Bengals tout legend of Jeff Driskel before first NFL start

CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green couldn't stop talking up new Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel, who is set to make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

"Jeff is the most athletic guy on our team. He's a guy who can play any position, has a strong arm, very smart. My job is to go out there and make his job easy," said Green, who is returning from a toe injury that caused him to miss three games.

Green also marveled at how Driskel can do between-the-legs moves on the basketball court and play linebacker in practice.

"I have seen him jump, dunk. I squat with him. He squats like 400 pounds. He’s a guy that can play at a high level. Giving him his chance is going to open up a lot of eyes," Green said.

"He played receiver last year when they had a couple of guys out, played tight end, linebacker, he can play whatever. He runs like 23 miles an hour. He can do whatever he wants."

If the interview with Green had run a few more minutes, Driskel might have turned into Joe Montana before he even started a game. But Driskel pumped the brakes on that a bit.

"Who said that?" Driskel said, when informed of the comments.

Told it was Green, Driskel said, "Nice. I don't know about that. That's coming from a pretty good athlete himself. I have athletic ability, for sure, and I can run around a little bit, jump a little bit, do what I need to."

Driskel disputed the notion of legendary dunks or that he was playing linebacker for anything more than a brief stint on the scout team. But the truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.

Driskel, 25, was a highly recruited prospect coming out of high school when he signed with the University of Florida in 2011. He might have been good enough to go the baseball route, as well. The Boston Red Sox took him in the 29th round of the 2013 draft, even though he hadn't played baseball since high school. Driskel signed with the Red Sox as a backup plan, but he stayed committed to football.

"I'm a football player, and I love the team nature of the sport," Driskel said. "I love the week-to-week grind. There's just nothing like being around a football team after a win. That's really all it is."

That path has taken him through a lot of ups and downs. He once was hailed as the next Tim Tebow, but it didn't pan out. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes at Florida, throwing 23 touchdowns to 20 interceptions before transferring to Louisiana Tech as a graduate student.

He lit things up with the Bulldogs, passing for 4,026 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions in one season. It was enough for the San Francisco 49ers to select him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, but they released him after training camp.

Driskel ended up with the Bengals, sitting on the bench for two seasons, waiting for his time behind AJ McCarron, running the scout team and even offering to play wide receiver in a practice late in 2016. He suffered a broken arm for his efforts.

"Last year, we were in indoor, and someone, I think it was Andy, threw him a pass and he caught it with one hand and unfortunately he got hurt after that play, but he still came down with the ball," Bengals running back Joe Mixon said.

"No average quarterback is going to run out and go catch the ball with one hand and get hurt but still come up with the ball."

There's no doubt Driskel has speed. It's practically all anyone talked about from Denver to Cincinnati during the practice week.

"He’s probably faster than [Chiefs quarterback Patrick] Mahomes, [Texans QB Deshaun] Watson -- he’s faster than all of those guys," said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. "He has true speed, and we can’t just really fall into a trap. Last year, we did that when we played the Giants. They were without Odell Beckham and down a whole lot of star players on their offense. We went into the game, ‘OK, we can just line up and Eli Manning’s going to throw us the ball.’ We ended up losing that game."

Mixon agreed with Miller's assessment of Driskel.

"He can use his arm and his legs," Mixon said, "and what nobody knows is he's probably like the second fastest on the team."

But straight line speed is one thing; learning to extend plays with your legs without getting hurt is another.

Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bill Lazor believes Driskel is learning to do that too, pointing out a 27-yard touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints in which he ran 21.03 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the fastest by a quarterback all season.

"I'm sure someone can look up his GPS times," Lazor said. "He had a pretty good one on that touchdown run, and he said, 'Well, I wasn't really running that fast.' He said, 'I knew I had to outrun the safety, but I thought the corner might fall back in so I didn't run my fastest; I just ran fast enough to outrun the safety.' It was pretty good when you can kind of gauge I can run fast enough to outrun an NFL safety but be in control enough to make a move on the corner. He was being really honest when he said it, and I thought that's pretty good anyway."

There are plenty of stories circulating already. Now Driskel has his chance to prove whether it's all talk or if he can perhaps one day live up to the tales. Driskel might have brushed some of those off, but he has never disputed the notion that he believes in what he can do.

"I've always known I can play at this level. I wouldn't be here if I couldn't," he said.