By the time the Miami Dolphins selected former Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley with the 97th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Alabama Crimson Tide had already set a modern day draft record with nine players taken in the first 80 picks.
Why am I bringing up Alabama?
Before Tankersley, Clemson had just two players picked in front of him, wide receiver Mike Williams with the 7th pick to the Los Angeles Chargers and quarterback Deshaun Watson with the 12th overall selection to the Houston Texans. Beginning with pick 16 when Baltimore took former Tide cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Alabama had nine players taken over the next 64 picks, including three more in the first round of the draft.
That means the team Clemson beat to win the 2016 Championship had seven more players selected in the first 80 picks of the NFL Draft. That kind of statistic makes you wonder, “How did the Tigers win the game?”
First off, let’s give Clemson a little credit, too. There are a lot of talented football players on Clemson’s roster. In fact, besides the six players the Tigers had selected in the 2017 NFL Draft this past weekend, there could be up to 14 more in next year’s draft. So there’s that.
The other reason why the Tigers won the game, and I really don’t have to tell you this, but it was because of Deshaun Watson.
You always hear a team is only as good as its quarterback. In today’s game that statement is truer than ever before.
Clemson’s football team was very talented this past season, but as head coach Dabo Swinney pointed out all the time, it was also a very young team. How does a young team beat a veteran team that had nine players taken in the first 80 picks of the professional draft?
When your veteran quarterback completes 36 of 56 passes for a national championship game record 420 yards and three touchdowns – that’s how.
Alabama’s nine selections in the first 80 picks (10 overall) just adds to Watson’s legacy at Clemson. If you truly think about it, considering how young Clemson was compared to the Crimson Tide, the Tigers should not have won that game.
However, truly special players only come around so often and a truly special quarterback only comes around every 39 years, at least at Clemson that is.
The last quarterback to make the same kind of impact for the Clemson football program that Watson did was Steve Fuller. Like Watson, Fuller took a team with really good players and made them great, including an 11-1 season in 1978.
Yes, Clemson won the national championship with Homer Jordan at quarterback three years later, but Jordan was a good quarterback surrounded by great players. Jordan did not have to elevate those Tigers the way Fuller did his teams.
The three teams Watson quarterbacked at Clemson were perhaps more talented than either of Fuller’s and Jordan’s teams, especially the last two. However, Watson was the greatest player of all that great talent they had.
He elevated Clemson to greater heights. And if you don’t believe me, than go ask all of those Alabama players selected in the first 80 picks of the draft.