Scouts search for Florida’s hidden gems before NFL Draft

NFL scouts traditionally found top talent at FSU, Florida and Miami, but UCF’s Blake Bortles and USF’s Aaron Lynch could be break the mold.

05/05/2014 12:00 AM

09/08/2014 7:16 PM

NFL scouts know about the best 2014 draft prospects from The Other Four in Florida college football beyond Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. They first saw it in more widely recognized uniforms.

Florida State, Florida and Miami traditionally draw the biggest interest of scouts, but FIU, FAU, Central Florida and South Florida have prospects as well.

UCF’s Bortles might be the most well-known from The Other Four. But part of his career consisted of handing the ball off to running back Storm Johnson, originally a Miami recruit.

South Florida’s best pass rusher, defensive end Aaron Lynch, transferred from Notre Dame. At Notre Dame, Lynch’s freshman All-America season happened at 6-6, 270 pounds. He played at 244 last season for South Florida yet still had six sacks, 12 1/2 tackles for loss and made the American Athletic Conference’s all-conference team.

Lynch also showed big-play propensity with a 44-yard fumble-return touchdown against Connecticut that gave USF the second win in a 2-10 season.

“The non-Bortles talent is really Storm Johnson, the tailback, who is a big back, catches the football fairly well. Probably has fifth-round talent,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.

“Lynch is a really gifted kid. I don’t know why he lost all that weight and decided he wanted to be an outside linebacker. But he has a ton of talent. I’m not sure what he’s thinking. I think he’s probably going to go somewhere in the fifth round as a defensive end, outside linebacker.”

FAU cornerback Keith Reaser’s torn knee ligament not only ended his 2013 season after six games but prompted two knee surgeries that moved him from possible draft pick — clocked in the 4.4 area for the 40-yard dash — to free agent. FAU linebackers Randell Johnson (6-3, 242, with 4.6 speed in the 40) and Adarius Glanton (4.62 in 40 and bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times) impressed scouts with their size and skills at FAU’s Pro Day. But Johnson started only seven of 12 games. Glanton started 11, had eight tackles for loss, 2 1/2 sacks, a fumble caused and fumble recovered.

It’s always expected that NFL teams should know more about athletes who played locally — or at least in schools within the same TV market — than outside teams. Yet you can kill a rainy day recalling all the times teams whiffed on talent in their area.

It’s a pet peeve of Dolphins fans, even though the franchise benefited from the biggest local pass over of all, the Pittsburgh Steelers leaving dynamic Pittsburgh native and University of Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino on the board to take a defensive lineman.

New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey came from Tampa Bay, a team that sits about 90 minutes from the UCF campus.

“I think one of the great advantages … that we have here in Miami is the great amount of talent that comes out of this area every year,” Hickey said.

“It was evident when we had our local day. We had over 50 quality players in here. Not only were they talented, but, wow, they really represented themselves well just in a lot of things, just taking care of business and being on time, just being professionals. It was really impressive. There is so much talent, it is definitely an advantage to us.

“We would love to keep a lot of that home-grown talent here in Miami.”

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