Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is currently in Tampa, Fla., preparing to face Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday night.
However, in a few weeks, he might be in Alabama, preparing to put his skills on display for NFL scouts at the 2017 Senior Bowl.
The Senior Bowl is the premier scouting showcase, giving invited NFL prospects an opportunity to audition in front of hundreds of scouts and coaches throughout a week of practices and an exhibition game. Watson, who is a third-year junior, has received an invitation to Mobile, Ala., to participate in what is a unique situation.
The game is called the Senior Bowl because it is reserved for senior prospects who have exhausted collegiate eligibility. However, when Phil Savage was named executive director of the event in 2012, one of the changes implemented was the eligibility of fourth-year juniors who graduated prior to game. The move was universally welcomed and several redshirt junior graduates have taken advantage of the new rule.
Watson isn't a fourth-year junior graduate. He recently graduated from Clemson with a degree in communications, loading up on credit hours in the spring, summer and fall to graduate in only two-and-a-half years. Considering he has started at quarterback for the Tigers each of the past three seasons, Watson's ability to successfully juggle football and academics is an impressive feat.
According to a source, Watson showed interest in attending the Senior Bowl earlier this season and Clemson worked closely with the event organizers and the NFL to receive clearance. It is a league rule that underclassmen are not permitted to participate in pre-draft, all-star games, but with Watson being a graduate, he is an exception and might be the first true junior to participate in the event.
Watson has yet to accept or decline the invite.
In the past, several top-tier quarterback prospects have elected not to participate in the game, choosing instead to prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine or personal workouts. But Watson, who is expected to be one of the top five quarterbacks drafted in the 2017 NFL draft, isn't a lock to be a first-round pick at this point in the process and he could greatly help himself in the eyes of NFL teams during the week in Mobile.
The Cleveland Browns, who own the No. 1 and No. 12 selections in April's NFL Draft, will be coaching the South Team at the 2017 Senior Bowl -- and the South is the team Watson is expected to play for if he accepts. Taking instruction from head coach Hue Jackson and the Browns' offensive staff would be an invaluable advantage Watson would have over several of the other top quarterback prospects in the draft.
Will we see more third-year junior graduates attend the Senior Bowl? Possibly, but NFL prospects graduating prior to the December of their junior season isn't common. The fact that Watson was able to do so is just another impressive achievement to add to his resume.