CLEMSON, S.C. – The 2014 NFL draft is shaping up to be dominated by quarterbacks. With quarterback emerging as a major need position in the NFL and QB-needy teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and more expected to pick high in April’s draft, a deep crop of quarterbacks will come off the board early in the first and second rounds.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota are widely projected among the top three overall selections should they both forego their final season of college eligibility, and plenty of depth exists behind them.
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, UCLA redshirt sophomore Brett Hundley, LSU senior Zach Mettenberger, Fresno State senior Derek Carr and Clemson senior Tajh Boyd have all been projected in the first two rounds of various mock drafts.
Among that group, Boyd is one of the more intriguing prospects. His college productivity and squeaky-clean personality as Clemson’s unquestioned leader make him attractive, but his performance in big games and overall size could give NFL talent evaluators reason for pause.
Watching Boyd’s draft stock between now and late April will be a fascinating exercise, as he could easily be selected in the middle of the first round or slip to the second round, depending on which mock draft you pay attention to.
But with three regular-season games plus Clemson’s bowl remaining, Boyd is clearly in the mix.
Let’s break down what makes Boyd a first-round candidate and what could cause him to slip on draft day.
Boyd is one of the most productive quarterbacks in ACC history. Between passing and rushing, he is responsible for 117 touchdowns, which ranks first in league history (he passed former N.C. State star Philip Rivers, who had 112, last week). And with three more 300-yard games, he’ll pass Rivers for most 300-yard games by an ACC quarterback.
He has 10,673 yards passing and 11,632 yards in total offense, both second in ACC history behind Rivers, who had 13,484 and 13,582, respectively, from 2000-03.
He is No. 1 in Clemson history in passing touchdowns, passing efficiency, passing yardage, total offense and touchdown responsibility. Assuming he starts against The Citadel on Nov. 23, he’ll break Charlie Whitehurst’s record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback. And if the Tigers win their final four games, he’ll be the program’s all-time winningest quarterback, passing Rodney Williams.
Plus, Boyd is actually Clemson’s third-leading rusher this season with 219 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 93 attempts. He is fully capable of moving the ball on the ground for tough yardage, which only enhances his value.
Boyd has impeccable character and a winning smile. In five years at Clemson, he has never had a character concern and has become a media favorite with honest, introspective media sessions.
He connects with people in a way that is rare in today’s increasingly sterile, stratified college media environment. I’ve never seen Boyd turn down an interview request or treat a reporter or fan with anything approaching surliness. Even at his worst moments, he puts his best foot forward.
And he does it when no one is looking, too. Clemson always watches a movie as a team the night before its games. The night before the Top 10 showdown with Georgia, Swinney told TigerNet.com that he found Boyd in the theatre afterward, cleaning up his teammates’ drinks, candy wrappers and spilled popcorn. That kind of leadership resonates with his teammates as well as with NFL decision-makers.
Boyd is listed at 6’1”, 225 pounds. That is on the small side for an NFL quarterback, who prototypically stands 6’4” to 6’5” or taller. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay appeared on ESPN’s telecast of Clemson’s 59-10 win over Virginia and pegged Boyd as a “second-day” (or second- to third-round) selection because of concerns over his size.
However, a pair of smaller quarterbacks is changing perceptions about size. Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III stands 6’2”, 217 pounds, and took the NFL by storm a year ago, leading the Redskins to the NFC playoffs. Former ACC quarterback Russell Wilson is listed at 5’11”, 205 pounds, and he led the Seahawks to an NFC Wild Card win over the Redskins before falling to the Atlanta Falcons.
This fall, the Seahawks are 8-1 and have established themselves as a prime Super Bowl contender with Wilson at the helm. Like Griffin and Wilson, Boyd can run and execute the read-option, which could make it easier for NFL executives to believe in him as a franchise quarterback.
In three years as a starter, Boyd has quarterbacked Clemson against nine Top 15 teams. The Tigers are 5-4 in that span, and one thing seems clear: As goes Boyd, so go the Tigers. In five wins, Boyd averages 280.4 passing yards per game and a total of 12 touchdowns against one interception.
One of his best career games came in the 25-24 win over LSU in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl. Boyd completed 36 of 50 passes for 346 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, rallying Clemson from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and leading a final, frantic drive that ended with Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal as time expired.
|Comparing Tajh Boyd in 2012 and 2013|
|Passing yards per game||Rushing yards per game||Yards per completion||Passer rating|
|Clemson sports information|
And he did so without star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who was knocked out of the game with a sprained ankle on the game’s second offensive play.
In four losses, Boyd averages 164.5 yards passing with a total of six touchdowns against five interceptions.
When Boyd is good, he is good. When he’s not, he’s not. And that could give NFL personnel men some reason for concern.
What they’re saying
NFL mock drafts and draft boards have varying opinions on Boyd. CBSSports.com rates him as the No. 50 overall prospect and No. 7 quarterback. However, Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller pegs Boyd as the No. 11 overall pick going to the Cleveland Browns, saying he “is the most intriguing option for the team, as he has the downfield arm strength needed in Rod Chudzinski's offense and has the mobility to make plays if Norv Turner ever implements the roll-out portion of his West Coast offense.”
Mock drafts and NFL draft stocks are quite volatile, and a lot can change between now and April. But Boyd has clearly positioned himself as a first-round pick entering the final turn of the 2013 season.
Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace