NFL Draft Eligible Players:
Offense Type: Shotgun-Based Spread System
2016-17 Offensive Ranks:
- 39.2 points per game (14th best in NCAA | 3rd best in the ACC)
- 500 yards per game (12th best in NCAA | 2nd best in the ACC)
- 37.1 points per game average against ranked opponents
- 33 points per game average in the college football playoff
- Deshaun Watson finished 2nd in the Heisman trophy voting
Passing Game Concepts
Double Slant Concept
This is the double slant concept that Clemson utilized with 1 minute left in the National Championship. The play-side wide and slot receivers both are running one to two yard slants. The play-side wide receiver is in man coverage, which is a bad coverage (for the receiver) for slants. The slot receiver is being covered by the safety, who is giving him a 6 yard cushion. This is the perfect coverage for a slant. Watson must simply make this read before the play and will not be required to make any reads as the play is rolling. Because of the coverage, the slot receiver becomes the primary read on this play.
Renfrow, the slot receiver who is the primary read is about to make his 45 degree break on the route. This is the precise moment where Watson must release the ball. Any later and the safety will easily read his eyes and close the gap between him and the receiver. Anticipation is a trait that Watson must work on moving forward.
Renfrow, the primary read/receiver in this slant concept, makes the relatively easy completion for the first down. I say relatively easy because he knows he has to take a big hit from the safety, so holding onto the ball isn’t going to be easy.
Slant-Arrow Rub Concept
In the offense I utilize, we call this play 20 Rub. Like in basketball in the pick-and-roll offense, we’re trying to set a screen to free up a player. The tricky part is you try to set the screen without getting called for offensive pass interference.
In the National Championship winning play, the wide receiver is the “screen” guy and he’s trying to draw his defender with him inside. He’s also trying to draw a screen on the nickel cornerback who is covering the slot receiver (Renfrow) so that Renfrow can get open on the arrow/quick out pass. This is a classic rub concept and if you watch a lot of Clemson’s offense, they utilize several different type of rub/pick concepts.
It’s also worth noting that because this is a rollout, the running back goes up in pass protection to seal the edge and allow Watson time to make the throw.
We see here that the wide receiver draws contact from the cornerback and he brings him inside perfectly. The wide receiver does such a good job that the nickel cornerback is forced to go above the receiver and cornerback and take the long route to the slot receiver, who is running underneath.
The wide receiver does his job perfectly, the nickel cornerback is forced to go the long way and Renfrow is wide open. Watson does a great job with his timing on his throw.
The play works perfectly and it leads to a touchdown, which wins Clemson the National Championship!
Mike Williams is isolated at the top of the screen. He’s drawing press coverage against the cornerback. A fade versus press coverage is a green light for the quarterback to make that pass, especially when your receiver is Mike Williams, because it is essentially a 50/50 ball, which Williams will win most of the time in college.
It’s also worth noting that Clemson’s offense is in max pro (7 blockers), so they are fully committed to giving Watson a clean pocket and plenty of time to throw.
Williams gets off the line well and is beating his cornerback to the outside. Watson is about to start his throwing motion and the safety is late to read Watson.
As we see here, Williams has half a step on his cornerback and the safety is trailing. The safety is too far back to make a play and the cornerback doesn’t have his eyes on the ball. Williams has his eyes on the ball.
Williams reads the ball perfectly and goes up and makes the great catch. Watson put it in a great spot because it was placed in a position where Williams can make a play.
Running Game Schemes
Here is a designed read option that Clemson runs. Clemson is in a modified shotgun look with a wing-back on the strong-side of the field. This is a man-blocking concept with a pulling guard. Clemson usually runs a lot of zone blocking schemes, but on this play, they revert to good ole’ man blocking. Let’s break it down by assignment:
Right Tackle: Takes on the 5 technique head-on
Right Guard: Pulls to the strong-side outside the left tackle and takes the most dangerous man in the hole.
Center: Head-up block on the nose tackle
Left Guard: Doubles teams the nose tackle with the center.
Left Tackle: Takes on the 5 technique head-on; this is a crucial block and the fact that the end is in a 5 technique makes this block much easier for the left tackle.
Wing-Back: Takes on the blitzing SAM linebacker.
The quarterback is reading the MIKE linebacker. If the linebacker (#55 in this case) stays within the tackle box to play the quarterback, then the quarterback is instructed to hand the ball off to the running back. If the linebacker moves outside the tackle box and plays the running back, then the quarterback is instructed to keep the ball and follow his pulling guard.
You can see here that the quarterback is reading the MIKE linebacker (#55), who is reading the running back.
Watson pulls the ball and keeps it to himself. #55’s eyes are on the running back and the pulling guard (#69) is in position to make a proper seal block.
The pulling guard (#69) sees the linebacker follow the running back and abandons that block. He instead turns his head and looks for work. Watson should follow the pulling guard’s outside shoulder as he has a good lane to run to.
Watson stays inside and only picks up a few yards. Had he stayed to the outside of the pulling guard, he could’ve had a large gain. Nevertheless, this is a very nice play that the Tigers utilize a lot.
HalfBack Power from a Modified Shotgun Look (Man Blocking)
This is a simple big-on-big man blocking power run. The offensive tackles take the defensive ends, the offensive guards handle the interior defensive lineman and the center engages the play-side defensive tackle and then gets to the second level to block the linebacker. Louisville only has 6 players in the box and their strong-side linebacker is playing just outside the strong-side defensive end so this is perfect for Clemson’s offense as they are running to the weak-side of the field.
The offensive line engages the defenders well and the center initially engages the play-side defensive tackle well and is about to engage the linebacker.
Gallman reads the hole and follows his block well. The strong-side linebacker can’t reach the hole fast enough.
Gallman splits the defense and is gone...
...for a touchdown.
Deshaun Watson’s Reading & Scanning Ability
I’ve compiled two detailed stats on the type of throws that Deshaun Watson makes. Firstly, I’ve broken down the amount of reads he makes on any given throw. A read will be operationalized as the direction of the quarterback’s eyes/head on a passing play. I watched Clemson’s games against Pittsburgh, Louisville and Alabama in 2016-2017. I also counted throws that were negated due to penalties. For full disclosure, I have watched (in detail) 8 games on Watson from the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
One Read & Throw — 124 Throws (80.5%)
Multiple (2 or more) Reads — 30 Throws (19.5%)
I then compiled the amount of yards that Watson’s passes traveled through the air in those 3 games. Here are the results:
0-10 Yards — 91 Throws (59.1%)
11-19 Yards — 27 Throws (17.5%)
20-29 Yards — 23 Throws (14.9%)
30+ Yards — 13 Throws (8.4%)
What can we take away from this? I take away that Watson’s quarterback-friendly spread system allows him to make a lot of predetermined throws within 10 yards of the quarterback. In fact, there is a 47.5% chance that on any given passing play, Watson is throwing a quick hitter (one read and throw) type of pass that is within 10 yards of where he is throwing. On those plays, Watson is simply a robot making a throw; there is no mental processing post-snap and even before the snap he is making a very simple read. This low level of reading scares me and he’ll face a steep learning curve in a pro style offense in the NFL.
Even when Watson made multiple (2 or more) reads, it was in large part due to pressure coming from the defense thus forcing Watson to improvise, use his legs and find another target. While that is an impressive trait, I rarely saw Watson sit in the pocket, go through multiple reads and throw a strike. That is, in large part, due to his system, which hinders his mental processing ability and that will hurt his transition into the NFL.
There’s a pretty good chance that all but Guillermo will be drafted within the first three rounds and for good reason. This is a super talented offense that executed a player-friendly system extremely well. On top of their talent, this may be one of the most athletic offenses in college football. This offense did a very good job of getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers through a variety of short, quick hitter type passes. Deshaun Watson is the perfect quarterback to run this spread offense as he can get the ball out quickly, is very athletic and has shown to have very good touch on the bucket passes. Wayne Gallman has shown that he can be patient and read the holes well. He has also proven to be a legitimate receiving threat, amassing at least 20 catches per year in his 3 years as the Tigers’ running back. Mike Williams looks like a playmaker in the NFL. He wins most 50/50 balls and high points the ball extremely well. He is very athletic and explosive, which allows him to get off the line and beat any type of press coverage. Artavis Scott was a good possession receiver and will be a great complimentary piece to any NFL offense. Jordan Leggett has a lot of potential as a tight end due to his great athleticism. He needs to work on his route running and his blocking, but he looks like a player and a potential day 1 impact player in the NFL. Guillermo will most likely have to fight to make a roster, but he has a chance of getting drafted. He performed well in the Tigers’ spread offense, but may be limited to spread-only systems in the NFL. All in all, this was a fun offense to watch!