Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida (6-4, 230)
With his size, athleticism and production, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles has understandably caught the unbridled attention of the draft community over the course of the 2013 season. Merely an afterthought entering the year, the redshirt junior completed 67.8% of his passes for 3,581 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his second season as the Knights’ starter, while leading the team to victory in their first-ever BCS Bowl game (a 52-42 upset win over then-No. 6-ranked Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl).
Bortles undeniably possesses a great deal of potential but, while his play has duly excited the quarterback-thirsty media, it has also widely divided scouts. Is he a can’t-miss prospect at the top of the draft, or a developmental project who would have arguably been better served by staying in college for another year? While the game tape can’t quite predict the future, it can certainly make it somewhat easier to decipher just how tough or easy a transition Bortles will have to the pro game.
This is where Bortles and UCF did most of their damage in 2013, as nearly half his throws were under five yards (23% coming on screens). He delivers in the short game with poise and accuracy and seems fully capable of making plays under duress. He will sometimes fall away from his throws but he is not distracted by on-coming pass rushers and maintains his focus to complete the play. His adversaries Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr may just have the edge here when it comes to completion percentage but Bortles is certainly not far behind. – 8/10
Bortles generally shows good touch and accuracy on intermediate passes but he has also had some issues trying to throw receivers open with placement and anticipation, forcing them to slow or reach wide for the ball. If he’s a going to be a good/great quarterback and not simply a mediocre one then he’ll have to prove he can make these types of throws which are a staple of any modern NFL offense. – 7/10
The UCF offense doesn’t ask Bortles to pass deep very often but there are plenty of throws where he shows excellent touch down the seam to fit the ball between the linebacker and safety over the top. Though relatively unproven, he may well be one of the better deep-passers in the 2014 class, but honing his footwork and mechanics will also go a long way towards refining things in this area of his game. – 7/10
Throwing on the Run
When you hear comparisons between Bortles and Jake Locker, this, combined with their similar builds and athleticism, is predominantly the reason why. He’s proved himself to be a dangerous thrower on the move, demonstrating good velocity and maintaining accuracy when rolling to his right or left, while his impressive combination of size, strength and athleticism also allows him to extend the play when the pocket breaks down. He does however have a tendency to let his mechanics get sloppy, leading to some passes drifting high or wide of their intended receiver. – 8/10
While his arm strength may be overrated by some, Bortles can certainly make every NFL throw, with the zip to hit tight windows on short and intermediate passes or fire deep outs from the opposite hash. However, due to his questionable footwork and mechanics, he can be very erratic – looking like he can drive the ball downfield with ease at times, while on other occasions seemingly struggling to even hit receivers on 15+ yard passes. – 7/10
Bortles has no problems facing the likes of Akron or Florida International but it’s when he comes up against superior defences playing more complex coverage schemes such as South Carolina that his decision making can be called into question. He has shown he can go through a progression and find the open guy, with good field vision, but there are also many times when he will stare down his primary target and you rarely see him look off a receiver and come back to another. – 7/10
Bortles’ throwing motion and release is a little longer and slower than the ideal but it’s at least adequate for the NFL. His delivery can get a bit ‘sidearmy’ at times but when he steps into his throws properly he has the arm action and torque to put his body into the pass. The bigger problem however is his footwork, which can get very sloppy. He’s not Bambi on ice but there are simply a lot of occasions when he doesn’t set his feet and ends up throwing off balance or off his back foot. They’re problems which are rectifiable but are also the types of issues which will hurt him in the eyes of NFL evaluators. – 6.5/10
Bortles is not a Johnny Manziel-type runner but he’s a very athletic mover, who can manoeuvre around the pocket with ease and pick up big chunks of yardage with his legs if needs be. He’s not especially elusive and isn’t going to win too many foot races downfield but he can use his size and strength in Roethlisberger-like fashion and should certainly be considered a dual-threat. – 8/10
Bortles seems to have a good feel for managing the chaos of the pocket and is comfortable taking the snap from the shotgun or under center. He reads the pressure well but you’d like to see him step into his throws more regularly, as he does have a habit of flushing to the outside too early. Ultimately though, he shows enough patience and poise to get the job done. – 7/10
Aside from those concerns already mentioned, plenty of people seem to have worries about the level of competition Bortles has faced in college, though he has played to a high level when coming up against tougher opposition. The harder test will in fact be adapting to a pro-style offense – something UCF’s has been incorrectly labelled as. In reality, the offense he has been running is more typical of the college spread, with a lot of screens and plenty of zone read concepts. That’s not really so tough a transition for today’s NFL but it’s a point to consider nevertheless. Otherwise, Bortles has been hailed as a high-character guy, with a strong football IQ, who’s delivered in ‘clutch’ situations. That all may sound horrendously clichéd, but they’re the type of things which teams will put a lot of value on when it comes to the evaluation process. – 7/10
Considering the number of QB-needy teams picking towards the top of this year’s draft, it’s easy to envisage Bortles becoming a top 10 pick come May. He’s certainly an extremely intriguing prospect with a great deal of potential but, watching his 2013 season, it’s still hard not to see him as a very raw product who could have benefited from another year in college. He does flash enough skills to suggest that perhaps he could surprise in the same way Ryan Tannehill did year-one, though I’d be far more inclined to label him a bit of a developmental project rather than an NFL-ready starter. – Pro Comparison: Drew Stanton
72.5/100 – Early-Second (but he’ll likely go much higher on draft day)