Deshaun Watson can only hurt himself by playing in the Senior Bowl

With nothing left to prove, Watson should rest before the pre-draft grind, not play in a meaningless game

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Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson smiles during an NCAA college football news conference Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff National Championship game the night before. Watson was the offensive player of the game. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) — Chris O'Meara

Last week, the Senior Bowl extended an invitation to Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson to be a participant in the game. Even though Watson is a junior, he graduated from Clemson in December, so he is eligible to play in the game under NFL rules.

Over the past few days, there have been a number of tweets by members of “Draft Twitter” stating that Watson should play in the game and it would be foolish for him not to participate because the NFL coaches and scouts would get a better look at him.

There have been no public comments on his participation by people in the NFL, because under League rules no NFL employee is allowed to make a statement about an underclassman until after that player is officially in the 2017 NFL Draft. That won’t be until sometime next week.

As far as I know, Watson has not accepted or rejected his invitation to play in the game. As a 30-plus year scouting veteran including nine years as a scouting director, I think it would be foolish for Watson to participate. I have been to 32 Senior Bowls and I know what the Senior Bowl is about and how it can help or hurt players. In the case of Deshaun Watson, I feel it can only hurt him.

Why do I feel that way? For a number of reasons. One of the most important is that Watson just finished his season this past Monday night with a victory over Alabama in the National Championship game. It was the 15th game that Watson has played this season, including three pressure-packed games: the ACC Championship game, the Fiesta Bowl Playoff game and the National Championship game.

With college teams starting practice in the beginning of August, Watson has gone over five straight months playing football without a rest. With players scheduled to report to the Senior Bowl on January 22nd, it doesn’t give much time for Watson to rest after a pressure packed five months.

When you include into the equation that Clemson played last year in the National Championship game, you can see that Watson has played in 30 college football games over the past two seasons. That is the highest number of games any top quarterback prospect has ever played in over two seasons. Not only has he played in two consecutive National Championship games, he has performed almost flawlessly.

The two National Championship games were both played against Alabama, who is regarded as having the best defense in college football. In those two games, Watson has thrown for over 800 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception. He has performed in a total of six “big stage” games the last two seasons when you include the two ACC Championship games and the four Playoff games. What more do scouts have to see as far as evaluating a player under pressure situations?

He has proved numerous times that he can come up big in big games. After the “high” of playing and winning a National Championship, it would be very difficult for Watson to be prepared and give his best effort for what is basically a meaningless game.

What he needs to do is rest for a few weeks and then prepare for the grinding five-to-six week period that includes the Combine, a Pro Day and numerous private workouts for the teams interested. Included in those private workouts are hours of meetings and interviews with coaches and personnel decision makers.

The people who are the most vocal about Watson participating in the Senior Bowl are the numerous Draft Analysts and bloggers. Why? Because very few of them have had the opportunity to see Watson practice or play in person. If Watson chooses not to participate, these people will be quick to criticize, but it’s for their own selfish reasons, not anything to do with what is in the best interest for Watson.

If I were advising Watson, I would tell him to go relax for a couple of weeks to get yourself ready for the grind of the next three months. That is what is the best thing for Deshaun Watson to be doing, not playing in a meaningless All Star game where he might not be mentally ready to play.