Blake Bortles won't have to move very far to reach his new destination. The Central Florida quarterback was selected third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2014 NFL draft.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora broke the news before Commissioner Roger Goodell reached the podium to announce the selection:
Jags took Blake Bortles. Wow— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) May 9, 2014
Jacksonville has been without a true franchise quarterback arguably since the days of Mark Brunell. Now, they're banking their future on Bortles and hoping he can provide the spark to turn the franchise around.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley told NFL.com's Jeff Darlington that he and his staff had no doubts as to whom the team would select:
Jaguars HC Gus Bradley tells me the entire staff felt really good about Bortles, noting it's rare to have such unified feelings on a guy.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) May 9, 2014
The team welcomed in its newest star on Twitter:
Despite what was Jacksonville's evident confidence in the player, this was by far the first major shock of the first round. Many expected the Jags to go with Khalil Mack or possibly Sammy Watkins. If they wanted a quarterback, Johnny Manziel even seemed the consensus bet.
One of Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller's Twitter followers certainly didn't see the pick coming:
One of my Twitter followers will be eating a live animal soon.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 9, 2014
Grantland's Bill Barnwell commended Jacksonville with how well it prevented its draft strategy from leaking to the media. But now the Jaguars will have to actually develop Bortles as a player, which will be much tougher to do:
At least we know the Jags organization can keep a secret. That’s an organizational skill. Player evaluation is probably more important— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) May 9, 2014
About six months ago, Bortles getting drafted this high would've seemed crazy. ESPN's Chris Mortensen tracked his meteoric rise. He's gone from being an unknown recruit coming out of high school to the third pick in the NFL draft:
Blake Bortles #JAXPick From 5 college offers (2 for TE) to the number 3 pick overall. First purchase is covering Brothers Ole Miss tuition— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) May 9, 2014
Mortensen added that the UCF signal-caller's stock rose dramatically during his pre-draft workouts:
People around the league saw an immense improvement in his mechanics at his pro day and in private workouts. Pre-Draft work with @JwPalms— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) May 9, 2014
There's no question that Bortles has an uphill climb ahead, considering the Jaguars' recent quarterback history. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Jacksonville ranked last in Total QBR in the 2013 season:
Blake Bortles to the Jaguars. The Jags were last in the NFL in Total QBR last season (23.8) #JAXpick— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 9, 2014
The Jags traded up to the 10th overall pick to select Blaine Gabbert back in 2011. That makes Jacksonville only the second team in NFL history to draft two QBs in the top 10 in a four-year span:
Jaguars are 2nd team to take 2 QBs in the top-10 in a 4-year span (1982-83 Colts, Schlichter/Elway) #JAXpick— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 9, 2014
Of course, many are making the comparison between Gabbert and Bortles. The former was an unmitigated disaster, while the latter has followed largely the same draft trajectory as his predecessor.
Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar also highlighted the similarities between their names, which may be a bad omen:
And the Jaguars select: B(laine)lake B(Gabbert)ortles.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) May 9, 2014
SportsPickle thinks another bad omen for Bortles might be the way in which the Jaguars have developed QBs. The recent history isn't very flattering, between Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Gabbert and then Chad Henne:
I wasn't completely positive that Bortles would be a bust. But now that the Jaguars are taking him? Completely positive.— SportsPickle (@sportspickle) May 9, 2014
Although many fans might be disappointed with the selection of Bortles, the key for the Jaguars will be allowing the quarterback to make mistakes during his rookie season. Bortles is far from the finished product, so he'll need some seasoning before his game is more refined.
The former Knights star does have a ton of potential. While Jacksonville is the butt of some jokes at the moment, it may have the last laugh.