Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson conquered Alabama Monday night in the national championship game, but a title might not be the only thing he won.
The quarterback position around the NFL is so desperate, that the 49ers are going to have to consider taking Watson at No. 2 — or potentially even better: trade down for a mass quantity of picks.
If the 49ers hire an offensive minded coach like Josh McDaniels or Sean McVay, and that coach thinks he can develop Watson into a star quarterback, you take him at No. 2 and never look back — no matter who is left on the draft board. Of the eight teams left in the postseason, all of them have a franchise quarterback besides the Houston Texans. Figure out your QB situation and let the rest of the pieces fall into place.
If the 49ers aren’t sold on Watson, they can’t let anyone in the media know — looking at you Jed York and Paraag Marathe. The new GM should drum up fake interest at the combine and get a quarterback-needy team such as the Bears, Jets or Cardinals to trade multiple first round picks to jump up to No. 2. Watson is going to be a key part of San Francisco’s offseason story whether they draft him or not.
If you’ve followed my writing or podcasts at all, I’ve been projecting Watson to the 49ers since September. This guy isn’t just some athlete or a fastball thrower like Colin Kaepernick. He was the sixth-most accurate deep thrower in the country, his adjusted completion percentage was 76.0 (9th in the country) and he became the first quarterback to throw for 400 yards twice in a national championship game — against Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide defense, nonetheless. Watson is a dangerous pocket passer.
Like any quarterback prospect, Watson does have traits that make you cringe a little. The 32 interceptions in three seasons were indicative of a player who can force throws into tight windows and make poor decisions from time-to-time. And as far as his leadership skills, this isn’t a Jameis Winston entering the locker room. He’s more of a quiet leader like Joe Flacco or Marcus Mariota — but that style can still work in today’s NFL.
Where Watson will have an advantage in scouts’ eyes is that he’s been doing this for three seasons. And you can talk about wide receivers like Mike Williams and a strong offensive line helping Watson. But the quarterback walked into Clemson and immediately elevated their program. That’s one trait the 49ers will need most from the quarterback at the start of this rebuild: Is he talented enough make the players around him better? There’s 1,207 pass attempts, 10,168 yards and 90 touchdowns to sort through on film.
The other two quarterbacks under consideration for a top 10 pick have nowhere near the amount snaps Watson has played. UNC’s Mitch Trubisky started just one season for the Tar Heels and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer barely completed 60 percent of his passes for the Fighting Irish — often a red flag in the scouting community. Several of the recent mock drafts have Trubisky projected to the 49ers.
Admittedly, it doesn’t always look pretty with Deshaun Watson. He is not a nearly flawless prospect like an Andrew Luck, or a Cam Newton. Sometimes his footwork is sloppy, or he’ll take off on a run where he should’ve thrown. Detractors like Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have already said he’s not worthy of a first round pick.
And this one win in the national championship, while it matters, should not be the sole reason for picking Watson. We’ve seen Vince Young pull off a similar stunt when he delivered Texas a championship and then floundered most of his NFL career.
But pull up the tape of the last three seasons. It doesn’t lie. There are traits in there that show a franchise quarterback with arm talent and athleticism to carry a football team into the playoffs every season.
The tough decisions will start on Day 1 for this new 49ers regime. And Watson should be at the center of these conversations.