It was the head-turning kind of performance that has made the dynamic player the toast of the college football world this week: 36-of-54, 443 total yards and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), including the game-winner with under five seconds to play. When it was over, Watson, a third-year junior who graduated last month, effectively declared for the NFL Draft and told reporters “It’s my time to go.”
That means Watson, who is projected to be a first-round pick, will be one of several quarterbacks — a list that includes North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and more — available come April for teams searching for stability at the position.
Trubisky, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Mentor, Ohio, native who has risen up mock draft boards with his strong arm and poise in the pocket, declared his intention to turn pro Monday morning. The first-year starter is considered one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s crop, passing for 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Trubisky, Watson and others present options for the Browns as they look for a long-term answer at quarterback following a 1-15 season. Injuries forced Cleveland to rotate through a cast of signal-callers, including
“We haven’t established ‘the guy’ at the position so we are going to look at all options, and we will continue to work to develop the guys that we have on our roster,” Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said earlier this month.
“We still have to … sit down with our coaching staff and go through our end-of-season evaluation, go back and look at the tape and have discussions internally to see where all the guys sit on our roster right now, but we know we need better from that position, as well as others that support that position.”
The Browns hold the first and 12th overall picks in the draft, and it remains unclear what plans Cleveland has with those selections. But Brown, head coach Hue Jackson and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta made clear at their end-of-the-year press conference they won’t shy away from adding talented quarterbacks to the roster.
“We don’t necessarily know whether or not we have the answer (at quarterback), but we’re going to assume I think every year that we don’t. We’re always going to look for quarterbacks. It’s such an important position,” DePodesta said. “We’re going to look at free agency. We’re going to look at the draft. We’re always going to look for quarterbacks.
"The greater organizations do that. You look at what Green Bay has done over the years. They still drafted quarterbacks despite the fact that they had Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks on their roster and other teams have done the same. We’ll look to do the same, regardless of who we have. The position is too important not to.”
Jackson, who has spoken of a desire for the Browns to find a longtime quarterback, added: “I said it and I will not back down from that. We are going to find a quarterback that is going to come here and play winning, championship football, but I think it is too early to talk about ‘do you have him yet?’ ‘Do you not have him yet?’
“Here comes the draft. Here comes other opportunities to add more players to our team. My job and our job is to make sure we have them here ... It’s still a work in progress. I want to truly evaluate the players that we have here. I want to work through the draft with these men and through free agency and see if there is something better and is there the right quarterback somewhere else where we can put on our football team to help us be where we can be. I just think it’s still a work in progress right now.”
And, speaking generally, Brown said whatever route Cleveland chooses will be a collaborative process. “We will all sit down and make sure that we watch plenty of tape on all the eligible quarterbacks this year and make a decision that we feel is the best for the organization,” he said.
Brown added: “We have characteristics that we look for, but obviously, the guy has to be able to win and win consistently and elevate the play of their team. That is what the real good ones across the league have done for years.
“We will be no different here as we move forward and continue to build our team. We will build it with a guy that has that kind of mindset,” he continued. “We are still not sure that he is not on our team right now. We have to continue to evaluate and go through it, but I know that position, that is what it has to have in order for us to be successful here.”