Take a look at the leaderboard for yards passing in college football this season and one won’t find Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson anywhere near the top.
The sophomore ranks 33rd in the nation with 1,936 yards passing. Compare it to Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin’s 2,927 yards passing and Watson’s yardage seems even more pedestrian.
However, Watson is too a Heisman contender, a top one at that. He, just like Boykin, needs to be considered among the top five most likely to take home the prestigious award.There’s a reason Watson isn’t throwing for 400 yards each week, and it has nothing to do with his ability. With a rushing offense that averages 218.1 yards per game and a defense that is giving up just 17.6 points per contest, the Tigers don’t often ask Watson to chuck it up and down the field.
What they do generally ask Watson to be is efficient, and he sure has been just that. He ranks fifth in the nation with an excellent 70.2 completion percentage and eighth in efficiency rating with a 168.3 mark.
Still, as great as Watson’s supporting cast is, there understandably have been times where the Tigers needs him to let it rip for them to win. Their Week 9 contest against North Carolina State serves as a prime example, and Watson answered the call to perfection.
The Gainesville, Georgia native posted Boykin-like numbers, throwing for 383 yards and five touchdowns, pushing his season total to 20 passing scores. In true Watson fashion, he was supremely accurate, completing 76.7 percent of his passes and posting an absurd efficiency rating of 238.9. The dual-threat quarterback also added 54 yards and a score on the ground, moving his season totals to 386 yards and four touchdowns.
Watson threw some absolutely beautiful balls, highlighted by his 42-yard and 40-yard touchdown passes to Charone Peak and Deon Cane, respectively.
Watson can do it all. He can act as a game manager: making smart, safe throws that are enough to help his team earn a W. He can also play the role of gunslinger as he did on Saturday and carry his team to a victory.
The results speak for themselves when it comes to Watson’s ability. The Tigers are 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation. Frankly, there’s a strong argument to be made that they’ve been college football's most impressive team and deserve the top ranking.
Watson’s already among the handful of players that has a legitimate chance to win the Heisman. But if Clemson continues to look as impressive as it’s been up to this point and Watson keeps being an efficiency monster, he very well could ultimately be the final contender standing.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette remains the clear Heisman front-runner, but make no mistake: there’s another Tiger nipping at his paws.
My top five after Week 9:
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
He has 1,352 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns in seven games. Enough said.
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Boykin continues to stuff the stat sheet. The Horned Frogs' signal caller threw for 388 yards, rushed for 84 and scored four total touchdowns in the team’s 40-10 victory over West Virginia on Saturday. He’s accounted for 2,821 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, which is fairly decent, wouldn’t you say?
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Like Fournette, Henry’s team was on bye this week. He’s rushed for 1,044 yards and 15 touchdowns in eight games this season, acting as the lifeblood of a Crimson Tide team that appears poised to make a College Football Playoff run. This Saturday, Alabama and LSU face off, which should be a ton of fun to watch for those of us that love seeing special running backs.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Elliott entered the year considered among the top Heisman favorites, but there hasn’t been a ton of talk about him as the season has progressed for some reason. Still, he’s having a monster season. He’s rushed for at least 100 yards in every game and has 1,130 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns rushing on the year.
Related: CFB's top performers in Week 9