Christopher Smith

UCF Loses QB, RB To NFL Draft

Created on Jan. 06, 2014 6:25 PM EST

Last we saw, Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson were torturing Baylor fans on the way to an upset of the 17-point favorites in the Fiesta Bowl.

Now the quarterback and the running back are headed for the NFL draft, leaving coach George O'Leary and the UCF Knights (12-1) without its two best players.

The reigning — and only — conference champions in American Athletic Conference history will pay for their success, as will college football fans.

Bortles rocketed up draft boards this season, and despite a mediocre showing in the BCS bowl — by first-round quarterback standards, anyway — the 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior feels he's shown NFL scouts enough.

Reading NFL tea leaves when it comes to the draft is murky, but several reports indicate Bortles will have a good chance at being selected in the first round. He'll compete with players like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, whom he beat head-to-head this season, and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, though several high-profile junior quarterbacks decided to return to college.

Bortles finished the season as one of the most efficient passers, completing 67.8 percent of his throws on 9.4 yards per attempt.

It became more and more apparent that Bortles was a regarded quarterback commodity as the college season ended, and Bortles' decision felt inevitable, but Johnson's exit is the one that stings for college football fans.

Somewhat of a hidden gem at running back, Johnson wasn't even a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and transferred to UCF from Miami because he couldn't get any playing time. He also carried the ball more than 20 times just once this season and claimed less than half of the Knights' handoffs.

Still, Johnson was at least as responsible for UCF's signature wins this year, crushing Louisville on the road and heavy favorite Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. He also came up big against Houston and at Temple, which the Knights beat by less than a touchdown.

Johnson's vision and open-field elusiveness define him, and he's also one of the best pass catchers of the running backs in this draft class. He rushed for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns, relatively minor totals compared to backs like Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona), Bishop Sankey (Washington) and Kapri Bibbs (Colorado State).

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Johnson received a third-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

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