Depth Chart, In-Depth: Quarterbacks
First Up: Following in the footsteps of C.J. Spiller, Clemson got what Dabo Swinney describes as '10-star recruit' when Tajh Boyd (6-1, 225, Hampton, Va.) decided to return for his senior season - his fifth on campus.
A two-year starter, Boyd already owns most of Clemson's passing records, has been honored as a first-team All-American, and is considered to be a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in 2013. Boyd's career passing numbers - 2,095 snaps, 618-of-989, 8,053 yards, 73 touchdowns and 28 interceptions - tell just part of the story. Boyd made himself into an every-down threat as a runner last season, but was especially effective in picking up tough yards in short-yardage situations - a key element in the Tigers' third and fourth-down success and efficiency in the red zone. The reigning ACC player of the year enters his final college season with 8,818 total yards, with responsibility for 89 touchdowns.
Boyd continued to hone his skills during the off-season, spending his second straight spring break working with quarterback guru George Whitfield and serving as a counselor this summer during Elite 11 competition.
Next In Line: Junior Cole Stoudt (6-5, 205, Dublin, Ohio) enters his third season as Boyd's backup. In 14 career appearances, he is 39-of-60 passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns. In high school, Stoudt - the son of former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt - passed for a school-record 4,393 yards and 52 touchdowns at Dublin-Coffman High School, breaking records held by former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.
In The Pipeline: Redshirt freshman Chad Kelly (6-2, 210, Buffalo, N.Y.) engaged in a spirited, and inconclusive, head-to-head competition with Stoudt throughout spring practice. The short-term battle for the backup spot ended in the Orange-White spring game when Kelly, after impressively directing an early touchdown drive, suffered an ACL injury and underwent surgery. He's made strides during his rehab, and is hopeful of being available during the first half of the fall season.
Out of high school, Kelly was rated as the No. 4 quarterback in the nation and the No. 1 player in New York by ESPN.
Third on the depth chart coming out of spring practice is redshirt freshman Nick Schuessler (6-3, 185, Loganville, Ga.). A former scholarship signee at Mississippi State, Schuessler walked on at Clemson, redshirted last season as a transfer and then performed impressively in the Orange-White game after Kelly was injured. He led Grayson High to a state title as a senior.
Working Walk-On: Redshirt senior Donny McElveen (6-2, 205, Summerville, S.C.) has contributed as a scout team and reserve quarterback, as well as a backup holder for placekicks. He's the grandson of John McKissick, the nation's all-time winningest high school coach.
More Help On The Way: Since signing day, 2012, Deshaun Watson (6-3, 190, Gainesville, Ga.) has been committed to Clemson, and has repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to the Tigers despite strong pushes by Ohio State and Auburn, where he visited earlier this spring. Since then, Watson has continued to describe himself as 100 percent solid to Clemson.
Watson is a five-star prospect who is ranked as the nation's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback by both Rivals and ESPN. He enters his senior season as Georgia high school football's all-time leading passer. He is being recruited by Tiger offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chad Morris.
Clemson has already started looking ahead toward recruiting quarterbacks for its 2015 and 2016 classes. For 2015, Clemson has offers out to Kelly Bryant of Abbeville, S.C. (who recently transferred to Wren High), Lorenzo Nunez of Kennesaw, Ga., Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas, Anthony Ratiff of Matthews, N.C., Kevin Dillman of La Mirada, Calif., Chason Virgil of Mesquite, Texas, and Torrance Gibson of Plantation, Fla.
For 2016, Clemson has extended offers to Feleipe Franks of Crawfordville, Fla., Jawon Pass of Columbus, Ga., Xavier Gaines of Frostproof, Fla., and Avery McCall of Dillon, S.C.
Overall Outlook: As good as it gets. Boyd has already proven himself to be an elite player at the college level, and has developed steadily as a poised leader and critical-down playmaker throughout his career. There's no reason to expect anything but more of the same, or better, from Boyd this season.
Boyd has demonstrated his physical durability, never more so than via his performance against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Nevertheless, there is always injury risk for a quarterback, especially a running quarterback. In terms of backup depth, the Tigers could hardly ask for a better option than Stoudt, who knows the offense inside and out and has skills to execute the attack if needed. Kelly will bring another element to the table, both as passer and runner, once he's cleared to resume play. And few teams have a fourth option as gifted as Schuessler, who - like Stoudt and Kelly - comes from a championship background.