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Behind The Scenes With ESPN’s Draft Academy

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Jason Johnson produced some strong seasons while quarterbacking the University of Arizona in 2001 and 2002, but he never got to hear his name called at the NFL Draft. More than a decade later, Johnson has entree to some of the biggest names in this year’s draft and the opportunity to chronicle their stories on national television.

Johnson’s company, Jason Ryan Creative, is working with ESPN to produce the series Draft Academy. The show provides behind the scenes access to five draft hopefuls including Jadeveon Clowney and Blake Bortles.

Draft Academy airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on ESPN. Tonight’s show chronicles the Pro Day’s for Clowney and Bortles, attended by Texans Coach Bill O’Brien.

Johnson joined Sports Radio 610’s College Football Today podcast this week (available on http://www.sportsradio610.com on Wednesdays) to discuss his impressions after spending time filming Bortles and Clowney.

“The dude (Clowney) is a freak, a freak of nature,” Johnson said.

He expects the former Gamecocks star to be physically better than about any player he is going to match-up against the first day he lines up for his new team. Yet there are still some question marks.

“He has been great with us when our cameras have been there,” Johnson said. “But he is not always available. His coaches have said some things, other people have question marks on him. He went into the combine and runs a 4.47 and then chose not to do the position drills. There should be nothing to hide if you are the most athletic guy.”

Johnson wouldn’t be the least surprised if the Texans selected Clowney number one and sees potential for him to be more effective at the pro level than college.

“Central Florida played South Carolina and Blake Bortles talked about that,” he explained. “They went into that game basically changing their entire protections to make sure he (Clowney) was always double teamed. When he gets to the pro level, let’s say he signs with the Texans, they aren’t going to be able to shift their protections away from J.J. Watt, so he will find himself in more one on one situations.

“He (Clowney) said something in his interview, ‘I was the most talented guy coming out of high school. Now I am going to be the most talented guy coming out of college.’ Very few guys can actually say that. I have been around a lot of guys and usually the most talented ones aren’t the hardest working because they don’t have to be.”

After observing Clowney, Johnson doesn’t have many doubts. However getting Jadeveon into the right situation will be important with older guys that can mentor him and show him how to be a pro, how to handle his business on and off the field.

Johnson doesn’t have those same concerns about Bortles. The Central Florida quarterback was intriguing because of his 2013 season that saw him make a name for himself.

“When was the last time you had a guy who could go in the top five of the draft, that before the season literally no one knew who he was?” Johnson asked. “Maybe that happens with defensive tackles, but not a quarterback. Quarterbacks are always on the radar.”

One of the Draft Academy episodes details Bortles decision to throw at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

“He chose to throw because he is a football player and he is going to do whatever it takes,” Johnson added. “Being around him, you don’t get the vibe that this is too big for him. He’s a great person, he’s a great character, an extremely hard worker and he has done the right things every step of the way.”

Draft Academy doesn’t have access to one specific quarterback named Johnny Manziel, even though the original plan for the show was to follow top quarterbacks.

“We had talks with his (Manziel’s) people,” he explained. “He is surrounded by a vast network of advisors. Johnny declined to be on the show.”

If the Texans were going to select a quarterback and Johnson could pick, he would take Bortles over Manziel because of his consistency factor.

“I think he (Bortles) will handle the spotlight,” Johnson said. “With Blake you know what you are getting. With Johnny, he will be way better than anyone thought he could ever be and continue to dominate just like he did in the SEC or I think he is going to be out of the league in a couple of years.”

The Draft Academy narrator states in the program that the process is the toughest job interview these players will ever have. Johnson agrees. “You are literally under the microscope for four months.”

For Clowney and Bortles, the interviews are over and the draft is a finally a few days away. Then the question becomes, is the build up over, or is it just beginning? Either way, Draft Academy will be in the green room in New York with their players, planning to chronicle their special nights in the fourth episode of the program.

“We set out to tell different types of stories,” Johnson explained. “It’s not like every guy going into the NFL Draft has the same journey. We are giving people access to stuff they aren’t normally given access to.”

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