Sapakoff: Dabo (almost) on target with his Deshaun Watson/Michael Jordan comparison
Eyes rolled this week when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney compared his favorite quarterback to one of the most revered winners in the history of competitive athletics.
“If they pass on Deshaun Watson,” Swinney told reporters covering Senior Bowl workouts in Mobile, Ala., “they’re passing on Michael Jordan.”
Watson you know from all the magazine covers at the grocery store. He is the national championship-winning maestro last seen firing a touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining against Alabama in Tampa.
“They” are NFL general managers, coaches and scouts – folks charged with making decisions for the 2017 NFL draft that begins on April 27.
Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles and made the game-winning shot for North Carolina in the 1982 NCAA Tournament championship game.
No way Watson wins six Super Bowls. Zero chance he performs as well as Jordan did in “Space Jam” alongside such standout actors as Bill Murray, Wayne Knight, Charles Barkley and Bugs Bunny.
Swinney went on: “I mean, I’m just telling you: I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about; I’m just an old, funky college coach. But Deshaun Watson is the best by a longshot.”
He’s right about that.
Seventeen NFL teams are nuts if they pass on Watson unless he suffers a pre-draft injury requiring major limb surgery or a personality transplant. This is the complete 6-3, 218-pound package with an ideal blend of proven results against top teams and top-shelf preparation work ethic.
Only teams with established star quarterbacks in their prime or potential stars are excused from passing on Watson in the first round.
That list is limited to 15.
AFC: Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger), Ravens (Joe Flacco), Colts (Andrew Luck), Titans (Marcus Mariota), Jaguars (Blake Bortles) and Raiders (Derek Carr).
NFC: Eagles (Carson Wentz), Redskins (Kirk Cousins), Cowboys (Dak Prescott), Packers (Aaron Rodgers), Lions (Matthew Stafford), Buccaneers (Jameis Winston), Falcons (Matt Ryan), Panthers (Cam Newton) and Seahawks (Russell Wilson).
It’s close, but Watson would be an upgrade for the Chiefs (Alex Smith), Vikings (Teddy Bridgewater/Sam Bradford) or Bengals (Andy Dalton).
Patriots, Chargers, Saints and Giants?
Studying under Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees or Eli Manning would be ideal, and Nick Saban will tell Bill Belichick that Watson is better than New England heir-apparent Jimmy Garoppolo.
Rams and Broncos?
If 2016 first-round picks Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch were good enough, they would have won starting jobs earlier.
NFL talent evaluators rely on more than a few games when analyzing candidates for the most important position in sports. But it’s hard to ignore Watson’s pair of national championship games against Alabama: seven touchdown passes, one interception, 825 yards passing, 116 yards rushing, one touchdown run.
That’s with Saban, the greatest college coach ever, given extra time to prepare. Both times, Alabama had NFL talent all over the depth chart.
The Tide tried countering with different defensive coordinator tandems: Saban (Alabama’s real defensive coordinator) and current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart in 2016, Saban and budding head coach prospect Jeremy Pruitt on Jan. 9.
In college football, it doesn’t get much more formidable.
The 32-3 thing
Watson threw 30 interceptions over the last two seasons, 17 in the just-completed season. That’s way too many, and his interception percentage went up as his quarterback rating went down in the last two of his three college seasons.
But, per Swinney’s style, Watson took a lot of risks. Most important, his winning percentage increased by the start.
NFL Combine testing will be interesting; Watson gained an inch of height between official Clemson listings in August and mid-season. He clearly added muscle last summer – packing on 15 pounds to get to 218 – and plans to add more.
It’s hard to argue with a 32-3 record as a starter (31-2 when he finished games healthy) in a Power 5 conference, including two ACC Championship Games and four College Football Playoff games.
Swinney has been known to overrate his Clemson quarterbacks.
“(Kyle Parker) could make a 53-man roster this summer,” Swinney said in 2010 of the talented former Tiger going into his sophomore year.
Parker got 132 Major League at-bats with the Colorado Rockies over the 2014 and 2015 seasons but was not selected in the NFL draft. He hasn’t played a down of football since leaving college.
That was two quarterbacks, two ACC championships, five straight seasons with a bowl win, two College Football Playoff appearances and a national championship parade ago.
This time, Swinney is (almost) completely right about Watson.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff