Nine plays and 68 yards was all Deshaun Watson needed to deliver Clemson, the first school to show interest in him when he was in high school, a national championship. However, in that moment that took two minutes of game time before he threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow, the Tigers’ quarterback pretty much sealed the deal with Houston Texans’ general manager Rick Smith as to whom he wanted to be his quarterback of the future.
In his 12 years as the Texans’ general manager, Smith had never even moved further than one spot in the draft to pick a player, much less the 13 he did to go get Watson in last Thursday’s NFL Draft.
Smith was in the stands at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017, when Watson did what no quarterback has been able to do on Nick Saban and his Alabama defenses in the fourth quarter, beat them. Watson, with everyone in the country watching, guided his team down the field for the game-winning touchdown to win the national championship.
“It’s in the heat of the moment, the enormity of the moment, they have to go down and score,” Smith explained to SI.com in the article How the Texans found their man in Deshaun Watson. “And just his presence, his confidence, his poise, the way that he handled himself in that situation, in that moment, it was very impressive. … That’s why I go to those games—you can see how they respond to adversity, how they react to their teammates, how they react to their coaches, different situations during the game.”
Smith saw Watson not only throw the game-winning touchdown, but make several pressure throws on the drive, putting the ball where only he knew his receivers could make the play, like the 24-yard pass to Mike Williams on the second play of the drive. Or the third down pass to Renfrow just before finding tight end Jordan Leggett for a 17-yard completion that moved the ball inside the Alabama 10-yard line with nine seconds to play.
“I saw just tremendous poise and confidence in him,” Smith said to SI.com. “And obviously he went and performed in one of the all-time great games you’ll ever see. He functioned in a very competitive and highly charged environment with a lot of poise and execution.”
Three months later, it was Smith who had to show all of those traits as he gambled on Watson and did some things in the draft he has never done as a general manager. He drafted a quarterback in the first round, and give up a future draft pick to get him.
By moving up to get Watson with the No. 12 pick, Smith agreed to give up his first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. That’s a move a guy like Smith, who has slowly built the Texans into a playoff caliber team year in and year out by valuing his draft picks, does not do unless he has full confidence in who he is getting.
Smith said he never felt anxious or had that lump in his throat when he pulled the trigger and finalized his deal with the Browns, one he admitted to laying down the ground work with Cleveland several hours before the draft.
“I didn’t experience it like that,” Smith said in the article. “My feeling about the way it was happening, it all worked the way it was supposed to work.”
Now a week later, Smith can sit back in his office chair and look back at how the night they went and got Deshaun Watson worked out. It wasn’t an easy process and it surely had its stressful moments, but Smith feels he did his homework, which is laid out completely in this article, in bringing the city of Houston the quarterback it has been longing for since the days when a guy named Warren Moon was directing the old Houston Oilers fun-and-gun offense.
And without a doubt, Smith knows Watson can handle the pressure. He has already seen him do it.
—Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports