he threw to Will Fuller on Sunday. Fuller is a lethal deep threat and has developed a strong rapport in quick time with his rookie QB.

Only Drew Brees has completed more passes of 20 yards or more than Watson in 2017.  He isn’t afraid to stand in the pocket and take a hit. However, his quick feet and athleticism allow him escape pressure and pick up valuable yards with his legs.

Exciting future for Watson

He has picked up Bill O’Brien’s complex system extremely fast and has shown fantastic adaptability and coachability in this transition.

Watson is becoming everything that Dabo Swinney professed he would be at this stage of his career. Clearly the Michael Jordan comparison is premature. But, there is no doubting that this remarkable young quarterback has the ‘it’ factor in spades.

The 49ers, Browns, Bears will rue the opportunity they missed to snag him at the top of the draft.

Watson not only looks like a perennial pro bowler for years to come, but a quarterback capable of leading teams to championships. We know he has outstanding big game temperament and he looks as unflappable in the NFL as he did in the college game.

He steps up time after time in big moments as he did on Sunday.

His intangibles are outstanding, his physical tools are translating and he is proving all his doubters wrong. More than that, he is proving his lovable college coach correct.

NFL teams should’ve listened to Dabo Swinney. A bunch of them they may have passed on one of the greats of the game in the making. Deshaun Watson is here to stay and we should enjoy every moment of his historical rookie campaign.