Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson knows an NFL contract isn’t far off, and he’s currently atop many early draft boards, but he insists his status as college football’s top prospect won’t change his approach to this season.
“I’m still going to be the Deshaun Watson I was before all that,” Watson said. “I’m not focused on it. If a franchise wants me, they’ll take me. But I’m trying to win a national championship here.”
Watson insists injuries aren’t a concern, despite three somewhat serious issues when he was a true freshman in 2014, including a torn ACL. He said Monday that he’ll again wear a knee brace this season.
Clemson took out an insurance policy on Watson this offseason, too, but offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said that’s where the protection ends. When the games start, running Watson won’t be a worry.
“Running the quarterback is always going to be a part of, offensively, our game plan,” Scott said. “Deshaun has no concerns or worry at all when we call his number to run the ball, but it’s obviously something we’re conscious about.”
Watson, a junior, has added 15 pounds to his frame this offseason to help absorb the hits both inside and outside the pocket. Last year, Watson had 207 rushing attempts, trailing only Navy’s Keenan Reynolds nationally. Watson rushed at least 20 times in each of his final four games, the longest streak by a non-option QB since Kansas State’s Collin Klein had a streak of six straight games in 2011.
“I just go out there and play,” Watson said. “I didn’t even notice all that. I did the same thing in high school. If they want me to run the ball, I’ll run it.”
His high school coach, Bruce Miller, said he’d worried about running Watson too much early in his career, calling his QB “a string bean” in terms of size. But by his sophomore year at Gainesville High, Watson’s training wheels were off, and he ran regularly.
His frame seems less of an issue this season, but Watson said the weight gain was more a matter of having a fully healthy offseason to train rather than a specific agenda to bulk up for the season.
“I was built to run last year,” Watson said. “It doesn’t matter my size. It’s more a mindset. That’s what people don’t understand. It’s the size the media talks about, but they don’t know my heart.”
Watson’s dual-threat ability made him the first quarterback in college football history to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 1,000 last season, though Scott was quick to emphasize that Watson remains a “pass-first quarterback.”
“Some guys, as soon as their first option is covered, they pull the ball down and run,” Scott said. “That’s not Deshaun at all. He’s very patient in the pocket. He has that sixth sense that great quarterbacks have when everything is breaking down, understanding the timing of when to take off.”
It’s that skill set that has NFL teams intrigued with Watson as a pro prospect, and the Clemson QB hasn’t hidden the fact he’s likely to depart for the NFL at year’s end. He’s scheduled to graduate in December.
“If I have the opportunity to leave, then I’ll leave,” Watson said. “But right now my focus is enjoying my college career and being the best player I can for this program.”