- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Quarterback Tajh Boyd’s NFL stock rose for most of his final two seasons at Clemson, and he believes it will be again when the draft starts Thursday night.

Boyd feels he will once again surprise those critical of his spread-offense success and failure to win some of Clemson’s biggest games.

The QB was a likely first-rounder and one of the most talked-to players in college football with the Tigers, until falling from the spotlight with his team’s mid-October 51-14 drubbing by Florida State.

Despite the drop off, Boyd thinks he’ll be selected by the third round. Most projections include him with a group of second-tier passers, many who’ll be available Saturday when teams finish with rounds four through seven.

“The feedback I’m getting is a lot different than the feedback that’s out there,” Boyd said.

Boyd said he’s done enough in his college career to show he belongs in the NFL - and is certain there’s a team out there who agrees.

As a first-year starter, Boyd led the surprising Tigers to an 8-0 start in 2011 that included a stretch where they beat three ranked opponents - defending national champ Auburn, defending Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division champ Florida State and defending ACC champ Virginia Tech - on the way to the school’s first ACC crown in two decades.

Boyd continued his rise as a junior a season later, leading Clemson to its first 11-win season since the program’s historic, 12-0 national championship run in 1981. The quarterback capped things with what looked like the perfect farewell with a signature, fourth-quarter field goal drive to lift the Tigers to a 25-24 win over powerhouse LSU. Boyd acknowledged he was all but gone the few days after that victory, prepped to jump to the pros and get in the pre-draft conversation with future NFL quarterbacks E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith who were both taken in the first 39 picks last April.

Instead, Boyd returned to Clemson for a chance to improve his technique and fulfill the championship expectations the Tigers had heading into last season. Boyd, charismatic, friendly and quick to smile, was everywhere last summer, talking up Clemson on preseason shows and gatherings. He was a Heisman front-runner, and kept things moving forward with an opening night showcase win over Georgia.

Boyd’s season and draft stock slipped way down with the dreadful showing against Florida State. His reputation took another hit in November when he committed three of Clemson’s six turnovers in a 31-17 loss to South Carolina, Boyd falling to 0-3 as a starter in the rivalry.

He hoped to change some minds at the Senior Bowl, but again came up with a poor performance after completing 7 of 16 passes for 31 yards and an interception. Boyd regained some footing with a strong performance at Clemson’s pro day in March in front of all 32 NFL teams.

Boyd finished his Clemson career with 11,904 yards passing and an ACC record 107 touchdowns, strong numbers that analysts believe are skewed because of the Tigers’ fast-paced offense.

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said Boyd’s situation is one of very high peaks and troubling valleys. While evaluators are impressed by the record-breaking stats, teams can’t ignore those big-game losses.

“I think people are studying those games, high-profile competition, and wondering why he struggled a little bit in those outings. He’s just got to become more consistent,” Gruden said.

Boyd’s teammate and favorite target last year, Sammy Watkins, said the quarterback doesn’t let outside predictions bother him.

“He’s not worried about the mock drafts, just about his craft,” said Watkins, expected to be a top-5 pick Thursday night.

Boyd was in New York with Watkins and other draft prospects this week, but plans to watch and wait at his family’s home near Clemson. He’s sure there’s a call coming, sooner rather than later.

“This is something not a lot of guys have a chance to experience,” Boyd said. “All you can do is just embrace it and enjoy the whole process.”

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