INDIANAPOLIS — Leave it to Andy Reid to put Deshaun Watson’s sizzling workout at the NFL scouting combine on Saturday into some sort of credible perspective.
Reid, the Kansas City Chiefs coach and renowned quarterback guru, shook his head and grinned while stopping in a concourse inside Lucas Oil Stadium to assess what he had just witnessed from the former Clemson star.
“Unbelievable,” Reid told USA TODAY Sports. “He had a great day. Every throw was on the money.”
That was no stretch, no puff to add to any pre-draft smoke screen.
Watson, in a group that included North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, whom some consider the highest-rated quarterback in the draft, was clearly in a zone during an hour-long session with wide receivers.
This was essential to his objective for the combine, where Watson came hoping to make a statement that will help him realize a goal of being the first quarterback selected when the NFL draft begins on April 26.
“It’s a goal that I wrote down and that’s what I want to achieve,” Watson told reporters on Friday. “But if it happens it happens. That’s out of my control. I can just be the best I can be in this process and continue to get better.”
Before Saturday, Watson was last seen on a football field in January leading the Tigers to a national championship and an upset victory of Alabama that avenged a loss in the title game the previous year.
In showcasing his arm before GMs, coaches, scouts and even a handful of team owners, Watson (6-2, 221) had the same zip he possessed on the night that he stung ‘Bama for 420 yards.
Sure, as these combine workouts go, Watson didn’t need to escape from a heavy rush. There were no defenses to decipher in a split-second. His targets were wide open. He threw against air.
But boy did he manage to sling it. What set Watson apart from the others — Trubisky included — was the strength, zip and the consistent accuracy on his deep throws.
One of the toughest drills required that the quarterbacks connect on deep passes to their left as receivers ran go patterns about 40 yards downfield. Repeatedly, Watson’s balls found the receivers in stride, and they were tight spirals with just enough arc.
The session ended on the other side of the field as quarterbacks threw to their right, and the receivers ran in-and-out corner routes. It was the most challenging test of timing and rhythm, with the throws aimed to connect on the sideline marker at least 35 yards downfield. Each of Watson’s throws landed inbounds and on target, with the consistency of this occurrence undoubtedly catching the attention of the expert evaluators.
Whether Watson — projected as a mid first-round pick in some mock drafts — significantly catapults to the top of the draft remains to be seen. The workout, like the interviews with teams and the medical exams at the combine, is part of the pre-draft process that includes private visits and workouts for teams and thorough evaluation of the game film.
Yet the workout clearly provides Watson with a boost of momentum for a draft that is not considered to be deep at the quarterback position.
Despite Watson’s success at Clemson, underscored by back-to-back runs to the national championship game, a swing factor in the NFL evaluations was the spread offense that he ran in college.
Be careful, NFL decision-makers. It’s a legitimate question to wonder whether Watson will transition to more conventional schemes in the pros. Yet that question also has backfire potential. Dak Prescott played in a spread offense at Mississippi State and now he’s the NFL’s newly-christened Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Watson figures he’s capable of adapting and that his track record speaks for itself. He pointed out that he was 48-8 at Gainesville (Ga.) High, then 33-3 at Clemson.
“One thing that translates from college to the NFL is winners, and I think being a quarterback, that’s the biggest thing being recognized, winning games,” he said. “That’s all I’ve been doing.”
The team with the first pick in the draft, the Cleveland Browns, could surely use a winning quarterback. It’s unlikely that the Browns will take Watson with the top pick. At the moment, they are seemingly poised to select the best defensive force in the draft, Texas A&M linebacker Myles Garrett.
Yet the draft is almost two months away and the Browns, who also hold the 12th pick overall, are wheeler-dealers. Cleveland GM Sashi Brown said this week that he’s open to dealing the No. 1 pick, meaning that re-juggling of the draft order – a year after the top two slots in the draft were traded last year, then used on quarterback – is still a possibility.
Remember, Watson’s college coach, Dabo Swinney, has compared Watson’s potential to basketball legend Michael Jordan – the third player chosen in the 1984 NBA draft – in warning that teams that pass on the quarterback will rue the day.
Reminded of Swinney’s bold declaration, Watson chuckled.
“I thanked him for the compliment,” Watson said. “It’s pretty cool, but I’m no Michael Jordan. I’m Deshaun Watson. My goal is for one day, to be able to have people talk about me like they do Michael Jordan. That’s the goal one day, but he was just saying how he felt. I know where he’s coming from, but it wasn’t really a comparison.”
No matter. In assessing Watson teams are not interested in whether he can take off from the free-throw line for a dunk and more curious about how he’ll read and react to a blitz.
One thing for sure. He can throw a tight spiral.