2014 NFL Draft Prospect Preview: Clemson vs. Georgia

Tajh Boyd, one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL draft, will take center stage when Clemson plays Georgia in primetime Saturday. (Photo: Jeremy Brevard — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino

The college football season is underway, and the first Saturday of the season will be highlighted by an excellent matchup featuring No.8-ranked Clemson hosting No.5 Georgia. Both teams are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, which should make for a great matchup. I will be watching the following six players closely.

Note: All listed heights and weights are courtesy of Clemson’s official athletics website and Georgia’s official athletics website.

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson, RS Sr. (6’1’’, 225 lbs) 

Entering his senior season, Boyd is already one of the most decorated and accomplished quarterbacks in Atlantic Coast Conference history. He set the ACC single-season record for touchdown passes last season with 36. He also broke an ACC record for total touchdowns (8) and school record for total offense (529 yards) in Clemson’s 62-48 win against NC State last season.

Boyd excels on the field with his ability to make plays down the field, and he throws an excellent deep ball. He is an athletic playmaker who can scramble and make accurate throws on the run. He does a great job of finding open receivers and getting them the ball. He has adequate arm strength and can get throws off at a variety of angles.

Despite being a solid athlete, Boyd is not very elusive or great in the pocket. He holds onto the ball too long at times and needs to become a quicker decision-maker. He makes some head-scratching throws by throwing back across his body. His ball placement and ability to throw with anticipation need some improvement. His height will also be a question for NFL scouts. I currently grade Boyd as a second-round prospect.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson, Jr. (6’1”, 205 lbs) 

Watkins burst onto the scene in 2011 as a true freshman; he caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers dropped significantly in 2012; he only grabbed 57 balls for 708 yards and seven touchdowns. In his upcoming junior season, he will be looking to regain his 2011 form. The other part of Clemson’s great receiving tandem from the past two seasons, DeAndre Hopkins, was drafted by the Houston Texans in the first round of the 2013 draft, leaving Watkins as the undisputed No. 1 target for Tajh Boyd.

Watkins is an incredibly quick athlete who has a tremendous ability to catch a short pass and take it the distance. He is the definition of an explosive player who is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He is truly dynamic.

He has good hands and knows how to get open. He is an intelligent route-runner and has the ability to separate from defenders. He lines up both inside and outside for the Tigers, which regularly includes lining up as a wing and taking handoffs. He is extremely versatile.

Watkins has to get better at competing for the ball. He is a good separator and can frequently make catches without much resistance from the defender, but struggles when he has to “go get it.” He doesn’t track the ball well. He is not someone you can throw up a fade pass to and expect him to come down with it consistently.

It has yet to be seen if Watkins can beat press coverage, as he has rarely faced it in college. He also has some off-field issues. He was arrested for marijuana possession and possession of a controlled substance in May 2012. Watkins has all the makings of a high first-round pick, but until he clears up some of the questions I have, I like him in the later part of round one.

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson, RS Jr. (6’2” 235lbs)

Beasley was a running back in high school but has transitioned into a pass-rushing defensive end at Clemson. He has only played 304 snaps over 22 games in his first two seasons at Clemson, but has been extremely productive in those limited snaps, amassing eight sacks, eight hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.

The strength of Beasley’s game is his ability to rush the passer. He plays with good pad level and is quick off the ball. He has a solid rip move and has good bend. He has some good finesse moves off the edge. He should see more snaps this year and his progress will be something to keep an eye on.

Beasley is extremely undersized for a defensive end at 235 pounds. He will need to add 10-20 pounds to be able to compete as an edge rusher in the NFL. That said, even at his current weight, he does not have great suddenness to his game. I am concerned that he doesn’t have much athleticism to lose as he adds weight.

Beasley doesn’t offer much against the run or in pass coverage. He needs to increase his strength and awareness to excel in those areas. His motor is average.

Beasley is raw, but loaded with potential. As someone who likes safe picks, I think of Beasley as a mid-to-late round prospect with lots of sleeper potential with a good junior season.

Click to page 2 for a look at Georgia’s top prospects.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Murray, Arthur Lynch, Clemson, Damian Swann, Game Preview, Georgia, Prospect Preview, Quarterbacks, Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd, Vic Beasley

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