For the Jacksonville Jaguars, the future of the franchise now resides in Blake Bortles' strong arm and athletic legs.
Jacksonville selected the former Central Florida signal-caller with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, as Jason La Canfora shared:
Jags took Blake Bortles. Wow— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) May 9, 2014
Bortles, who rose from preseason obscurity to future franchise quarterback in the span of several months, used his 2013 junior campaign as the fuel behind his skyrocketing draft stock.
Jacksonville's general manager, Dave Caldwell, talked about the pick on Friday, according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk:
“This process started early on,” Caldwell said. “The quarterback process went early on in the fall last year and he was a guy that I always felt really strongly about, but I never let my intentions known. I let the process play out, and once our coaches got a hold of all the evaluations of our personnel staff, he became the consensus No. 1, without me influencing anybody. It became very clear to us that he was the guy at the quarterback position that we were going to target.”
Caldwell said he thinks Bortles will be the Jaguars’ starting quarterback for a decade or more, and Caldwell views Bortles as the kind of elite prospect who doesn’t come along very often.
“It was very easy,” Caldwell said. “There’s not a lot of 6-foot-5, 245-pound pro-style quarterbacks with the athleticism Blake has.”
How many starts will Bortles make as a rookie?
Leading Central Florida to a 12-1 record and a final AP ranking of No. 10—easily the best season in the school's short history—Bortles completed 67.8 percent of his throws for 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
In the Fiesta Bowl, Bortles threw for 301 yards and three scores and ran for another 93 and a touchdown, propelling the Knights to a thrilling 52-42 win over Baylor.
Much like with the rest of this year's quarterback class, pundits seem split on Bortles' future as a pro.
On the one hand, his tools are undeniably tantalizing: outstanding size (6'5", 232 pounds), tremendous athletic ability and alert pocket presence to escape pressure in the backfield, and a strong arm to make every throw at the next level.
According to ESPN's Pat McManamon, Bortles completed 52.9 percent of his throws that traveled at least 25 yards in the air last season, a mark that was second best in the country and better than every other first-round QB of the past two years.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, via Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel, raved about Bortles:
Not a lot of quarterbacks are 6-5 and 235 and can run like that. He has the football pedigree; he is very fortunate to have played under George O'Leary at Central Florida. He has a heck of an upside, he really does.
While the mold to build a star quarterback is evident, Bortles isn't yet complete.
The 22-year-old must improve his mechanics and continue to refine his accuracy, and, as a fairly raw prospect, many didn't believe he warranted consideration as a potential top-10 pick.
The selection comes as a bit of a surprise, as many people believed Johnny Manziel would be the first quarterback off the board.
Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey sums up Bortles into 140 characters about as succinctly as possible:
I think Bortles *can* be a good QB prospect, but that’s because he has the tools. Nothing on tape says he *is* a great QB.— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) April 21, 2014
Therein lies the polarization around Bortles. He may not step onto the gridiron and start carving up defenses right away, but every physical attribute is there for him to develop into a star in this league.
With this selection, the Jaguars are banking on the latter coming to fruition as soon as possible.