The quarterback in Florida’s #1-ranked recruiting class of 2010 was Tyler Murphy and while he was thought to be somewhat marginal as a high-level Division I quarterback prospect, he was such a good athlete that the coaching staff at UF was quite content that he would find his own position – most likely wide receiver – and do well. As a quarterback, Murphy was considered an upgrade from the five best in the state of Florida – Trevor Siemian (Orlando Olympia, signed with Northwestern), Eddie Sullivan (Boca Rato, Marshall), Brion Carnes (Bradenton Manatee, Nebraska), Tarean Austin (Tampa Hillsborough, New Mexico) and Stephen Morris (Opa Locka Monsignor Pace, Miami). Barely scratching the top ten in the state was Blake Bortles of Oviedo, who weighed offers from Kentucky, Tulane and Purdue before choosing UCF. Florida, Florida State, Miami and USF weren’t the least bit interested.
It wasn’t until Jeff Driskel went down with a broken leg in the third game of the 2014 season that Tyler Murphy was relieved of his duties carrying a clipboard and wearing a baseball cap on the Florida sidelines. He performed admirably in Driskel’s absence until he finally couldn’t throw the ball anymore because of a shoulder injury that had its origins at LSU and got progressively worse because the offensive line was perfecting its matador – ole’ – routine. Sidelined the last three games of the season, Murphy elected to walk the O-Dome stage with his diploma in December then transfer to Boston College where he won the starting quarterback job in the spring for Steve Addazio, the coach who recruited him to Florida in the first place.
Blake Bortles took a redshirt in 2010, then in 2011 split time at quarterback with Jeff Godfrey. Bortles came on strong at the end of the season, getting his first start against Southern Miss in game nine, prompting Godfrey to make the move to wide receiver where he finished a highly productive career catching passes from Bortles, who Thursday night was the third player taken in the NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That Blake Bortles will be a millionaire and on the fast track to become a member of the elite 32-man club that is NFL starting quarterbacks tells us this – recruiting, just like the NFL Draft, is a crapshoot.
Bortles spent four years at UCF working the same pro-style offensive system, coached by the same coordinator, Charlie Taaffe, who has been a successful college head coach and has had plenty of success in the past coordinating offenses. Working the same scheme under the same coach for four years probably has as much to do with Bortles’ success as his God-given ability. Talent can only take you so far. At some point, there has to be some good coaching thrown into the mix.
Tyler Murphy spent his first year as a redshirt learning the spread option that he will finally get to run this season at Boston College. The Gators changed head coaches (Urban Meyer out; Will Muschamp in) and coordinators (Steve Addazio to Temple as head coach; Charlie Weis in) in 2011, where Murphy spent the season #4 on the depth chart in 2011 behind John Brantley and the two stud freshmen, Driskel, who will be Florida’s starting quarterback in the fall if he can stay healthy this summer, and Jaccoby Brissett, who transferred to North Carolina State, where he will be the starter in the fall. Weis was gone after one year and his replacement was Brent Pease. Murphy moved up one spot on the depth chart because Brantley graduated. Driskel started and led the Gators to an 11-2 record although he didn’t make it completely healthy through the entire season. When Brissett transferred to NC State after the 2012 season, Murphy moved up to #2 and would have spent the season as a mop-up man had it not been for Driskel’s injury.
Did the revolving door of coaches curtail Murphy’s development? Probably, but there is no way to know that for sure, just as there is no way to know if Blake Bortles would have developed into a first rounder had he gone to Florida, FSU or Miami. For all we know, Murphy might turn into a star at BC and hear his name called at some point during next year’s NFL Draft.
And, for all we know, Blake Bortles might turn into a total bust as an NFL quarterback. He wouldn’t be the first nor will he be the last to go belly up after winning the equivalent of the NFL lottery by being selected among the first 10 picks. Scouts do make mistakes just as college recruiters whiff in a big way every single year when players slip through the cracks. If Bortles is something less of a success while Johnny Manziel (picked at #22 by Cleveland after passing on two earlier chances to draft him) or Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota with the 30th pick) turn out to be stars, then the competence of the Jags’ scouting department and coaches will be called into question and rightfully so. If he turns out to be everything the Jags hope he can be, they will look like geniuses no matter what Manziel and Bridgewater do.
Khalil Mack is another example of how players fall through the cracks. Florida brought in linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins in 2009, the same year Mack signed with Buffalo out of Fort Pierce Westwood. Neither FSU, whose only linebacker was three-star C.J. Mizell of Tallahassee Leon, and Miami, which didn’t recruit any linebackers, offered. When you’re from Fort Pierce, Florida and your best offer is Buffalo, you have indeed slipped through the cracks.
Mack took a redshirt in 2009, then spent the next four years tying the NCAA career mark for tackles for loss.
Bortles was enough of a runner in high school that he could have fit into a spread option, which is what the Gators were running under Meyer in 2010, but the Florida staff thought Tyler Murphy was a better prospect. Had they taken a chance on Bortles would he have risen to the top and become an outstanding enough prospect that the Jacksonville Jaguars are willing to spend millions of dollars to sign and develop him? Anything is possible.
On paper it would seem that Mack would have had a far better chance of success working under Charlie Strong for two years then spending the next three working under Will Muschamp, but at Buffalo there was far less competition and the experience he picked up his first couple of years set the stage for developing into a player taken fifth overall in the NFL Draft Thursday night by the Oakland Raiders. Who knows if Mack had come to Florida that he would have stuck it out had he been buried on the depth chart early on. Maybe he would have benefitted from the better coaching, better strength program and the intense competition for playing time had the Gators successfully recruited him, but there is no way of knowing that. When he was a senior in high school he wasn’t enough of a prospect to get an offer from Florida, FSU or Miami.
Heading into Thursday night, conventional wisdom said that Florida defensive tackle/end Dominique Easley was a late second or early third rounder since he was coming off a second ACL tear in four years, this one sustained in a non-contact practice drill three games into the 2013 season. Either the New England Patriots know something that nobody else knows or else they think the potential of a healthy Easley is worth risking a first round choice to take him at pick #29. If Easley has a productive and reasonably injury-free career, Bill Bellichick will look like a genius. If he sustains a debilitating injury, the wisdom of taking a high-risk player at a critical position of need will be questioned. And, if Easley can’t come back from the injury to play at a high level and is bounced out of the league in three years, Bellichick will also get it from all sides.
Once again, we are reminded of how both recruiting and the NFL Draft are a total crapshoot. If you were to write a book about recruiting 17-year-olds to SEC or high-level Division I schools or about the NFL Draft and how some guys make it who you least expect and some guys who come in with all the hype fail, you could entitle it, “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Moment.”
That’s kind of the way I view my ex-wife.