CFB Player Bracket: Malik McDowell vs. Deshaun Watson
This first-round matchup in PFF’s Player Bracket pits a Heisman hopeful quarterback against one of the best defensive tackles in the FBS: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson vs. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell.
To view the entire bracket and every Round 1 matchup, click here.
The case for McDowell
After posting a positive overall grade in a limited number of snaps in 2014, McDowell made a big jump in production to go with a great increase in playing time in 2015.
McDowell recorded the seventh-highest-overall grade among all returning Power-5 defensive interior players in 2015, and his +22.1 pass rush grade was third-best among the group. The Michigan State defensive tackle has impressive upper body strength to pair with his long arms that allow him to shed one-on-one blocks with relative ease.
McDowell wasn’t the same force against the run as he was as a pass rusher but he had flashes of dominant play in run defense (+7.2 run defense grade with five stops in Week 11 against Maryland). His consistency as an interior pass rusher though is what this case is built on though: he didn’t record a single game last season with a pass rush grade below -1.0 and only had one that dipped below 0.0 (anything between -1.0 and +1.0 is considered average).
Analyst Josh Liskiewitz took a look at McDowell a couple of weeks ago and compared him to DeForest Buckner.
The case for Watson
From Week 9 through the end of the season, Deshaun Watson lead all FBS QBs with an overall grade of +34.5; second place over that stretch? Arkansas’ Brandon Allen with an overall grade of +25.9. There may not have been a more dominant player in college football at any position than Watson was for the latter past of last year.
Watson’s +41.9 overall grade last season was the third-best among QB’s returning to the FBS in 2016 and he’s the only returning QB to post both a top-10 passing grade (+26.4, seventh) and rushing grade (+15.3, fifth). That followed a 2014 season where he ranked second in terms of overall grade (+18.2), fifth in passing grade (+9.7) and sixth in rushing grade (+8.0) among this group, despite playing in just 333 snaps (J.T. Barrett lead the group with a +25.8 overall grade in 814 snaps).
Watson’s 77.1 adjusted completion percentage last season ranked fourth among returning QBs, his 47.5 adjusted completion percentage on deep passes ranked 12th and his 105.4 QB Rating was fourth. He’s also a legitimate threat as a runner, his 1,105 rushing yards last season ranked 44th among all FBS players, including running backs.
Verdict: Deshaun Watson advances
This one was never really close. McDowell is an excellent player with the potential to not just be one of the best interior defenders in the Big 10, but one of the best interior defenders in the entire country, but he’s still too inconsistent against the run and Watson is just too much to overcome in the first round.
The 2015 Heisman finalist will likely be competing for the award once again this season, and he also figures to be in the mix as the top pick in next years NFL draft. He also has the ability to just flat-out take over a game from the most important position in arguably all of sports, he had five different games last season in which he scored an overall grade north of +5.0, including the national championship game against Alabama.
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