SENECA — At the end of the day, Tajh Boyd managed a smile.
“Honestly, I wish I could say that it hasn’t been a stressful process, but it has been,” Boyd said Saturday. When the New York Jets selected the former Clemson quarterback with their fourth pick of the sixth round, a party that had been simmering on the banks of Lake Keowee for three days began to cook.
“Initially, I didn’t think I’d be waiting that long,” Boyd said between congratulations from friends and four generations of family from seven states. “I was sitting here wondering if I’d even be drafted.”
Boyd became the fifth player chosen from Clemson this year, the third during the final day of this year’s NFL draft including corner Bashaud Breeland and receiver Martavis Bryant, both of whom left a year of college eligibility on the table. Bryant was the 19th of 32 receivers, taken in the fourth round by Pittsburgh. Breeland was the 11th of 35 cornerbacks, drafted by San Francisco in the fourth round.
Boyd was the 12th of 13 quarterbacks. Eight were drafted on the final day, including three he had beaten head-to-head.
“You do all these things at Clemson – All-American, player of the year, three years All-ACC, then you wait to be picked behind guys you beat by five touchdowns,” he said. “Now I’ve got to make the most of the circumstance, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Boyd might not have found a better situation for acclimating and learning. Last year’s Jets starter, Geno Smith, has been Boyd’s friend since childhood, the Orange Bowl pummeling aside. In March, the Jets signed Michael Vick, like Boyd a product of the Virginia tidewater region and a man he considers a mentor.
“When you go into the (NFL), you’re obviously going to compete with guys who have been at that level,” Boyd said. “Mike has played a lot of football. Geno played a lot of football last year, so obviously the competition is going to be stiff. Those guys have been in the playbook. They understand what’s going on.”
In addition, coach Rex Ryan’s son was a walk-on and teammate last season, and after pro day at Clemson, he promised to draft Boyd if there was a window late in the draft.
“He was serious about it,” Boyd said of the Jets’ coach. “To get a chance to play for him is unbelievable. He’s charismatic. He’s serious about the game.”
As a late-round pick, Boyd won’t receive the multi-million dollar signing bonus assured Clemson teammate Sammy Watkins – the No. 4 pick – but based on the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, Boyd should receive a modest bonus plus a four-year agreement at the league’s minimum salary, which could amount to about $2.2 million.
“I think he’s going to a great situation,” said Josh Hare, Boyd’s agent. “He will have a chance to play, and he will have a chance to learn.
“Obviously when you get drafted the team has a lot more vested in you. He doesn’t have some of the pressure some of the first- and second-round quarterbacks have. He can get into the team and into the system and learn. Rex Ryan is big fan of his, so I don’t think it could be a better situation for him.”
Many at the party had been there since early morning before the announcement came shortly before 5:20 p.m. Nerves were on edge as each pick came off the board, particularly those of three SEC quarterbacks. Yet despite his credentials at Clemson and the records he set for passing and total offense, none of it mattered. Hare thought Houston, St. Louis or Carolina would draft him sooner and expressed his exasperation.
Boyd barely spoke, though he agreed to pose for pictures, and seldom remained in one place for long, moving around the house, into the drive and upstairs to nap. After five quarterbacks went in the first two rounds and none in the third, Boyd anticipated the fourth. When that passed, the frustration began to build.
“Probably after about the eighth quarterback, because I felt like I was one of the top 10 quarterbacks,” Boyd said of when his frustration started to peak. “People are going to pick who they’re going to pick. That’s their preference.”
Finally, he walked out to his car and turned on some music, “trying to get my thoughts together.”
“Ultimately, you’ve got to go and make the most out of the situation that you’re in,” he said. “Thankfully those guys from the Jets drafted me, so I’m going to go out there and try to prove those guys that they made a great decision.”
Boyd seldom betrays his deepest feelings, but he fought to stifle tears.
“The circumstances have always been the same for me,” he said. “But throughout my life I’ve always had the opportunity to create my own legacy and my own fortune. Hopefully I’ll do it again at this level.”
“It’s all about going out there and being who I am,” he said. “You’re getting paid to compete so it’s about going out there and performing and playing at the highest level possible, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
And, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.