Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will "dare to compare" prospects to NFL players throughout the college football season. This week, he provides a scouting report and comp for Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, the 2015 Heisman finalist whose team is still undefeated after he led the Tigers on a game-winning drive Saturday at Florida State.
I've scouted Deshaun Watson twice in person and had two very different thoughts about him after both games. The first time I watched him live was against Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal last season, and I came away extremely impressed with his play. My belief was that if he continued to build off of the performance I witnessed that night at the Orange Bowl, he would cement himself as a franchise-caliber QB in the eyes of scouts.
This past weekend, I watched Clemson take on Florida State, and once again, Watson got the win. However, I haven't seen the growth I was hoping (and expecting) to see from Watson as a passer and now my opinion of him as a pro quarterback prospect isn't as bullish as it used to be. Here's a look at his strengths, weaknesses and comparison.
Watson has the desired height (6-foot-3, per school measurements) and pocket posture teams look for. Watson usually throws with a solid base and balance. He keeps the ball tucked near his body when scanning the field. He has the arm strength to drive the ball into the seam with good velocity thanks to his lower body torque. He has a compact release and a good release point (ball comes out with flick of the wrist). Possesses big, strong hands to pump fake and manipulate defensive backs. Has instant juice out of the pocket to make the defense pay if rush lanes are vacated. Extremely dangerous with his feet near the end zone. Has the ability to take over games with his feet when his accuracy wanes. Has shown consistent leadership traits and finds ways to win games.
Will sail some throws when cutting it loose. Far too many of his interceptions are due to bad throws, lack of vision or staring down targets. Watson was duped into interceptions twice by Florida State cornerbacks on Saturday. His deep-ball accuracy can be scatter-shot, as he'll badly overthrow targets at times. His accuracy on crossing routes and slant routes, which should be relatively easy throws, needs to improve. His field vision can be very hit or miss. Watson gets locked onto a target and fails to see the simple throw come open. Could have difficulty transitioning from his limited-read college scheme to an NFL scheme. His leanness in his lower body might create some concerns considering his success as a runner.
NFL comp: Marcus Mariota
As college football has become more wide open over the years, the need for dual-threat quarterbacks has increased at the college level, as they are more apt at attacking all aspects of the defense.
However, there have only been a handful of quarterbacks from zone-read college schemes that have become successful NFL starters. Watson has the size, leadership attributes and passing mechanics that are necessary for the position. He's not currently showing the field vision and decision-making ability to become a more consistent passer from the pocket, though.
For his comp, let's go with Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota. Mariota has good size and great speed, like Watson. He was a consistent winner at the college level (at Oregon), like Watson, and they played in similar offensive schemes in college. I think Watson has better upside as a passer than Mariota, while Mariota was more careful with the football in college than Watson has been, at times.
Both players can hit explosive plays on the move. They have similar physical traits and similar ceilings as NFL quarterbacks.