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Blake Bortles is the latest underclassman seeking to cash in on a stellar bowl game performance in front of a national audience, as the Central Florida quarterback will forego his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft, CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler reported Sunday.
Bortles is the No. 12-rated prospect for this year's draft at the No. 3 quarterback behind Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M redshirt sophomore Johnny Manziel, according to NFLDraftScout.com ratings. However, Bortles is also a raw athlete with a small sample size playing against top-level competition.
The 6-foot-3, 227-ound Bortles is No. 22 on Rob Rang's current Big Board.
"A prototypically built pocket passer with good awareness, athleticism and arm strength, Bortles looks the part of an NFL starting quarterback," Rang wrote. "He is methodical in his setup and delivery of the ball and is a bit inconsistent with his accuracy, but the mettle he showed in guiding UCF to several comeback victories in 2013 has scouts buzzing. Bortles isn't as polished as Bridgewater, (Derek) Carr or Manziel, but should he enter the 2014 draft a top-10 selection is not out of the question."
Rang certainly sees Bortles' upside and the likelihood NFL teams will fall in love with his skill set - projecting him to go No. 3 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who would make a marketing smash with the local product, in his current Mock Draft. Dane Brugler has Bortles going one pick later to the Cleveland Browns.
The news of Bortles making the NFL jump along with Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas on Sunday night brings the list of underclassmen expected to enter this year's draft to 61. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15, and the final list is expected to shatter last year's record of 73. A quartet of junior wide receivers, Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and LSU's Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, were also reported Sunday to have decided to forego their senior seasons.
Bortles led the Knights to an 11-1 record during the regular season, but largely flew under the radar until leading a dramatic 52-42 victory over heavily-favored Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, displaying a strong arm and surprising athleticism as a dual-threat quarterback.
Bortles threw for 3,582 yards and 25 touchdowns against nine interceptions this season while completing 67.8 percent of his passes.
Bortles is making a calculated gamble by seeking to make the leap to the NFL while his stock may be at its highest. Bridgewater (No. 3-ranked prospect overall) has announced he will enter the draft as a junior, and Manziel (No. 8) is expected to join him shortly. However, redshirt sophomores Marcus Mariota of Oregon and UCLA's Brett Hundley have decided to return to school.
Bortles could potentially wind up in the top 10 with a strong showing leading up to May's draft, rather than returning to school and entering a draft class next year that could feature Mariota, Hundley and Stanford's Kevin Hogan, among others.
Among Bortles' strengths are his excellent size, good arm strength and underrated athleticism that makes him a threat as a ballcarrier as well. While he needs to grow in terms pocket awareness and route progression, his biggest current weakness is inconsistent accuracy. Even in UCF's bowl game, Bortles threw several passes that forced his receivers to adjust, missing out on yards after the catch, or missed them entirely.