Greg Gabriel: How good of an NFL quarterback can Clemson's Deshaun Watson become?

Watson will be one of the first QBs taken in the draft but will need time to develop

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Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Artavis Scott during the second half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson reacts after throwing a touchdown pass to Artavis Scott during the second half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro) — Richard Shiro

The Bears' former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel has over 30 years of experience in NFL scouting and he'll be breaking down the top NFL prospects to watch this college season and other NFL news each week here at Pro Football Weekly. You can follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

The strength or weakness of the quarterback class in the 2017 NFL Draft will depend on how many underclassmen at the position enter. As of now there is only one junior quarterback who has entered the draft and that is Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Watson has put up some excellent numbers the last two years, but how good can he become in the NFL?

To date this year, Watson has completed 329-of-487 passes for a 67 percent completion rate, 3,914 yards, 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. In 2015, he was 333-of-491 for 4,104 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His career completion percentage is close to 68.

Watson is listed as being 6-3, 215 pounds. Most scouts who have seen him in person say it’s more like 6-1½ and 205 pounds. We will find out for sure at the Combine. Regardless, he has a lean frame and will never be optimum NFL size.

As an athlete, he has quick feet, very good speed (4.60 estimated 40-yard dash) and excellent body control. He has excellent maneuverability in the pocket, a very good feel for pass rushers and can make and extend plays with his feet. He also does a great job throwing the ball with accuracy while on the run.

Watson plays in a fairly simple spread offense and for the most part it is a half-field-read scheme. He usually has two reads and possibly a check-down receiver. In all the games I viewed, he never looked at the opposite side of the field.

As a passer, Watson has a quick release and good-to-very good arm strength. He throws a tight ball and for the most part his ball placement is good. He generally does a good job seeing the field and usually makes good decisions. There are times when he gets impatient and will force the ball. Louisville and Pitt were two of those games. He threw three interceptions in each of those games. That said, he also threw for over 800 yards and eight touchdowns in those contests.

While he will make the occasional poor decision and poor throw, he also makes some throws that few college quarterbacks can make. He has some gunslinger to him and that can be both good and bad. He can make all the throws required to be a solid NFL quarterback.

Going into the season, Watson was the favorite to be the top pick in the draft. Then he got off to a slow start and people started critiquing his game. He bounced back to have an excellent overall season and lead Clemson to the College Football Playoff. That says a lot about his leadership skills.

Looking ahead, Watson has the talent to become a very good NFL quarterback, but he will need to go through a period of learning. It will take him some time to adjust to an NFL-style offense and learn to play in a full-field-read scheme. He will get drafted very high, but the worst thing that could happen to him is being forced to play early. He needs to sit and learn for a good part if not all of his rookie season. This will take him through the learning curve and prepare him for success. He will also need a quality quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. Many young quarterbacks fail because they are forced to play too soon and don’t have the proper mentors around to guide them.

There is a chance that Watson could be the first quarterback drafted and depending on what other quarterbacks enter the draft, maybe as low as the third, but I am certain that if he is put in the right situation, he will become very good.

Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz have had excellent rookie seasons because of the support they have in Dallas and Philly. Let’s hope Watson gets the same.