JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The competitive nature of Blake Bortles won over the Jacksonville Jaguars as much as anything about the quarterback from UCF.
But the likelihood that he won’t be able to display that in game situations as a rookie made the Jaguars’ decision to do what they did Thursday night with the third overall pick in the NFL draft such a surprise.
Instead of taking outside linebacker Khalil Mack from Buffalo, wide receiver Sammy Watkins from Clemson or even 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M, the Jaguars chose the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Bortles.
"I had no clue," he said. "I would have been surprised if I went 1 or if I went 100. But I’m so happy it’s Jacksonville."
"We feel good about it. We feel great about it, actually," Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said, adding he was swayed by Bortles’ performance at the NFL combine in late February as much as anything he did in his junior season with the Knights.
Bortles didn’t start for UCF as a freshman but later guided the Knights to two bowl victories, the last of which was an upset of Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl where he passed for 301 yards and ran for 93 more. The decision by the Jaguars to take him so early doesn’t mean he’ll be expected to start right away for a team which lost its first eight games a year ago and finished with a 4-12 record.
"Obviously they have Chad Henne. And obviously I have things I need to work on," Bortles said. "I’ve never looked at an NFL playbook. There are going to be challenges that I’m going to have to overcome, but I can’t wait to get there and work to be the best I can be and start competing."
"We just can’t throw him out there. You’ve seen what happens when that happens," Caldwell said. "We’re going to work to make this work. And I know he’s going to work to make it work."
Caldwell and Jaguars coach Gus Bradley attended Bortles’ pro day at UCF in March where he threw a variety of passes during a 30-minute session scripted by his tutor, Jordan Palmer. The younger brother of former No. 1 draft pick Carson Palmer had worked on improving Bortles’ footwork, which was considered to be one of his few drawbacks.
The Jaguars, the Houston Texans, the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders all showed interest in Bortles, although Manziel was still regarded as the quarterback most likely to go first in the draft. Manziel instead slid down to the 22nd pick, where the Browns traded up to choose him.
"With Johnny, he’s always going to be Johnny," Caldwell said. "He’s going to be electric. He’s going to be dynamic. He’s a great player. But for our system and what we want to do offensively, we felt Blake was the best fit."
Bradley said he and his staff didn’t know of Caldwell’s intentions to select Bortles but sounded convinced the decision was the right one.
"Everybody agreed on this guy — the scouts, the coaches," he said. "It was just very difficult to bypass that."
Bortles had just three offers to play quarterback at an FBS school when he came out of high school in 2010 and was red-shirted in his first year at UCF. From those modest beginnings, Bortles ended up going earlier in the first round than former Knights star Daunte Culpepper did when the Minnesota Vikings chose him 11th overall in 1999.
He completed 67.8 percent of his passes last season for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns with only nine interceptions in 382 attempts.
"I’ve still got to work on my footwork and continue to make that better and consistent," he said.
"I’ve told our coaches to take pride in being developmental coaches," Bradley said. "We saw it with our special teams. We saw our team develop. And I said I want that to be what we’re all about. I think it’s somewhat of a lost art. So we’re going to get our opportunity with Blake. We’re going to get an opportunity to develop him and mold him the way we want."