CLEMSON — If it were up to Mel Kiper Jr., Clemson fans would see both Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins back in Memorial Stadium next fall.
ESPN’s longtime draft analyst says any player who isn’t a first-round pick would be better served returning for their senior seasons.
“If you’re an underclassman and want to move on, you don’t care, then come out,” Kiper said on a conference call Tuesday. “If you’re not a guaranteed first-round pick, go back to college for another year."
Boyd, the ACC Player of the Year, and Hopkins, who set record after record as a junior receiver this season, are both mulling their futures. Kiper says neither is a first-round selection, and would advise both to return.
Hopkins is the higher-ranked of the two, projecting as a mid-to-late second-round selection should he declare.
“You don’t have a chance to go to all-star games as an underclassman,” Kiper said. “The Senior Bowl is also very important, as are the pro days, the combine, where (NFL scouts) can get a feel for your true speed and measure you.”
Boyd had a standout junior season, throwing for 3,367 yards with 34 touchdowns against 13 interceptions through 12 games, averaging 295.8 yards passing per game with a 168.5 pass efficiency rating. He also has 413 rushing yards and nine touchdowns; his 43 combined touchdowns set ACC and Clemson single-season records.
He is listed at only 6-foot-1, which is short by NFL quarterback standards. However, Kiper said the rookie success of mobile quarterbacks like Seattle’s Russell Wilson (who measures 5-foot-10) and Washington’s Robert Griffin III helps Boyd’s stock as well.
“Boyd is not going to get any taller, but he can get more experience,” Kiper said. “I believe seniors who are coming out are so much better served in the NFL. You ask so much of a rookie, and the second year, that extra year helps. One more year of NFL evaluations is big. If you’re not guaranteed to be a first-round pick, coming back is a big benefit.”
Hopkins has 69 receptions for 1,214 yards and 16 touchdowns this season; he is already Clemson’s career touchdowns and receiving yards leader, and also set Clemson’s single-season receiving touchdown record. With six yards in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve, he’ll become the Tigers’ single-season receiving yards leader, passing sophomore Sammy Watkins, who set the record last season.
“Hopkins could evaluate (his draft status) with another year,” Kiper said.
If Hopkins returns, it could also help Boyd’s overall status, with a loaded offense which will lose only tailback Andre Ellington, tight end Brandon Ford and center Dalton Freeman.
“You look at Tajh Boyd for another year with the talent around him,” Kiper said. “Sammy Watkins has to be back(as a junior); he didn’t have a great year for a variety of reasons.”
Ellington, who rushed for 1,031 yards and eight touchdowns this season, is among a group of tailbacks including Oregon’s Kenjon Barner who could be third to fourth-round selections, or pushed into the second round depending on team’s needs.
“Those backs have ability,” he said. “They’re going to help you.”
Kiper said N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon could be the first quarterback taken, with “a very good chance” he’ll be a top-15 overall selection.
“It’s still pretty wide open to see who would be the first quarterback taken,” he said. “You have (Southern Cal’s) Matt Barkley, (West Virginia’s) Geno Smith and (Virginia Tech’s) Logan Thomas. Glennon has the size, arm and framework in the pocket.”
Thomas had a disappointing junior season, but Kiper loves his potential and says he could be a first-round selection if he declares.
“If you look at his talent, he’s more talented than any quarterback who’ll be in this draft,” he said.
Boyd will face off against a pair of talented LSU defensive ends on New Year’s Eve. Kiper said both juniors Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery (a Greenwood native) are among his top 21 overall prospects. Mingo is currently No.6 on Kiper’s “Big Board,” while Montgomery is No.21.