Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is one of the most productive quarterbacks in all of college football and the success of his team is more predicated on what he is able to do than people probably realize. Boyd is in his fourth year as Clemson’s quarterback and has been the starter for the past three with an incredible amount of success as well as some of the most exciting, biggest games in Clemson history.
Boyd is a phenomenal college quarterback and is one of the best players Clemson has ever had. He has a tremendous arm with incredible zip and he can drive the ball down the field with pretty good control, throwing catchable passes that allow his receivers to go under them and track them down for the catch. His ability to threaten opponents deep opens up opportunities underneath for him to run and pick up a lot of yardage.
The problem for Boyd is that his height is problematic, he does not make many throws in the middle of the field because he cannot see it well, and his running style is great in college, but will get him beaten and battered in the NFL and owners do not want to see their quarterback carted off of the field. Boyd is going to end up as one of the most controversial quarterbacks in this class but he projects as a fringe top 100 pick, but could end up going much higher based on his press clippings and his incredible performances as their quarterback.
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 as it does have an impact on the field with his play. 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.
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. 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. He has a number of big time highlight throws during his career and can leave defenders with jaws dropped.
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. Boyd seems able to do it without running into too many problems and can deliver them effectively.
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. Â 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.
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.
One of the other problems that Boyd runs into is he just does not throw the ball into the middle of the field often. This seems largely a function of his height, the overwhelming majority of the throws Boyd makes are in the flat or down the sideline, outside the hashes. Boyd really does not make many throws in between the hashes and especially not in the short area of the field. Clemson has worked to keep opponents honest with the running game, which has featured Boyd quite a bit himself, running a lot of draws and isolation plays forcing opponents to put more defenders in the box that then open up opportunities on the sideline.
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.
Boyd is a running back who can throw. He is able to extend plays with his legs as well as get tough yardage when he needs it. Boyd is athletic and has speed but his build gives him a good amount of strength as well, so he can pick up momentum quickly and generate quite a bit of power.
The problem for Boyd is that he has taken a ton of hits in college. He has a good amount of mileage on him after playing four years at Clemson and averaged a decent workload for a running back, let alone a quarterback. Those hits have added up while Boyd has been at Clemson and while he is an incredibly tough player, it will not be easy to avoid significant injury in the NFL.
Boyd will slide when he scrambles but he often does it late and even when he slides, he ends up taking a hit and as a result of trying to slide, those hits can be awkward. He has never seen a defender he has not thought he could take and that will get him in trouble in the NFL. Boyd simply has to make the decision that he is going to protect his body. He has not shown himself able to do that as a runner and in the pocket as a quarterback. An owner is going to cringe every time they see Boyd get hit by multiple defenders as he picks up an extra couple yards on first down.
There is no question Boyd can run the read option and get yardage with the potential to fight his way for first downs or touchdowns, but again, he takes a huge amount of hits in how he does it. Boyd is a huge target as he is just such a strong player and while he does his best to avoid the worst hits, it ultimately only goes so far and he ends up taking a beating over the course of a game and a season. The NFL is not the ACC and if he does not make a sea change in how he runs the football, he will be carted off the field.
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 good fit in a system such as any of the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, or the New York Giants.
He is best suited to come in as a backup, but he does have the potential to start. Should he start, there needs to be a capable backup should he end up getting hurt during the game. Boyd is a tough player who rarely shows any wear on him, but that is going to be much more difficult in the NFL and even the toughest quarterbacks who play that style end up missing time during the season.
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. The difference is that McNabb was taller and more comfortable throwing to the middle of the field.
There is so much to like about what Tajh Boyd can do for a football team, but when it comes to the NFL, there are significant problems that could make it difficult for him to succeed. His height will be a question, especially as it has a noticeable effect on the field when it comes to where he can throw the football against college opponents who are shorter than they will be in the NFL.
His ability to extend plays is impressive but he is not protective of his body at all and while he has been able to get away with it to this point, it takes one bad hit to kill a season and even some of the biggest and strongest players have gone down, such as E.J. Manuel. Boyd’s arm is incredible in terms of strength and zip but his ball placement can be off and he can limit how many yards his receivers are able to get. As a result, Boyd projects as a fringe top 100 pick, but it would not be surprising if a team falls in love with his highlight abilities and takes him earlier.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com