Looking for answers on top QBs in NFL draft? Ask guy who faced all three
The deadline to declare for the draft has passed. The Senior Bowl is in the books. The NFL scouting combine is a scant three weeks away. Draft season is fully engaged and the many prospects are already well along the proverbial road to the podium.
Which players will get that invite to the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia? Plenty of those among my Top 50 will get that coveted invitation to Philadelphia, so let’s take a look at my Big Board heading into the combine at the end of the month.
— John Harris, Special To The Washington Post
Without ranking the three most hyped quarterbacks in the NFL draft, whom he knows from experience, North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren offered insight into Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson worth remembering for teams drafting in the top 10, like the Bears.
Not exactly known for being effusive, the former Northern Illinois coach gushed over the potential of a natural leader with 38 career starts who carried Clemson to a national title. To Doeren, believing in Watson is elementary.
"The intangibles he had, you can’t coach that into a guy," Doeren told the Tribune. "If you’re going to invest millions, invest in that guy’s character because obviously Deshaun has enough tools to win. … Look at (Cowboys rookie) Dak Prescott. People said he couldn’t do certain things and the guy’s intangibles were crazy. Personally, I’m taking a guy who is an experienced winner who has intangibles any day over some guy who hasn’t done it a ton but looks good at the NFL combine."
Seemingly every day this offseason, an NFL quarterback rumor distracts Bears fans. The latest came Thursday with ESPN reporting that Tony Romo expects the Cowboys to release him. (A guy with four starts in two years hardly is the sturdy bridge quarterback the Bears need.) The network also reported the Patriots are unlikely to trade Jimmy Garoppolo (And Chicago gasped. Garoppolo should be Plan A.) A day earlier, Bleacher Report floated the possibility of trading for Texans bust Brock Osweiler. (Seriously? Ryan Pace can just leave the keys at the Halas Hall door if that ridiculous idea ever happens.)
As speculation swirls over trades and free agency, draft evaluation intensifies on Watson, Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina and DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, as respected as any football analyst, ranked Kizer, Watson and Trubisky Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. reversed the order, projecting Kizer will fall out of the first round. None of the three strike me as the kind of transformational player worth the Bears taking at No. 3, but much can change in the two months before the NFL draft begins April 27. Just ask Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
Doeren stressed his praise for Watson had nothing to do with his opinion of Trubisky and Kizer, who lost games to N.C. State in 2016. He similarly respects Trubisky and Kizer and, while refusing to rank the quarterbacks, shared what he recalled from their games.
Trubisky had fewer career starts (13) than Watson had last year (15). In a 28-21 loss to rival N.C. State last November, Trubisky completed 23 of 38 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns.
Doeren: "I was impressed with his accuracy. He operated their offense extremely efficiently, good game manager. Look at his touchdown to interception ratio (30-6). You see guys force it and turn the ball over and he didn’t do that. He’s more mobile than people think at (6-foot-3, 220 pounds).
"I never felt like his arm was weak by any means, but their offense wasn’t a big-shot type. It’s more timing-oriented, the ball is out quick, a lot of underneath things and then they’ll take their shots. There was never a throw where you thought, ‘Oh, that was kind of hard for him.’"
What would be your biggest question?
Doeren: "I don’t think there’s anything you look at and say he doesn’t do this well. He’s a really good player, talented, smart, big, strong. He can run, good statistics. He just hasn’t played a lot of football."
In three victories against N.C. State, Watson completed 79 of 111 passes for 1,028 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception — a pick-six in a tight 24-17 Clemson win in October. But his skills weren’t what stood out most.
Doeren: "The guy is so competitive. I have never been around him as a person, but he seems like he’s got the heart of a champion. I was so impressed with him two years ago when he led the nation in deep-ball percentage. To be mobile, to have touch and timing, and be able to throw downfield the way he did, that’s pretty incredible."
Should Watson’s 32 career interceptions be a red flag?
Doeren: "I don’t know about that. The one he threw in our game was bad judgment — our guy was flat-footed — but he gives his guys a chance to make plays. He definitely can put it where he has to put it … back shoulder, wherever.”
Hurricane Matthew prevented Doeren from seeing the skills some scouts say make Kizer the most talented quarterback available. In a weather-marred 10-3 game, Kizer completed only 9 of 26 passes for 54 yards with an interception. But Doeren saw enough on tape preparing for Kizer to know Mother Nature might have done the Wolfpack a favor.
Doeren: "They shredded a couple teams before we played them and we were really concerned about their passing offense, but I don’t have the same insight on him. … They kept trying to throw in that weather and couldn’t."
During film prep, did Doeren think he was watching a surefire first-round quarterback?
Doeren: "I am not going to say no, but I didn’t sit there and concern myself by thinking, ‘This guy is a first-rounder, how are we going to stop him?’ We knew he was a great player and had great players around him. But we see a lot of great quarterbacks in the ACC so he wasn’t somebody we were head-over-heels afraid of."