JACKSONVILLE — This night couldn't have been better for Luke Fortner.
"I haven't stopped smiling all night, to be honest with you," he said. "I'm really excited."
Fortner, an offensive lineman from the University of Kentucky, on Friday became the first offensive player selected by the Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Jaguars selected him with the first selection of the third round, the No. 65 selection overall.
"There's a lot to like about Luke," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "When you meet this kid, he's wired the right way."
Fortner (6-feet-4, 307 pounds) started 23 games at guard in 2019-2020 and 13 at center this past season. He was an All-Southeastern Conference selection at center this past season, and Pederson said he will play center for the Jaguars.
Brandon Linder, the Jaguars' starting center since 2014, retired in January – and the Jaguars re-signed veteran and longtime reserve center Tyler Shatley in March.
"Obviously, we took him as a center and he'll play that position," Pederson said of Fortner.
Fortner was asked if he was ready to start at center as a rookie.
"I think I am," he said. "That's obviously going to be a tall task, a tough job – and there are going to be some tough times, some ups and downs. But I think I'm prepared and ready to handle it. I'm excited and looking forward to it."
Pederson on Friday also praised Fortner's ability at multiple positions.
"We'll move him around and allow him to play some guard and let him get comfortable with the offensive line," Pederson said. "Right now we'll have him in there competing at the center spot. We do like him at center, but he has the position flex to move to guard as well, so the position versatility is good for us. "
Said Fortner, "I think versatility is key. Being able to play different positions is essential in the league. That's something I excel at and can do, and I think it paid off."
Fortner, who played 55 games in five seasons at Kentucky, played in the Senior Bowl this past January. He allowed five sacks in his last 36 starts.
"He gives us depth at the position," Pederson said. "Great competition there. He's a guy that when you watch him on film, he can do everything that we do in our offense in the run game. Whether he's reaching the three-technique or climbing to the second level, he's got the ability to do that. He can redirect. Just a really good fit for our offensive line and that room."
- Another reason for Fortner's excitement: A chance to again play with Jaguars outside linebacker/defensive end Josh Allen, a former teammate at Kentucky and a player against whom Fortner practiced with varying success collegiately. "They put me up against him on one on ones," Fortner said with a smile. "I think I was a redshirt freshman at the time. It didn't end so well for me. He humbled me a little bit. I feel like we have a good relationship. He's an incredible dude. I learned a lot from him and hopefully will continue to."