Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

State of Florida has QB issues when it comes to NFL draft

When the NFL draft holds its first round Thursday, two players have a chance to join a surprisingly select list:

Florida-raised quarterbacks who became first-round picks.

Since the draft began in 1936, only three Florida high school players have become first-round quarterbacks: John Reaves (1972), Daunte Culpepper (1999) and Tim Tebow (2010). That total lags far behind California (32) and Texas (18), plus smaller states such as Indiana (five).

"Seems like there would have been more," said Reaves, a Robinson High alumnus and former Gator star.

Although UCF's Blake Bortles (Oviedo High) and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (Miami Northwestern) likely will increase that number to five, the state's lack of elite quarterbacks continues to puzzle Florida-based analyst Jamie Newberg. "I think it's mind-blowing, considering all the talent the state's produced for eons," said Newberg, who covers recruiting and the NFL draft for Scout.

A survey of quarterback and recruiting experts resulted in several theories:

Old reputation

College coaches traditionally flock to California or Pennsylvania for golden-armed quarterbacks; Florida is for speed, not passers.

The stereotype has some truth. When Andy Bark started running football combines decades ago, he had to throw during drills in parts of the state; he didn't have enough quarterbacks for the stable of receivers who showed up. "Florida has remained low forever," said Bark, who later founded the Elite 11 competition.

The state's reputation stuck among some college recruiters, which influence players' NFL prospects.

Since Rivals began evaluating recruits in 2002, it's ranked 884 quarterbacks. Only 97 came from Florida, compared to 132 from California and 144 from Texas. Although Florida produces 15 percent of Rivals' top prospects, it's responsible for less than 11 percent of its top quarterbacks.

"We're trying to shed that we're just a skill-position-player state only," said Ken Mastrole, a former NFL quarterback who has worked with Bridgewater at his South Florida-based Mastrole Passing Academy.

Coaching

Darin Slack was jeered when the former UCF passer started working as a private quarterback coach near Orlando 26 years ago.

"I got mocked for doing what I'm doing," Slack said.

Now he's considered a trailblazer. Because the position is so specialized — Bark compares it to brain surgery — it requires specific training for reads and techniques.

Quarterback gurus have been working with elementary schoolers in California for decades, but Florida has only had a recent surge in private coaches.

"Florida's been behind the times," said John Kaleo, a former Maryland and Tampa Bay Storm quarterback who started the Kaleo QB Academy in Tampa five years ago.

It's also behind in coaching salaries. Florida teachers get paid a few thousand dollars to coach, while Texas' coaches have no teaching duties and six-figure contracts. That, Kaleo said, gives area high school coaches less time to innovate and develop players.

High school offenses

Most large Texas high school programs run the pass-happy spread offense, which helps explain its three first-round quarterbacks in 2012 alone.

The trend hasn't conquered Florida, which still focuses on defense and rushing with its speedsters. Apopka topped Plant in last year's Class 8A state semifinal with a century-old single-wing offense, while Mitchell is only now scrapping the Wing-T this spring.

Last fall, Florida had none of the nation's top 25 high school passers and only three of its top 150, according to MaxPreps. That trails Texas (30), California (27) and even Mississippi (six).

"That's not going to develop a quarterback," said Bark, whose Elite 11 alumni includes first-rounders Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford.

Other options

Although Florida's not known for quarterbacks, its warm climate is famous for producing baseball players and athletes.

Strong-armed, accurate throwers can choose early between a future in the huddle or on the mound. In the past five MLB drafts, Florida high schools have produced six-first round pitchers, plus nine others who were outfielders or shortstops — positions where powerful arms are prized.

Florida coaches often put their top athlete at quarterback and let him run, even though his skill set might translate better to another position in college or the NFL.

Jefferson's Deiondre Porter was the state's No. 3 passer in the fall but will play defensive back at Florida. Anquan Boldin was an All-America prep quarterback at Pahokee before becoming a Pro Bowl receiver and Super Bowl champion.

"It's unfortunate a lot of those type of guys think they are quarterbacks," Newberg said. "Maybe they are in high school. Maybe they can be in college, but they aren't going to be on Sundays."

Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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