There is no perfect formula in determining how a player will translate from one level of development and competition to the next. If it were that easy, the landscape around the NFL wouldn’t be littered with the carnage of so many “sure things” who busted. If projections were straightforward, it wouldn’t make sense that a guy who was largely a bench warmer in high school and college became the most decorated quarterback in NFL history. Perhaps some guys develop earlier than others? Maybe some use their earlier challenges in life as “chip on the shoulder” fuel for success when they get to the NFL?
Nonetheless, I was curious how Deshaun Watson’s success in high school and college compared to a few other notable quarterbacks who have enjoyed success in the NFL. The biggest challenge in projecting quarterbacks from NCAA to NFL tends to be focused on “pro style” systems versus the predominant use of “spread offenses” in college football, but is there any way to at least identify “championship DNA” in players? I’m talking about that ever elusive “IT factor” that some competitors have to help elevate their performance, and often that of their teammates, to great heights in big games. If so, the Texans should be in fantastic shape
Deshaun Watson has shown he has “IT” in his first two starts, including nearly beating the Patriots on their home turf. He went toe-to-toe (throw for throw) against Tom Brady, and if it wasn’t for a leaky secondary, Watson would have been the first rookie quarterback to beat a Bill Belichick coached team in New England.
Let’s take a look at some high school and college data for Watson, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
State champion his junior year. State semi-finals twice in his sophomore and senior years.
Started as a freshman, the first time ever for that program.
Set numerous state records, including total yards (17,134), total touchdowns (218), career passing yards (13,077), and career passing touchdowns (155). He also rushed for 4,057 yards and 63 touchdowns.
NCAA national champions (junior year).
NCAA finalists (sophomore year).
Started as a “true” freshman, the first time ever for that program.
Completed 814 of 1,207 passes for 10,168 (67.4%), 90 TDs, and 32 INTs.
Ran the ball on 435 attempts for 1,934 yards (4.4 average) and 26 TDs.
The Tigers advanced to the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship game against #2 Alabama Crimson Tide, where Clemson lost by a score of 45-40. Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns in the game and ran for another 73 yards on the ground in the losing effort. Watson surpassed the 4,000 yard passing mark for the season in this game. Watson set the record for most total yards in national championship game history, with 478 yards (405 passing / 73 rushing) against the nation's best defense. In addition to throwing for over 4,000 yards, Watson also rushed for over 1,000 yards to complete his true sophomore season. Watson was the first, and currently the only, player ever to accomplish this feat in the history of college football.
After defeating Ohio State 31–0 in the CFP semifinal (Fiesta Bowl) and receiving the offensive MVP award for his efforts, Clemson defeated No. 1 Alabama 35–31 in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship. Watson completed 36 of 56 passes and passed for 420 yards and three touchdowns against the nation's number 1 ranked defense, including the last-second game-winner to wide receiver, Hunter Renfrow.
* CFP finalist (2015)
* Heisman Trophy Finalist (2015)
* CFP national champion (2016)
* Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (2016)
* 2× Davey O'Brien Award (2015, 2016)
* 2× Manning Award (2015, 2016)
* ACC Player of the Year (2015)
* ACC Offensive Player of the Year (2015)
* Consensus All-American (2015)
* USA Today High School All-American (2013)
* ACC Athlete of the Year (2016)
* Heisman Trophy Runner-up (2016)
* ESPY for Best Male College Athlete (2017)
2017 NFL Draft: 1st round, 12th overall pick.
Threw for 7,139 yards and 53 touchdowns in his high school career. Rushed for another 2,085 yards.
No national championships.
Completed 713 of 1,064 for 9,430 (67%), 82 TDs, and 22 INTs.
Rushed on 163 attempts for 957 yards (4.9 average) and 7 TDs.
In 2011, Luck led Stanford to a record of 11–2, a berth in a BCS bowl (the Fiesta Bowl), and a # 7 ranking in the final AP Poll.
* First-team All American (AFCA, Walter Camp, ESPN.com, PFW)
* Maxwell Award
* Walter Camp Player of the Year Award
* Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
* Heisman Trophy runner-up
* Davey O'Brien Award finalist
* Manning Award finalist
* Academic All-America of the Year (CoSIDA)
* Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year
* First-team All-Pac-12
2012 NFL Draft: 1st round, 1st overall pick.
Manning attended Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, Louisiana, and led their football team to a 34–5 record during his three seasons as the starter throwing 452 of 761 (59.4%) for 7,139 yards, and 53 touchdowns.
No national championships.
Completed 863 of 1,381 passes for 11,201 (62.5%), 89 TDs, and 33 INTs.
Rushed for -123 yards on 153 attempts (-0.6 average) and 0 TDs.
The #3 Vols were matched-up with #2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl; if Tennessee won and top-ranked Michigan lost to Washington State in the Rose Bowl, the Vols would have won the national championship. However, the Vols' defense could not stop Nebraska's rushing attack, giving up over 400 rushing yards in a 42–17 loss.
* 1994 SEC Freshman of the Year
* 1995 First-team All-SEC
* 1996 Second-Team All-SEC
* 1996 Third-Team All-American
* 1997 Davey O'Brien Award
* 1997 Johnny Unitas Award
* 1997 NCAA QB of the Year
* 1997 Maxwell Award
* 1997 James E. Sullivan Award
* 1997 Today's Top VIII Award
* 1997 SEC Championship MVP
* 1997 Citrus Bowl MVP
* 1997 Consensus All-American
* 1997 SEC Player of the Year
* 1997 First-team All-SEC
* 1998 ESPY Awards – Best College Football Player
1998 NFL Draft: 1st round, 1st overall pick.
During Brady's high school quarterback career, he completed 236 of 447 passes (52.8 percent) for 3,702 yards, and thirty-one touchdowns. At first, Brady was not good enough to start on the 0–8 JV team that had not scored a touchdown all year. However, when the starting quarterback went down with an injury, he ascended to the starting position. He became the varsity starter his junior year and held the position until he graduated. By Brady's senior year, he struggled getting on the radar of college coaches. He created highlight tapes and sent them out to schools he would consider attending.
National champions his freshman year, though Brady was a non-contributor.
Completed 395 of 638 passes for 4,773 (61.9%), 30 TDs, and 17 INTs.
Had 90 rushing attempts for -150 yards (-1.7 average) and 3 TDs.
When he enrolled at Michigan, Brady was seventh on the depth chart, and he had an intense struggle to get some playing time. Teammate Brian Griese led the 1997 Wolverines to an undefeated season and a share of the national championship in a Rose Bowl victory.
2000 NFL Draft: 6th round, 199th overall pick.
How does that make you feel about Deshaun Watson moving forward as the Texans’ starting quarterback?