Blake Bortles very likely threw himself into the first round of the 2014 NFL draft with a strong performance in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
Since he plays at Central Florida, Bortles didn't get too many chances for national exposure this season. For many fans, it was a first look at this hot new quarterback who's shooting up experts' draft boards.
Those who tuned in to the Fiesta Bowl weren't disappointed.
The junior quarterback helped spark the Knights' 52-42 upset of the Baylor Bears. Bortles finished 20-of-31 for 301 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for another 93 yards and a touchdown.
It was a great showcase of his ability, and, in terms of his NFL draft stock, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Plenty of scouts were likely wowed by Bortles' performance against Baylor. Keep in mind that despite their high-powered, fast-paced offense, the Bears rank 12th in passing efficiency defense. Shredding them for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns wasn't easy.
Since Bortles has another year of eligibility, he's in a position where he can wait if he doesn't feel he's rated highly enough. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, he wants to wait to see what kind of grade he'd get from the league before declaring for the 2014 draft.
Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage illustrated the possible dilemma for Bortles.
Blake Bortles' conflict: media/mock drafts = top 10, NFL advisory panel = 2nd RD. 5th pick = 4yrs/18M, 40th pick = 4yrs/4M. #toughcall— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) January 2, 2014
However, it's a problem he may not have to worry about, as Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports reported the UCF QB received a majority of first-round grades from the draft advisory board.
#UCF QB Blake Bortles received mostly first-round grades from the draft advisory board, per source.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) January 4, 2014
Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller sees Bortles as a top-five pick and compared him to Andrew Luck.
Ready for the world to get an introduction to Blake Bortles tonight. Legitimate top 5 player in '14 class.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 2, 2014
UCF QB Blake Bortles isn’t a lock to enter ’14 draft, but he’s a first-rounder if he’s in. A poor man’s Andrew Luck in terms of athleticism— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 2, 2013
Between now and May, much can change, but it looks as though Bortles would be battling with Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel to be the first QB off the board.
Bridgewater is regarded as the No. 1 guy on many experts' boards, so you feel comfortable in saying that he's going to be a top-five pick. If he doesn't go with the first overall pick, he won't fall far.
Manziel is the wild card.
Johnny Football's draft stock is about as unpredictable as his game. He's a tremendous athlete and has improved as a passer in 2013, but with the read-option offense decreasing in popularity this year, a team may not be as seduced by Manziel as it would've been last year.
Or maybe he goes No. 1. Who knows?
A lot will depend upon who picks where and whether or not any teams decide to trade up.
ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli reported the Houston Texans would be open to parting with the No. 1 overall pick. Owner Bob McNair said, "Maybe we'll trade down and still get a quarterback that can do the job and get an outstanding defensive player. It's an exciting time. Everything's a moving target. Lot of different pieces."
Will Blake Bortles be a top-five pick in the event he declares for the 2014 draft?
In the event that the Texans don't trade the pick, they'll almost certainly go with a quarterback. Should Bridgewater be the guy, Bortles would have no shortage of potential suitors from No. 2 and beyond.
The St. Louis Rams don't need a quarterback, nor will Jadeveon Clowney help, so they may try to trade down a few picks.
Beyond the Rams, the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3, the Cleveland Browns at No. 4, Oakland Raiders at No. 5 and Minnesota Vikings at No. 8 all need a QB. It's hard to see how Bortles falls out of the top 10 riding the wave of momentum that he has.
The issue for Bortles is that should he fall past the Tennessee Titans at No. 11, it could be an Aaron Rodgers-like drop. The next team that is looking for a signal-caller would be the Browns at No. 26. If he's still on the board there, Cleveland will take him, barring it takes Manziel fourth overall.
So it would seem all roads lead to Bortles declaring for the 2014 NFL draft and being a first-round prospect. The only question is where he'll be selected.
Final Projection: No. 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars