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Georgia at Clemson features top QBs Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray

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When Georgia visits Death Valley on Saturday to take on Clemson, a host of NFL executives and scouts will pay close attention to what unfolds on the field. While both teams have a number of NFL-caliber playmakers running around on both sides of the ball, the large NFL contingent in attendance will spend the majority of its time evaluating the play of the quarterbacks -- Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd.

In a deep and talented 2014 quarterback class, Boyd and Murray rank near the top of the charts based on their passing skills and production. Scouts have rated each as a potential franchise quarterback, but there are questions that must be answered on the field to solidify their status among the elite.

With the two set to shoot it out in a game that could have national championship implications, I wanted to break down their respective games to see which quarterback should enjoy the edge on Saturday night. Here are my thoughts:

Athleticism

Offensive coordinators at every level prefer a quarterback with enough athleticism, quickness and agility to maneuver around the pocket when blocking breaks down. From being able to slide, reset, and throw to escaping the pocket on impromptu scrambles for first downs, the modern-day quarterback needs to be able to make plays with his feet to sustain drives. Boyd certainly fits the bill as a dual-threat playmaker in the backfield. He displays the speed, quickness, and agility to avoid rushers in the pocket, while also showcasing the awareness to find and connect with receivers on the move. He also is a capable runner, adept at executing the zone-read and other designed quarterback runs for positive gains.

Murray is an underrated athlete with sneaky quickness and movement skills. He nimbly avoids rushers in the pocket to make pinpoint throws on the move. Although he isn't a speedster on the edge, he is quick enough to be a credible threat as a runner outside the pocket. As a result, the Bulldogs are able to execute a variety of movement-based passing concepts, including bootlegs and naked passes on the perimeter.

Advantage: Boyd

Arm talent

Elite quarterbacks are capable of making every throw in the book with velocity, zip, and/or touch. Pure passers, in particular, are masterful at changing speeds and trajectories to deliver accurate passes to receivers in stride. Boyd has shown remarkable improvement as a passer throughout his career. He has grown from being strictly a fastball pitcher in the pocket to becoming a skillful thrower with an array of tosses in his repertoire. As a result, he has steadily improved his completion percentage each year (from 59.7 in 2011 to 67.2 in 2012), while reducing his interceptions. Most importantly, he has shown he is far more than a deep-ball specialist, which makes him a viable option to direct an offense that doesn't feature an extensive vertical-based passing game.

Murray is a spectacular passer with above-average arm talent. He displays exceptional range on deep tosses, while also demonstrating superb accuracy and touch. He routinely drops the ball down the chute on fades and post-corners with relative ease. His ball placement and accuracy makes it difficult for defenders to make plays on the ball despite perfect positioning, particularly on back-shoulder fades. Murray also excels at firing darts on short and intermediate routes in tight windows. He frequently cranks up the RPMs to squeeze the ball in between multiple defenders on slants and stick routes. Given his arm talent and superb throwing skills, it's not surprising he's on the verge of shattering most of the SEC passing records.

Advantage: Even

Pocket presence

Elite quarterbacks operate like surgeons in the pocket, picking apart defenses with extreme precision. They exhibit a combination of patience, poise and awareness that allows them to succeed regardless of the defensive tactics. Boyd has grown immensely in this area by avoiding the temptation to force balls into traffic. He has become more comfortable taking the available underneath route or the check-down in the progression instead of waiting on the big play down the field. By diversifying his throws and using more of the field, Boyd has been able stretch the defenses horizontally and vertically to create big-play opportunities down the seams. With few defensive coordinators able to craft the ideal scheme to defend every area of the field, Boyd's improved patience has keyed the Tigers' offensive explosion over the past few seasons.

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Murray is a superb pocket passer with flawless footwork and mechanics. He consistently delivers accurate throws from a balanced set-up, which makes him difficult to defend when given sufficient time in the pocket. Against blitz pressure, Murray's timely release and excellent pre-snap diagnostic skills allow him to get the ball to hot receivers before the pocket collapses. His ability to shine against the blitz puts defensive coordinators in a quandary when facing the Bulldogs' spread formations. Murray also excels as a play-action passer in shotgun and two-back formations. His deft ball handling and quick reactions following fakes routinely produce big gains on designed explosives (plays specifically diagrammed to create home-run opportunities) in the passing game.

Advantage: Murray

Clutch Factor

At the end of the day, quarterbacks are measured by their ability to win big games. NFL executives, coaches and scouts want a quarterback in the huddle with a proven track record of getting it done when it matters most. Boyd has certainly won his fair share of big games at Clemson, compiling a 21-6 record as a starter. He has a chance to leave Death Valley as the winningest quarterback in school history, which is a significant accomplishment at a storied program. Although Boyd's impressive win-loss record will impress some scouts, astute evaluators will take a close look at his big games to see if he stepped up to the challenge. The naysayers will point to his weak performances against South Carolina in back-to-back years, but the fact he played like an all-star against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl certainly helps his case. He's also had impressive showings against Florida State, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech (2011 ACC Championship Game), which should encourage his supporters.

Murray is also a big-time winner with a 28-13 career record and a pair of SEC East crowns. Those numbers are certainly impressive on the surface, but scouts will take umbrage with his disappointing 3-11 record against ranked teams in his career. While evaluators will take the level of competition into consideration based on the SEC's dominance over the rest of the football world, Murray's disturbing performances against Florida and South Carolina a season ago cast doubt about his ability to win big games. Of course, the Murray supporters would suggest his strong game against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game represents a turning point, but until he strings together a few wins in big contests, he will be downgraded as a big-game performer.

Advantage: Boyd

Conclusion

The looming showdown between Boyd and Murray not only has national championship implications, but it could significantly impact the draft status of each player heading into the fall. The winner will certainly enjoy a bounce in the rankings, while the loser will continue to face questions about his performance in big games. Heading into the matchup, I believe Boyd is a better player and prospect than his counterpart. While he isn't quite as polished or refined as Murray in a few aspects, he is a big-time playmaker with tremendous potential. If he puts it on display this weekend, scouts will keep him in the conversation as a potential franchise player.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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