Before Deshaun Watson was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and national championship-winning quarterback, and a first-round NFL draft projection, he enrolled at Clemson in January 2014 as a much-hyped quarterback prospect. Of course, he certainly lived up to the lofty ratings and billings attached to his name by scouts and recruiting analysts.
Coming out of Gainesville (Ga.) High School, Watson was a consensus top-three dual-threat quarterback and top-100 overall prospect by the major recruiting services, and a five-star prospect by Rivals. During his high school career, he set Georgia state records for total offense yards (17,134) and total touchdowns (218), and was invited to participate in both the U.S. Army All-American Game and Under Armour All-American Game.
In this article, The Clemson Insider takes a look back at some opinions on Watson as a recruit:
In April 2013, Watson participated in the Elite 11, a skills competition and showcase for highly regarded quarterback recruits.
The talent evaluators in attendance then got an early first-hand look at what everybody sees now — a special, generational-type quarterback that doesn’t come around too often.
Jimmy Weddle, one of the coaches at that particular Elite 11, had this to say after working with Watson:
Former ESPN writer/editor Jeremy Crabtree, meanwhile, liked what he saw after watching Watson for the first time. Crabtree posted on Twitter after the event about Watson’s confidence and coachability, traits he exemplified throughout his time in a Clemson uniform.
Trent Dilfer, an Elite 11 Camp Director and nine-year NFL analyst for ESPN, critiqued all 18 quarterbacks that competed in the 2013 Elite 11 and tabbed Watson the most college-ready. He also noticed Watson’s continual desire to improve as a player, something he would go on to demonstrate at Clemson.
In a July 2013 article, Mitch Stephens of MaxPreps.com quoted Dilfer as calling Watson “a sponge.”
“For a highly touted kid with a lot of accolades for a couple of years, he embraces the journey of getting better,” Dilfer said.
Former ESPN RecruitingNation reporter Kipp Adams had plenty of positive words about Watson, as well. In an April 2013 article, Adams cited Watson’s uncanny knack for commanding an offense and processing a defense under pressure — abilities that have always been Watson’s strong suits.
“Watson did not have the strongest or even most accurate arm among the quarterbacks in attendance, but he is solid in every aspect of being a passer,” Adams wrote. “During the ‘pressure cooker’ 2-minute drill at the end of the camp, Watson showcased what sets him apart from almost every other passer at the high school level — being a field general. He led the drive downfield and into the endzone with ease.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knew what he would be getting in Watson well before he arrived to Clemson.
Swinney raved about his future star quarterback to the media the first time he was allowed by the NCAA to talk about him, after Watson signed his financial aid agreement in 2013:
“He’s a great prospect. Everything you could possibly want in a quarterback,” Swinney was quoted as saying in a November 2013 article by the Post and Courier. “Great leader, a winner. He’s got an incredible skill set, especially for what we do. He fits our system perfectly. Really excited to have him come be a part of our program.”
“We’ve been watching him since the ninth grade, and he’s been in our camp every year. I feel like we’ve been recruiting him forever,” Swinney added then. “It’s going to be a lot of fun seeing him at this level. I think he’ll be one of those guys when it’s all said and done, just like this guy that’s leaving right now, he’ll leave his mark just like he did down in Gainesville.”