2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson

Dec 31, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) rolls out on a pass play in the second half against the LSU Tigers in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Clemson won 25-24. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Since his career started at Clemson, Tajh Boyd has improved by leaps and bounds every year.  The Tigers quarterback went from a part time player as a freshman to the starting quarterback and a good player as a sophomore to being a superstar as a junior with consideration to end up declaring for the NFL Draft.  From his sophomore to junior year, Boyd completed a higher percentage of passes, had more yards per attempt, improved his efficiency, and more than doubled his contribution as a running threat.  With the help of his teammates, he was able to produce more yards and touchdowns with 72 less passing attempts.

The last memory people have of Boyd is showing impressive toughness and leading Clemson back to defeat LSU on New Year’s Eve in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, easily of the best bowl games of the year.  They lose a couple valuable players in DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington to the NFL Draft, but the expectations for Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be sky high this season as anything less than winning the conference championship and competing for a national championship will be viewed as falling short.

Boyd is not only a great college quarterback but he is built like a tank with the ability to make plays with his legs and his arm.  His physical tools including his arm strength and his build are impressive and he can really stretch the field with how well he throws the ball deep, but he needs to improve his anticipation of receivers coming out of their breaks and get better when it comes to throwing timing routes, especially in the midlevel areas of the field, but he looks the part of a fringe first round pick and with improvement, he could only secure himself a spot in the first round but might find his way to a top 15-20 pick when all is said and done.

Vitals & Build

Boyd is listed at 6’1” 225lbs and is built like a power back at the quarterback position.  He is a tank in the backfield and has impressive strength and balance.  In addition, Boyd is a good athlete with good straight line speed but he is quicker than he is fast.  He might be able to add more bulk but it will not be much nor does it need to be.  As a physical prospect, he is impressive on the field even if it does not work out to test incredibly well.

The issue for Boyd is going to be his height.  There are many who are skeptical he will even measure in at the 6’1” he is listed and no matter how tall he measures, it will be a discussion in NFL scouting departments.  As long as he does not shrink under 6’, teams are basically going to know what they are getting with him, but this will be a scrutinized issue all the way until draft day.

Arm Strength

Boyd’s arm strength is impressive and he can really stretch the field with his arm.  He has shown on multiple occasions his ability to launch the ball down field and it does not require a ton of effort for him to do it, enabling him to be accurate down the field.  Going down the field is just a throw for him so he is comfortable putting the ball on the spot he wants.

Boyd definitely has a fast ball when he really needs one and can fit the ball in tight passing windows.  He does need to use it all that often, but it may come into play more at the next level when his receivers are more able to handle them and the passing windows call for it more.

Accuracy & Touch

Boyd can be somewhat of a rhythm passer when it comes to making timing throws.  In part because he does not always use consistent mechanics and will throw passes at a number of different arm angles, he can miss receivers badly as they work in the middle on slants and crosses.  He does not often miss by throwing too far in front either; rather the pass is behind the receiver and forces them to stop and adjust.  This can be by putting the ball in their back hip or forcing them to stop entirely, turn around and secure the catch.

When it comes to throwing the deep ball, Boyd is as accurate as anyone in the country.  He can attack down the field much the same way Robert Griffin III did in his final year at Baylor.  Not only can he muscle the ball down the field, but he will make some jaw-dropping throws that drop right in the bucket, hitting his receiver in stride without so much as adjusting their route.  One of the best throws he made all year was against N.C. State on a double move where DeAndre Hopkins executed a fantastic double move leaving David Amerson biting on air.  A pass in the zip code would have gotten the job done as far as making a big play, but Boyd dropped the ball perfectly into the outstretched arms of his receiver without any adjustment at all.

Boyd is also effective at throwing passes near and around the line of scrimmage either in the form of bubble screens or swing passes.  The Clemson offense uses a lot of these scripted reads and throws to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers as well as force the defense to spread out to defend the sidelines.  There are times when Boyd will make throws that are not well placed.  At the same time, he will have some brilliantly accurate throws with a nice amount of touch.

Boyd has a variety of throws at his disposal in terms of touch.  He can throw up some rainbow type arcs as passes that can just get over the second level of the defense all the way down to a flat bullet.  For the most part, Boyd has a good understanding diagnosing which is the right tool for the job and being able to use it, though every so often he will appear to get caught in between throws and end up missing the throw as a result.

Beyond being off on locating timing patterns at times, if Boyd is going to miss, he is going to miss because of an overthrow, which is preferable.  On throws to the sideline, it means he is throwing an uncatchable pass that will harmlessly sail out of bounds.  Down the middle of the field, it usually ends up going too far for everyone but there are occasions when there is a deep safety back there and it will function like a punt.  As far as interceptions go, the equivalent of a punt is not too bad.

Mechanics & Footwork

As previously stated, Boyd will throw from a number of different arm angles ranging from an over the top deliver to periodically going to a ¾ delivery and when pressed to get rid of the ball quickly and under pressure, he will sometimes go to a side arm delivery.  There is nothing with this in theory but it is not easy to have a rhythm going with every angle all the time which can result in inconsistency and loss of accuracy.

In what seems like 99% of their snaps, Boyd is taking snaps from a shotgun or pistol set.  The other 1% of the time is under center, so he is going to need to really learn how to take snaps from under center with good footwork and get comfortable throwing on time as well as reading the defense while he drops back.  It will only help him with his footwork operating from the shotgun or pistol.

In terms of his footwork when he is actually throwing the ball, Boyd seems comfortable throwing with little if any leg action.  It only seems on the deep balls does he really worry about having space to make a good step to the target.  Much of the time, Boyd will take a short step or simply lean and throw, which he can do effectively and requires little space to operate or perform.  Boyd is not someone who steps back and throws off of his back foot; he just leans back instead.  It also means that Boyd can throw on the run without losing much arm strength but can lose accuracy depending on how his balance and his body control at the time as he will make some throws on the run that will be unorthodox to say the least and puts the ball at risk as a result.  Occasionally, Boyd will throw passes as he is getting hit like a long option pitch or he will get hit and then throw the ball forward; both of which could cause a coach to lose their minds.

Pocket Awareness

Boyd is confident and focused in the pocket and keeps his eyes down the field.  Normally, he has a good sense of when he needs to pull the ball down and get out of the pocket but will take some shots that he does not feel coming.  He can operate in a crowded pocket, although because he is operating out of a shotgun so often, Boyd is most comfortable with everything in front of him.  He will step up in the pocket to avoid pressure he feels from the side or behind him.

Along with this, Boyd is incredibly poised and tough in the pocket and is not afraid to make a throw before taking a big hit from the opponent, even when he can see the hit coming.  He stays in and makes the best throw he can and does not lose his accuracy, touch, or strength on these passes.  Boyd’s strength stands out as he is able to take these shots and continue to get up without looking hurt and his ability to stand in and make these passes before he gets whacked is incredibly deflating for defensive teams, who are counting on the fact that they can make him uncomfortable and impact how he throws the ball.  To this point, Boyd appears unflappable.

His height becomes an issue when pressure gets through coming from the A and B gap.  Boyd will run into situations where he simply cannot see past the defenders and will be forced to try to make a play with his legs or throw the ball away.  If the pressure is coming from the outside, Boyd does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield and he will run it but he will attack the line of scrimmage and make a throw as well.  Occasionally, these passes unconventional with shuffle passes, side arm throws or some laterals that might be best saved for a rugby match.

Boyd is incredibly comfortable running to his left and throwing the ball, which is an incredibly difficult throw to make for a right handed quarterback.  This is also a testament to just how strong his arm is and that is a difficult angle to get a good amount of strength on the throw.  It is surprising that he does not do more running to the right which is usually an easier and more comfortable throw in terms of arm strength and accuracy.

Decision Making & Anticipation

Between the passing windows created by the offense and his arm strength to attack the entire field, Boyd is able to be smart and judicious with the football.  Occasionally, Boyd will not see defenders underneath patrolling in zone and will get picked off as a result.  He needs to see the field better and do a better job overall of reading zone coverage.  Several of the interceptions Boyd threw were picked off in large part because his receivers did not become defensive backs and work to knock the ball down and were situations where even a little effort would have done the job, but Boyd will throw passes into coverage and into tight windows at times.

When it comes to anticipation, there are times when Boyd will throw passes with incredible anticipation and will appear to be blind luck, but the passes are too good and accurate to be luck.  At times, he throws touch passes before the receiver has made the cut and seems able to hit the spot.  It looks like he is just throwing the ball up until one of his receivers settles under it in stride.  If he can continue to expand on this and make strides in this area, he can be really special and defenses will have an extremely difficult time defending him.

In general, Boyd is merely average when it comes to anticipating timing throws and on comebacks, digs, and curls, he waits for the player to stop before making the throw rather than throwing to a spot knowing the receiver will get there.  His arm strength enables him to make up for this to an extent, but going forward, he is going to need to get better in this respect or NFL defenders will punish him in situations where he is more than a beat late and he could be trying to chase opponents down as they run the ball back for touchdowns.

Occasionally, Boyd will manipulate the defense with his eyes and can move guys around to open up opportunities to throw the ball.  He seems to understand that staring down receivers will get him intercepted and when it comes to checking it down, he will keep his eyes down the field before quickly switching his gaze to the check down and gets rid of it immediately.  Boyd also makes the effort of looking down the field and not giving away bubble screens.  He keeps the defense honest with his eyes and makes it so they are not all able to go downhill at the receiver which gives them more room to operate and helps them make plays.  This is another area that Boyd needs to do more consistently as a passer down the field, but he seems to understand the importance here and just needs to continue with it in his career as a quarterback.

Mobility

Boyd is a running back who can pass.  He is a natural athlete who is light on his feet, can make quick cuts and adjustments that make it difficult for defenders to bring him down in the backfield.  His straight line speed pretty good, but his quickness and strength are what shine the most when he runs the ball.

His balance, body control, and quickness make him able to slip tackles and avoid taking big hits while his strength can enable him to shed cheap tackles.  Boyd will break tackles and slip tackles, but he is also extremely aware of what is going on around him and after he gains some yards, he will give himself and slide to avoid getting punished.  Occasionally, he will dive with the ball going forward which could open himself up to have a defender land on his shoulder or arm awkwardly, but again, he knows how to slide and knows how to avoid getting punished unnecessarily.

He saves most of his moves and operating in traffic for when he is going to take a loss if he goes down and once he can pick up yardage or get the first down, he is comfortable going down and getting them on the next play.  When he is flushed out of the pocket, he keeps his eyes down the field and will make a pass when it is there for him, but is more comfortable being his own check down and picking up the yards himself.

Boyd has a ton of experience running a read option and could easily do that in the NFL as well as run draws or other specific running plays designed for him to carry the football.  He is quick, decisive, and can pick up yards occasionally before the defense has time to adjust which is effective down by the goal line especially.  His best work in the NFL as a runner would come as an extension of the passing game.  Because of his ability to stretch the field and the way his arm strength forces defenses to cover so much of the field, it creates running lanes for him to pick up yardage.  Boyd is extremely comfortable going up the middle and finding a crease in the line so he is able to pick up yardage quickly before the defenses can adjust to really lay the wood on him.  He is definitely someone who can pick up a first down or few per game with his legs.  The slight concern is that his legs become a crutch and if he gets dinged up, he will be in trouble working from the pocket exclusively.

System Fit

Boyd’s best fit is in a vertical offense that lets him stretch the field and attack with the deep ball, which opens up running lanes where he can check it down to himself and pick up some chunks of yardage.  He has the arm strength to deal with the elements and can play in any environment.  He would be a great fit in a system such as any of the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, or the New York Giants.

2013 Schedule

Sat, Aug. 31 vs. Georgia
Sat, Sept. 7 vs. South Carolina State
Thu, Sept. 19 at N.C. State
Sat, Sept. 28 vs. Wake Forest
Sat, Oct. 5 at Syracuse
Sat, Oct. 12 vs. Boston College
Sat, Oct. 19 vs. Florida State
Sat, Oct. 26 at Maryland
Sat, Nov. 2 vs. Virginia
Thu, Nov. 14 vs. Georgia Tech
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. Citadel
Sat, Nov. 30 at South Carolina

Notable Games

The first game of the year is big for Clemson to get off on the right foot and give itself a look of credibility against the SEC in Georgia.  Georgia lost a lot of players on defense in this year’s past draft but they are always loaded and it could end up being a shootout between Boyd and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.  The game against Florida State is big for Boyd and Clemson because the Seminoles are likely the biggest threat they will have to prevent them from winning the ACC’s Atlantic Division this year and were one of Clemson’s two losses last year and ultimately won the ACC Championship.  Lastly, the game against South Carolina is always huge as it is the last regular season game of the year and a huge instate rivalry.  This is Boyd’s last chance to beat the Gamecocks in addition to the fact that South Carolina could be represent the difference between an undefeated season and a trip to the National Championship.  Not only has Boyd not been able to beat them, he has not looked good in their losses against South Carolina. Boyd has also struggled against Virginia Tech but the only way they will see them is if both teams make the ACC Championship game.

NFL Comparison

Boyd’s game is extremely similar to Donovan McNabb, the longtime Philadelphia Eagle.  McNabb was slightly taller coming out of Syracuse, but he had the same type of athleticism in the early part of his career, that same running back build who could make plays with his legs, and could similarly throw the deep ball accurately.  Both of these players had issues when it came to throwing timing routes and putting the ball in the right place for their receivers to allow them to catch the ball in stride.

Draft Projection

Boyd looks like a fringe first round pick and the question at this point.  His height will be a scrutinized, but he will be attractive to teams that run vertical passing schemes and if he can improve on his timing and accuracy on horizontal style routes, he only increases the number of teams that could be vying for his services and make him move up draft boards.  Right now, Boyd could secure himself a spot in the first round, but if he can improve his ability to throw timing patterns and be consistent with his accuracy and anticipation, he could end up as a top 15-20 pick.

Topics: 2014 NFL Draft 2014 Mock Draft, Clemson Tigers Football, Quarterbacks, Tajh Boyd

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