Clemson Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd opted this winter to return to the Death Valley for one more season, rather than pursue the NFL draft. Boyd was among the most productive quarterbacks in college football in 2012, which was hardly an aberration — his 2011 statistics were comparably strong.
Helping Boyd reach his decision was a surprisingly unfavorable assessment of his draft stock. Sports Illustrated writer Andy Staples expounds:
“Had he gotten a higher grade, he probably would have gone,” [Clemson head coach] Dabo Swinney said. “But he got a mid-round grade.” Swinney appreciates the result, but he doesn’t appreciate the grade. Having watched Boyd since 2009, Swinney can’t understand how the advisory board misjudged the Hampton, Va., native so badly. “When I saw his grade, I went ‘Wow.’ I really thought he’d get at least a second-round grade,” Swinney said. “He’s special. Tajh is special. He can spin it as well as anybody I’ve been around.”
This year’s NFL quarterback draft class is notably thin. West Virginia Mountaineers play caller Geno Smith impressed in scouting combine workouts, and accrued eye-popping statistics through the 2012 season. He is widely regarded as the top prospect among this year’s crop.
But Smith also struggled with pressure in the second half of the season while West Virginia suffered to a 2-6 finish. He also comes from a free-wheeling, air raid spread offense. That’s not the pro stigma it once was, but scouts still proceed with caution.
To wit, NC State Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon is hovering near the first round cutoff, according to numerous draft projections. Glennon showed flashes of brilliance, particularly leading the Wolfpack to an 8-5 finish in 2011.
He struggled with inconsistencies in 2012 though, and his production dipped: four percent fewer completions on average (from 62.5 to 58.5), the same amount of touchdowns (31) but in 111 more attempts, and with five more interceptions.
Glennon’s combine performance was also somewhat pedestrian, but his physical attributes and Pro Set lineage pique scouts’ interest.
Another ACC product, Florida State Seminoles quarterback E.J. Manuel, is climbing up draft boards. Manuel was steady-as-she-goes leading FSU to the conference championship. He and Boyd lit up the scoreboard in their meeting last September. Otherwise though, Manuel was largely serviceable. His draft stock didn’t rise until scouts got to examine his physical traits at the combine and Florida State’s pro day.
Combine a blazing-fast 40-yard time, a strong arm with a tank-like, 6-foot-6 frame, and it’s sure to draw pro attention.
That’s a characteristic Boyd didn’t offer this year, and won’t next. Staples’ piece touches on Boyd’s size — at 6-foot-1, he’s just shy of the unofficial Must Be This Tall To Quarterback sign outside of many franchises’ locker rooms.
Sure, there are exceptions like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, but it takes transcedent play to overcome the preconceptions of the NFL.
Why can’t Boyd be that type? He already has two outstanding college seasons to his credit, and perhaps the most impressive performance of his college career came against a defense rife with NFL talent. His Chick-Fil-A Bowl showing sets a foundation for Boyd’s senior year, and a potential point at which fans can look back as his launch to the professional ranks.
How Tajh Boyd stacks up against the 2014 draft class is a story line worth following between now and next spring. Surely there will be a lot of upheaval in that time — remember when Matt Barkley was a top pick lock? — and there’s a ton of room for mobility.
CBS Sports projects Alabama Crimson Tide leader A.J. McCarron atop the class. For everything Nick Saban has done so well, producing elite professional quarterbacks is not among his teams’ defining qualities. Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray has compiled impressive collegiate stats, but must overcome the height stigma. The Virgina Tech Hokies Logan Thomas is coming off a disappointing season.
There’s no shortage of space for Tajh Boyd to improve his stock in the coming year.