From an outsider’s perspective, little that went right for Jeff Driskel from the day he committed to the University of Florida to the day he left four seasons later.
Sure, the No. 1-rated prep quarterback in 2011 took the Gators to the Sugar Bowl in 2013. And he’s got nothing bad to say about the years he spent in a program that was slowly caving in on itself. Recruited by Urban Meyer only to have Meyer retire for the first time, Driskel became the third starter in three seasons following the legendary Tim Tebow.
In 2013, he played in five games as a freshman under new head coach Will Muschamp and started 11 as a sophomore before fracturing his leg as a junior. The Gators had their first losing season since 1979 that year.
Upon returning in 2014, Florida was in chaos, Muschamp would be fired at the end of the season and Driskel was only a part-time starter. He was also savvy enough to know that if he wanted to keep his NFL dream alive, it was time to leave.
As Driskel prepared for the NFL Scouting Combine, that experience may prove to be the best thing that has happened. Billed as the next Tebow upon his arrival at Florida, he might surpass Tebow in the NFL.
Driskel was one of three Louisiana Tech players and 23 players from ASN-affiliated conferences invited to the Scouting Combine that concludes Monday in Indianapolis. Three hundred prospects received invitations.
On Saturday, Driskel ran the fastest 40-yard dash among 17 quarterbacks at the combine (4.56), easily beating his closest competition, TCU's Trevone Boykin (4.77). Driskell's broad jump of 10 feet, 2 inches also led all quarterbacks and he also had a 32-inch vertical jump.
“The conversation I've heard a lot of GMs talk about is who's the next Kurt Cousins?” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “Who's the middle round guy that you're going to get in the third, fourth, fifth round that after two or three years can lead your team to the playoffs. There's more of those guys this year than most years and Driskel is one of them.”
WalterFootball ranked Driskel as the 17th-best quarterback available in May's NFL Draft. Draftek.com ranked him No. 15 while Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post called him a potential second-round pick. NFL.com’s scouting report gives Driskel a “better-than-average chance to make NFL roster.”
Driskel resurrected his career in stunning fashion, using the graduate transfer rule to play his final season at Louisiana Tech. He was looking to put up big numbers and did, passing for 4,033 yards, making his 2015 performance the third-best season by a quarterback in school history. His teammates voted him team captain after just a few months on campus.
“He never quit at Florida, he never stopped believing in himself,” said Driskel’s agent, Harold Lewis of National Sports Agency. “It really shows you the kind of person he is when he gets through the tough times.”
Driskel led the Bulldogs to an 8-4 regular season and a 47-28 victory against Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl. In doing so, he positioned himself to maximize the combine and move up the draft board.
“His main job is to convince the teams that Florida was just such a dumpster fire that it couldn't have been helped and those tapes need to be destroyed,” said Samuel Chi, college football analyst and editor of PlayoffGuru.com. “I think Driskel can help himself tremendously at the combine. Right now he's projected to go anywhere in the sixth round or later to undrafted, so he's got nowhere to go but up. A good showing at the combine can boost him up the draft pecking order quite a bit.”
No matter the outcome, Driskel has no regrets. He is a firm believer in the idea that every experience has made him stronger and as his goal of becoming an NFL player draws nearer, he is completely focused on putting on the best performance he is capable of.
“I put together a complete, full season (at Louisiana Tech) and I hadn’t really done that before,” he said in an interview from Florida, where he is preparing for the combine and draft. “I am working as hard as I can to better myself in these few months before the combine and draft. I think with this process, you get what out of it what you put into it. I hope that will show at Pro Day and the combine and I think it will.”
Since the college football season ended, Driskel has assembled a team focused on his success. He signed with Lewis, and is working out in Boca Raton with Tony Villani at XPE Sports Academy and ex-NFL quarterback Ken Mastrole, who also coached E.J. Manuel and Teddy Bridgewater ahead of the draft.
A believer in multitasking, Driskel was on schedule to take the last exam for his MBA in late February. He did most of his Louisiana Tech class work online so he could better manage his time for football and academics. With school just about behind him, Driskel’s focus is on the miniscule details that he and his team believe will set him apart.
Driskel has been in Florida since around New Year’s and his schedule is intense. Up at about 6:45 a.m. daily, he works out for about two hours before breaking for a protein shake. While other athletes take some downtime, Driskel does his homework. After lunch, he works out with Mastrole, either throwing routes with receivers, working on footwork or drops and getting under center — something he says he’s completely capable of, but didn’t need to do often at Louisiana Tech. Later in the day, he heads into the classroom to study and prep for the interview portion of the combine.
What has impressed Mastrole the most isn’t physical — it’s Driskel’s passion for the game, his ability to study and improve and the intangibles.
“He’s just kind of an everyday guy, he’s a good ‘glue’ guy, he’s going to be the one who brings it all together,” Mastrole said. “He’s just a genuine kind of guy who is going to command a room because of his physical stature, but he is also going to show you by his work ethic. To be a successful quarterback in the NFL, you have to be edgy … you kind of almost have to be that guy who is a fighter pilot. Jeff is that guy.”
At 6-4, 231 pounds, Driskel has the physical attributes to play in the NFL. He can think on his feet and he doesn’t panic. Over the last two months, his focus has been detail work – and he’s not at all cocky about it, but he’s sure he’ll nail his combine appearance.
“What I’ve tried to improve on the most is the 40,” he said. “A lot of people will be shocked at how fast it’s going to be.”
Said Lewis: “If he can get a 4.65, scouts would think that would be great. But Jeff Driskel is going to blow away the watches when he runs. Each scout is going to look to his left and then his right and say, ‘What did you get?’”
Players are judged in three areas at the combine: physical makeup, speed/athletic ability and interviews. Prospects are put under a microscope for a week, both physically and mentally. A successful combine requires a player to put in a peak performance at every turn.
Lewis is confident Driskel will “check off every one of the boxes and be off the charts” in the physical and athletic portions of the combine. But he believes the big reveal will come in the interview room.
“He will blow them away,” Lewis said. “People who have met him have said they have never seen a kid like this. I’m telling you right now, Jeff Driskel is going to be one of the best quarterbacks ever to throw the football in the National Football League.”
Coaches and GMs would love to be wowed, and it’s likely that with the twists and unexpected turns Driskel’s college career took, he’ll need a stellar combine to rewrite his own history.
“He had a great senior year at Louisiana Tech, but scouts will remember his not-so-good years at Florida, so he’ll have to overcome that,” said Chi. “This draft isn’t exactly loaded with great quarterbacks, so I do see a potential for him to move up dramatically with a good combine followed by good workouts.”
At the Senior Bowl last month, Driskel made the most of limited playing time — his North team didn’t get him the ball until midway through the fourth quarter (each of the four quarterbacks played one quarter). But Driskel directed two series, the second of which was a 94-yard scoring drive that ended with a 29-yard touchdown pass.
Driskel, whom Lewis describes as “cool, calm, collected and confident … a leader,” doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the task ahead of him. He not only believes in the preparation, the team he’s assembled and his own abilities, he truly believes in himself.
“To be invited to the Senior Bowl, to the combine, it’s what you dream about as a kid,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work and there’s a lot of hard work ahead and I understand that.
“I really don’t get too stressed out about anything. I’ve never really had a situation that was too big for me. The Senior Bowl prepared me (for the combine). It’s long days, you meet a lot of people, it can get monotonous. But it’s a business trip and a chance to impress people.”
Which he’s fully prepared to do.
Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.