MOBILE, Ala. About this time last year, Tajh Boyd was wrestling with the decision to declare early for the NFL draft or stay for his senior year at Clemson.
The Tigers quarterback was coming off a junior year that earned him ACC Player of the Year and could have entered a draft that had a muddled outlook for quarterbacks.
Instead Boyd stayed at Clemson and became the schools most decorated signal caller while leading the Tigers to their first BCS bowl victory.
Boyd had a fourth-round grade from NFL scouts after his junior season, and despite putting up similarly impressive numbers in his senior season, hes still considered a late-round draft pick. But even with the benefit of hindsight this week at the Senior Bowl, Boyd said hes comfortable with the decision he made.
I feel like my transition from last year to this, not just as a player but as a person, I feel like Ive grown, said Boyd, whos one of three quarterbacks playing for the North team in the Senior Bowl. Whenever I made this transition (to the NFL) I wanted to be as prepared as possible. Last year, while my numbers were good and I would have been a solid pick early on, I felt I still had room to grow as far as at that level. Whenever youre making that transition or a jump, you want to be as prepared as possible, so thats what I did heading into this season.
Boyd threw for 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 67.2 completion percentage in 2012 as the Tigers finished at 11-2.
This past season was nearly a mirror image of his junior year. He totaled 3,851 passing yards with a 68.5 completion percentage, threw 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as Clemson went 11-2 again.
I think at the end of the day he wanted to come back and finish, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Monday at a Senior Bowl practice. He wanted to be the winningest quarterback in school history, which he is now. He wanted to take Clemson to another level, which he did. And he graduated. Had he gotten a first-round grade he probably would have gone, but I think he felt like hed be a little more of a finished product and a more complete player with another year.
Boyd measured just under 6-foot-1 on Monday, clearing the 6-foot mark thats considered the lowest threshold for NFL quarterbacks by six-eighths of an inch. And of the seven quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, Boyds hand size (9 3/8 inches) was third-largest.
But two of the biggest knocks on Boyd is he didnt have to do everything by himself at Clemson, and when he played on the big stage, he showed inconsistency.
Clemson had two of college footballs best receivers in recent years in DeAndre Hopkins for Boyds sophomore and junior seasons and Sammy Watkins for Boyds final three years. Hopkins totaled 802 yards in his rookie season this year for the Houston Texans and Watkins is expected to be the first receiver taken in Mays draft.
This week Boyd has looked pedestrian in his two practices with the North squad alongside Virginia Techs Logan Thomas and Miamis Stephen Morris. He didnt throw the ball accurately in Tuesdays practice, though the mild winds didnt help either.
When all eyes were on him at Clemson, Boyd didnt always produce. He began his senior year with a three-touchdown, no-interception win against Georgia and finished with a dazzling five-touchdown win against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl in which he accounted for 505 yards of total offense.
But against Florida State midway through the season, Boyd floundered in what was then the biggest game of the college football season. He passed for just 156 yards and turned the ball over three times in the 51-14 loss at home on national television. He threw two interceptions in the regular-season finale against South Carolina to finish his Clemson career winless against the Gamecocks.
But staying at Clemson meant something to him, and he cemented his legacy as one of the top passers at the football school by returning for his senior season.
Now, he hopes it will pay off.
I didnt know if I was really ready and mature enough to make that leap, Boyd said. When you step up there, thats grown men ball up there. Again, I just wanted to grow into my own and become a more complete person in general.
I look at the situation Im in now, and you can only move up. Im excited about it and Im going to try to go out and make a splash.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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