After transferring from Florida, where he was stuck on the bench behind some guy named Tebow, he landed at Maryland but was suspended for a season for cheating on a quiz. In December, he made a deal with prosecutors after allegedly shopping with a stolen credit card.
Despite those red flags, he comes across as highly intelligent, thoughtful and mature during interviews.
As one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the draft, Portis talks with pride about how his rushing numbers fell by half as a senior as he grew into a "point guard" on the football field.
The Green Bay Packers are highly intrigued by this enigma who dominated the Division II level at California (Pa.). They had a formal interview with Portis at the Scouting Combine, saw his lights-out workout at Pittsburgh's pro day on Tuesday, then were one of just two teams to attend the CalU pro day on Wednesday, a source told Packer Report.
Perhaps the Packers are just doing their due diligence on a player so talented that he was Urban Meyer's first recruit to Florida. Or maybe they're hot on the trail of a developmental prospect who eventually will succeed Matt Flynn as the backup to Aaron Rodgers.
"Six years," Portis said of how long it took him to get to the precipice of the NFL Draft. "I feel like I'm old. I'm 23 years old but feel like I'm 25. I'll tell you what, it's a journey, it's a story. You can write the story in a book. I think I'm the only person here who's been to three colleges. It's definitely a story where I kept on persisting, kept on pursuing and getting better. I never lost sight or hopes of what I can do."
What Portis can do is something most of the quarterback prospects can't do: make big plays with his arm and legs. As a junior, Portis threw for 3,421 yards on 55.0 percent accuracy with 36 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 15 games. He added 449 yards on the ground in 97 attempts.
In 12 games as a senior, Portis threw for 2,651 yards on 61.2 percent accuracy, with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He added 238 yards on 70 rushes.
Portis credits esteemed offensive coordinator Walt Harris, who joined the Vulcans this past season.
"He knows a little something about football," Portis said of Harris, whose lengthy collegiate resume includes 13 seasons as a head coach.
As a junior, Portis frequently went through one or two reads and either chucked it deep to his 6-foot-4 receivers, A.J. Jackson or Dominique Curry — both of whom got shots in the NFL — or took off running. As a senior, he played much more under control.
"I'd go through five reads instead of going through two and taking off," he said.
Still, what gives Portis a chance to join his cousin, Hall of Fame-worthy running back Clinton Portis, in the NFL is his athletic ability. At Pittsburgh's pro day, which starred receiver Jonathan Baldwin, Portis completed 30-of-33 passes, according to a source. And the 4.48 speed he's displayed during workouts makes him a real weapon.
Not that Portis wants to be a scrambler.
"I think quarterbacks that have the pocket presence, moving around in the pocket, moving to throw instead of moving to run — then, when things break down at the last minute, then you take off," he said. "Hang out a little longer to find that open receiver, then go, instead of dropping back, going through the reads one-two, then going. I think exhaust your progressions a little bit longer. That's what Aaron Rodgers did this past year; I thought Michael Vick did that extremely well. I think that's the key."
But that's not the only key. He must prove he's grown from his indiscretions and that they won't happen again.
"I just want to keep on getting better, keep on maturing," Portis said. "Just being a guy that wants to reach his maximum potential, wants to get better. When I step on the field, I want to get better every day. I think that's the attitude that everybody has to have. They've seen on the tape that this guy can play."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.