The one criticism that has dogged Deshaun Watson throughout the 2016 season has always centered around his penchant for throwing interceptions. He launched 17 of them in his final season at Clemson, and it's become the calling card for those who no longer see Watson as a top 10 pick, or even the first quarterback off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft.
But interceptions are often more complex than just a bad throw by the quarterback, as is certainly the case with Watson. While Watson has his fair share of mistakes, not all 17 of his picks are on him. We decided to dive in to all 17 and rank them from "not his fault" to his most egregious. Enjoy.
Ray-Ray McCloud Drop vs. Louisville
Situation: 14:27 left in the 3rd quarter. 2nd & 8 from Clemson's 29 yard line. Clemson up 28-10
Watson has his wideout Ray-Ray McCloud wide open on a quick slant here, but the ball bounces off McCloud's hands and ends up as an INT. This one should've been caught 10 times out of 10.
Jordan Leggett Drop vs. South Carolina
Situation: 9:01 left in the 2nd quarter. 1st & 10 from SC's 30 yard line. Clemson up 21-0
Leggett's drop here is only a tad bit less egregious than McCloud's, and slightly more disappointing, because Watson does a great job of helping him get open. Watson pump fakes the wide receiver screen, getting the linebacker to hesitate and providing an open window for Leggett. Smh.
Tipped Ball vs. Virginia Tech
Situation: 13:39 left in the 3rd quarter. 2nd & 7 from Clemson's 36 yard line. Clemson up 21-14
What are you going to do? Virginia Tech's edge rusher times his jump perfectly, tipping the ball in the air that's eventually brought down by a VT linebacker.
Miscommunication with WR vs. Georgia Tech
Situation: 2:10 left in the 2nd quarter. 1st &14 at Georgia Tech's 16 yard line. Clemson up 14-0
Watson thinks Mike Williams is running a curl route here in the end zone. Williams runs a five yard out instead. Picks in the end zone are always bad, but this one is simply the result of a miscommunication.
Overthrow vs. Louisville
Situation: 9:48 left in the 4th quarter. 2nd & 9 from Clemson's 32 yard line. Clemson down 29-28
Watson has the coverage he wants, one-on-one with his receiver on the outside, he simply leads his man too far and into the waiting hands of Louisville's cornerback.
Overthrow vs. Auburn
Situation: 8:02 left in the 3rd quarter. 3rd & 6 from Clemson's 12 yard line. Clemson up 13-3
This is a poor throw from Watson. It looks like his wideout is running a seam route to the inside, but Watson misreads it and throws the ball to the outside instead. Even if the route had matched up to the ball, Watson doesn't give his WR much of a chance to bring this one down either way.
Sniped by Malik Hooker vs. Ohio State
Situation: 8:32 left in the 2nd quarter. 3rd & 7 from Ohio State's 43 yard line. Clemson up 10-0
Watson tried to sneak this one in down the sideline before OSU's stud safety Malik Hooker arrived...and failed miserably. Still, this play is more about Hooker's skill than Watson's throw.
Floats Ball Into Zone vs. Troy
Situation: 9:59 left in the 3rd quarter. 3rd & 8 from Troy's 46 yard line. Clemson up 13-10
Troy's inside cornerback fakes like he's playing man for five yards, then passes off Watson's receiver to the safety. By the time Watson releases the ball, said safety has already read the route and jumps a ball that takes way too long to get to its spot.
Not Enough Arm vs. Ohio State
Situation: 13:18 left in the 1st quarter. 2nd & 9 from Clemson's 18 yard line. Tied 0-0
On Clemson's second play from scrimmage in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Watson floats his pass to Mike Williams, allowing OSU's corner to catch up, step in front of the ball and pick it off. Williams fell down, but that ball was getting picked either way.
Bad Overthrow vs. Pittsburgh
Situation: 6:49 left in the 2nd quarter. 3rd & 9 from Pittsburgh's 49 yard line. Clemson up 21-20
Watson has his man running a seam route on the right hash, but the pressure doesn't allow him to set his feet and execute proper mechanics, and the ball sails. It bounces off his wideout's hands and is picked off.
Loses Sight of Coverage on Deep Ball vs. Pittsburgh
Situation: 11:03 left in the 1st quarter. 2nd & 6 from Pittsburgh's 13 yard line. Clemson down 7-0
Watson thinks he has his tight end Jordan Leggett, who begins in the play in the backfield, one-on-one with a linebacker on a wheel route to the end zone. But Pittsburgh's Ryan Lewis peels off his receiver, who runs an inside slant toward the middle of the field near the goal line, once he realizes where Watson is throwing, and picks it off.
Cornerback Trickery vs. FSU
Situation: 12:16 left in the 2nd quarter. 3rd & 1 at FSU's 42 yard line. Clemson up 14-0
As Kirk Herbstreit pointed out during the broadcast, Watson gets baited by FSU's corner who fakes like he's taking the inside receiver running a quick out, watches Watson's eyes, then pounces into the throwing lane of Watson's pass to the outside receiver.
It's a great play by FSU's corner, but another failure by Watson to read zone coverage.
Throws Behind WR vs. Louisville
Situation: 11:20 left in the 2nd quarter. 1 & 10 from Louisville's 15 yard line. Down 7-0.
Watson has exactly what he wants. His play fake freezes the safety, allowing Mike Williams to sneak in behind him in the end zone on a slant. Williams has a good step or two on his man, but Watson throws the ball behind him, allowing Louisville's corner to pick it off.
Stumped by Fake Blitz vs. Troy
Situation: 14:20 left in the 2nd quarter. 3rd & 8 from the Clemson 36 yard line. 3-3 tie.
As best as I can tell, Watson must have believed that the cornerback up at the line of scrimmage on the right side of the formation was definitely going to blitz. In that scenario, the safety would have to take the slot receiver, giving him one-on-one coverage with his best receiver, Mike Williams, on the outside. This is not what happened.
The cornerback falls back to take the slot, leaving the safety free to roam. With the slot man running a quick out route, the safety doesn't have to worry about him, and shades Williams instead. This allows the corner covering Williams to jump the route and pick the ball off.
Fooled By CB vs. FSU
Situation: 6:35 left in the 3rd quarter. 2nd & 8 from the Clemson 35 yard line. Clemson up 20-14
Perhaps Watson was shaken pre-snap by the cornerback's fake blitz off the edge. Perhaps he simply lost sight of him. Whatever the reason, it's hard to understand how Watson misses the corner immediately dropping back into zone, and throws it right into his waiting arms.
To be fair to Watson, he does feel pressure from the blitz off the right side of the line, which causes him to hurry the throw. But he's totally fooled by the coverage.
Undercut vs. NC State
Situation: Start of 3rd quarter. 1st & 10 at Clemson's 25 yard line. Clemson up 10-3
Well this looks familiar. NC State's corner shows man, then shifts into zone at the snap, with the safety rotating over to shade Watson's wide receiver. Watson throw the ball as if he didn't see any of the corner's movement, and it's an easy interception for a pick-six.
Goal Line INT vs. Pittsburgh
Situation: 6:00 left in the 4th quarter. Clemson up 42-34. 2nd & Goal at the 4 yard line.
Both the situation and the awfulness of the throw make this interception against Pitt the worst of Watson's 2016 season. Up 8, any sort of points here could've sealed Clemson's 10th victory and kept their undefeated season alive. A field goal would've been fine, and yet Watson forces a throw into traffic that is easily picked off by the linebacker who's simply occupying the middle of the field.
The LBs don't bite on Watson's play fake, and with pressure in his face, Watson puts it up for grabs as he rolls out and tries to hit his tight end Jordan Leggett. Pittsburgh's backer rumbles down to the opposing 30 yard line, setting up a touchdown. Pitt would later win the game on a field goal.