As Deshaun Watson took the field on his final offensive possession with the Clemson Tigers, down 31-28 in the national championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide with 2:07 left to play, the NFL probably wasn’t even remotely on his mind. But for Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith, who was at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to witness the action firsthand, this game was about seeing if Watson could deliver in clutch situations.
“It’s in the heat of the moment, the enormity of the moment, they have to go down and score,” Smith told MMQB. “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.
“I saw just tremendous poise and confidence in him. 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.”
In the national championship, Watson completed 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. But what was even more impressive than his stat sheet was how he elevated his level of play as the game wore on. He helped the Tigers climb out of a 14-0 hole, and Clemson didn’t hold a lead until 4:38 remained in the ballgame.
Smith traded up 13 spots to secure the No. 12 pick in the draft, and rolled the dice on Watson in a selection that will say a lot about his tenure as the Texans’ general manager when it’s all said and done.
Watson capped off the national championship with a touchdown drive, effectively sealing a 35-31 upset over the Crimson Tide and establishing himself as a guy who plays his best when the lights are brightest. Along with Watson, seven players from that Alabama defense were selected in the draft, but they had no answers for the quarterback on the game-winning drive.
Watson’s performance surely impressed every general manager who was saw the action live, but Smith felt he witnessed enough to trade up.