GREENVILLE, S.C. — Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has his eye on the NFL and says he could leave a season early next year if the circumstances are right.
Watson spoke Wednesday before the Tigers’ basketball game with Pittsburgh. He was honored as the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame’s Collegiate Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore All-American said the NFL has always been a dream and is part of the reason he came to Clemson. Watson said one of his goals is to get his college degree before he leaves. He is on track to graduate in December.
“If I have the opportunity to go to the NFL, I’m going to take it,” Watson said.
Watson would be sure to command NFL interest as a dual-threat quarterback. He was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year this past season, throwing for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns. He ran for 1,105 yards and 12 more scores to help Clemson win an ACC championship and reach the national championship game.
Watson led the Tigers to a 14-0 mark and No. 1 ranking on the way to the college football championship game. He accounted for four TDs in the 45-40 loss to Alabama earlier this month.
He said another goal of his for 2016 was surpassing what the Tigers accomplished this season. With the return of tailback Wayne Gallman, tight end Jordan Leggett and injured receiver Mike Williams, the Tigers will have all the pieces in place for another big year, Watson said.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said.
So is Watson’s NFL potential, said former Cincinnati and Tampa Bay head coach Sam Wyche.
Wyche said Watson has the accuracy, arm strength and height that NFL teams find desirable in a passer. He has also got the smarts to handle the position, said Wyche, who lives in South Carolina, is a member of the South Carolina Football Hall and was on hand to honor Clemson’s quarterback.
“I’d pick him,” Wyche said with a smile.
Watson, third in the Heisman Trophy voting last fall, is expected to start the season as one of the most talked about players in the game.
Clemson is accustomed to seeing talented players leave early. The Tigers had five defensive players, including potential first-round NFL picks in defensive end Shaq Alexander and cornerback Mackensie Alexander, give up future college eligibility for the pros.
Others going early after this year’s run to the College Football Playoffs were defensive end Kevin Dodd and safeties Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green.
Watson said he is glad to have options available to him next season. He could decide that playing four years of college ball is right for him before moving on.
“Just have to see how everything works out,” he said.