Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

Three from Florida schools go in NFL draft first round

As a high school senior, he attached his college offer letters to a wall in his Oviedo bedroom and had yards of poster space remaining.

Blake Bortles' suitors at that point: UCF, Colorado State, Western Kentucky, Purdue and Tulane, the latter two of which wanted the strapping Oviedo High quarterback to switch to tight end.

Nearly 7,600 yards and 56 touchdown passes later, offer No. 6 finally arrived, from another in-state program.

"Just indescribable," Bortles told ESPN.

Four months after applying the finishing touches to the greatest season in UCF history, Bortles was taken by the Jaguars with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft Thursday night.

"I had no idea what was going to happen," Bortles, one of three first-round picks from Florida schools, said.

Apparently, most of the evening's prime-time panelists were a little taken aback as well.

While lauding Bortles' mobility and Ben Roethlisberger-type frame (6 feet 5, 232 pounds), few expected him to easily supplant Daunte Culpepper (11th overall, 1999) as UCF's highest draft pick ever.

ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. had Bortles going to the Vikings with the No. 8 pick. None of nfl.com's four most prominent mock-draft makers — Mike Mayock, Charley Casserly, Charles Davis and Daniel Jeremiah — had him going higher than No. 11.

"The question is, will his arm strength improve once he's in the league?" Kiper said. "It's going to have to, because he doesn't have the velocity for some of these throws that you need to put in tight windows in the NFL."

Bortles — a consensus pick in the Jaguars' war room, the team's website said — is no stranger to such doubts. Despite passing for 5,576 yards at Oviedo, he struggled to get a sniff from the state's marquee programs. He responded by turning the Knights into one.

In 27 career starts, he finished 22-5, recording a TD-interception ratio of nearly 3-to-1. In a 52-42 Fiesta Bowl win against Baylor last season, he totaled 394 yards and four touchdowns. Nearly 100 of those yards came on the ground.

"He went the long way to get to this point," ESPN analyst and former Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.

"This is a kid that's been in a pro-style offense. He's managed a lot of complex football. He put the Central Florida Golden Knights on the football map. … I think there's a lot of great things ahead in Blake Bortles."

There was a minidrought of Florida draft picks until Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin (Panthers) and Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley (Patriots) were taken at Nos. 28 and 29, respectively.

Easley, who suffered ACL tears in each knee in 22 months and missed the last nine games of 2013, was among the first-round surprises. He recovered enough to turn in a solid performance at UF's pro day last month.

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