CLEMSON, S.C. -- On the video board hanging above the far end zone at Clemson’s indoor practice facility, highlights of Deshaun Watson's spectacular college career flickered across the screen, each throw labeled by route type and interspersed with video of Patriots star Tom Brady making a similar pass. It was a not-so-subtle statement for the dozens (maybe 100) NFL personnel gathered there Thursday to watch Watson work out at the Tigers’ pro day.
The comparison to Brady, arguably the best quarterback in NFL history, might seem a bit outlandish. But this is Watson, a player his coach has already compared favorably to Michael Jordan. So although scouts and draft prognosticators may have spent the past two months picking apart Watson’s game, Thursday was yet another opportunity for Clemson to build Watson’s image.
“I said if you passed on him, you were passing on Michael Jordan, but I don’t know how to articulate the type of greatness that’s inside him," Dabo Swinney said. "It’s that will, that drive. You can’t coach that, and that’s what I want to articulate. This guy is brilliant between the ears and special in his heart."
On the field Thursday, Watson was pretty good, too.
Through the early part of the workouts, when teammates ran their 40s and tested their vertical, Watson lobbed passes with team personnel, orange headphones wrapped over his ears. When his time on center stage came, he seemed no less relaxed.
A few balls missed their targets, but not many. Watson had nearly the entirety of his Clemson offense to work with, too, as Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman, Jordan Leggett and even center Jay Guillermo worked out, too. Watson took snaps from under center, something he rarely did in college. He zipped deep balls downfield, including a few nifty pitch-and-catch routines with Williams and Scott. He whizzed throws on out routes, showcased his footwork in drills, and while his consistency figures to continue to be a critical concern leading up to draft day, he proved his physical skills are worthy of an early selection.
But if Watson’s NFL future is based on Thursday’s performance -- good or bad -- Swinney says scouts are missing the point.
"These things are irrelevant, kind of like the SATs," Swinney said. "I’ve been around some people with unbelievable SATs who did terrible in school, and others who were terrible, who did great."
It was a sentiment Watson echoed after his workout during a brief meeting with media before he retreated to the locker room flanked by two police officers.
"I’m a winner, I’m a champion," Watson said. "That’s what I do."
Watson could be an option for the Browns with the first pick in the draft, but even if Cleveland passes, the 49ers (second pick), Bears (third), Jets (sixth) and Bills (10th) could be in the market for a quarterback, too. Swinney spent a large portion of Watson’s workout chatting with Bears head coach John Fox -- a close follower of the Clemson program from his days as the Carolina Panthers coach -- and said he’s made a point of hyping Watson’s skills to NFL coaches throughout the draft process.
Regardless, Swinney said he was confident his former QB wouldn’t be waiting long to hear his name called at next month’s NFL draft.
"He won’t be sitting there long, I can tell you that," Swinney said. "Don’t buy all the stuff you hear. He’ll be out the gate."