“If they [the Browns] pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan.” (Clemson coach Dabo Swinney)
Since I was a child, my dad has made the same joke about how to punish me when I’ve done something not too serious but still displeasing to him: “I’m writing you out of the will!” He told me this in 2010 when I rooted for Auburn over Oregon in the College Football National Championship game after the NCAA gave America a big middle finger by letting Cam Newton play. He said it again in 2015 when I did a Facebook tournament on fantasy-fiction giants and didn’t include Mark Twain. He said when I was a teenager more times that I can count.
I fear this article may bring one more.
The Cannons are Gamecocks. It’s our sports DNA. And to be a Gamecock you can no more support Clemson than you can take the square root of a negative number (and yes, anyone who claims to pull for both probably believes in unicorns and other imaginary things)1. Yet I cannot deny any of what I’m about to write. So much so that I’m writing it.
I agree in essence with what Dabo says above. Dabo says it in his own hyperbolic Dabo way but the man won a National Championship in large part because he says things like this often and people buy it and play up to it. So don’t let the name dropping detract from the truth of the statement. Dabo probably believes Watson will be Jordan but at minimum I know he thinks he’s a can’t miss prospect and will be an exceptional NFL quarterback. I do too.
The fact I believe this is a testimony to its truth. This is undoubtedly the biggest anti-bias piece I’ve ever written. I am supposed to loathe Deshaun Watson and wish him the worst at the next level. But I can’t. I respect him too much. By sports fan contract I am supposed to hate the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Cardinals, but I can’t deny how good Aaron Rodgers and Yadier Molina are, both I’d say are Top 5 at their position of people I’ve ever seen play.
Same for Watson, even though I doubt I’ll ever sports hate Green Bay or St. Louis the way I do Clemson. But after three years of seeing him lead a complete turn around of the Gamecock-Tiger rivalry and vault Clemson to the next and highest level, I have a decent grasp of DW as an athlete. I’ve watched him play dozens of times. As the saying goes, my two favorite teams are USC and whoever is playing Clemson. He as real a deal as I have ever seen.
Here’s what I mean: In November 2013, we had just finished our fifth straight win vs. Clemson which hadn’t been done by either school in nearly a century. Then Watson showed up. His freshman year they beat us 35-17 as he played on a torn ACL. He missed part of the game or it would have been 42-10 at best. The following year we rallied from down 28-10 to pull within 28-25 in the fourth quarter and the next drive Watson calmly led them down the field, converting three backbreaking 3rd downs, ran for the eventual touchdown and put the game away. In 2013 I was crowing about that five game winning streak over our hated rival. Within two years we were 3-9 and they were on onside kick away from winning the whole thing. Within three years they beat us 56-7 and did beat Alabama to win it all. Football teams of course have many moving parts. You couldn’t have watched Clemson the last two years and not been blown away by their D-line, their receiving corps (watch the game-winning drive vs. Bama to see a clinic of how to catch a football) and everything else. But Watson was the Alpha Dog. The Superhero. The I’m Keith Hernandez on the team. “He’s a program changer,” says Dabo. Gamecock fans cannot argue.
Clemson was in much better shape when Watson arrived in 2014 than the Browns are presently, but if there is any QB in this draft that can be the most crucial piece to turning around a sadsack franchise like Cleveland, it’s him. I am not going to throw an avalanche of stats at you. If you want those they are easily accessible on the internet. If you want someone to talk about throwing motion or release time, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
No, my opinion on Watson comes not just from his known ability to lead an offense to score almost at will on even the best defenses in the country, but also from a word I often disparage in talking about quarterbacks: intangibles2. After watching Watson time and time again on the biggest stages it is painfully obvious to me that he thrives under pressure. It’s obvious that he cannot be rattled. It’s obvious that he can throw an interception and shake it off and come back and throw a gorgeous long ball the very next drive.
Watson smiles a lot. Watson exudes confidence that can be felt on a 2D TV screen. Watson is exactly the kind of athlete that can look at a 53 year NFL Championship drought and but completely unfazed by it. He’s basically the anti-Jay Cutler in this regard. I have no doubt his teammates will love him. Coaches will adore working with him. For all his similarities to Cam Newton, I cannot imagine him leaving in the middle of a press conference even after losing the Super Bowl. It is this, far more than throwing motion or TD to Int ratio, that I think makes him can’t miss.
Talent matters of course. Danny Wuerffel of Florida was the best college QB I’ve ever seen (had Watson stayed four years he could have passed him) and he flopped in the NFL. But Watson isn’t a system QB and he has the right tools to play at the next level. I have zero doubt.
After the 56-7 mauling by Clemson over us a few months ago, Watson said, “It was like a daddy spanking their child.” I want to be angry at Watson for that, but I can’t. I texted my brothers that quote and Ashley replied, “You have to admit that’s funny right there.” And it’s also true3. I’m proud to be a Gamecock but Clemson gets the football accolades for this time. The most important position on a football field is the quarterback. Cleveland desperately needs one. They need Deshaun Watson. Or else they will regret it far more than I will regret being written out of my dad’s will for saying so.
- That’s a joke. Root for sports however you want. ↩
- Since I know many of our readers will know what I’ve written about Tom Brady, let me go ahead and anticipate some objections. I believe the QB is the most important position in football. Yet I believe they control maybe 20% of what happens. I believe intangibles are a real thing in quarterbacking (See: Cutler, Jay), but I don’t think Tom Brady has some intangible that Dan Marino didn’t that causes him to win Super Bowls. I do not think Brady is a bum. He’s clearly one of the 15-20 greatest ever. Just not near the greatest to me. Intangibles don’t cause Atlanta to fall out of FG range twice and the Atlanta safety to deflect an interception off his hands so Edelman can make a near physically impossible catch. There’s no contradiction here. As great as Watson is, I don’t think he could come back for his senior year and play for Wake Forest and win the championship. That’s the essence of the Brady argument. ↩
- Not be outdone, Clemson WR Mike Williams threw the ultimate shade at my school by saying he didn’t know any of our secondary players’ names. Sometimes in sports you just have to take it. Gamecocks have no comeback to that right now. ↩
- Hamilton’s “It’s Quiet Uptown” and The Joy of Melancholy Music - May 9, 2022
- Gentle and Lowly: A Review Of The Most Celebrated New Christian Book - April 25, 2022
- For Math Nerds, On 3.14 Day: Why I Love Perfect Squares - March 14, 2022