Scouting Report: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Plenty of substance to go with the hype
As I’ve mentioned a few times this year, the 2014 draft class is loaded with polarizing players. Today’s prospect, Blake Bortles, is definitely one of them. He’s a player we’ve been wrestling with for months ... and after watching all of his individual game film, I have to say I am a bit of a believer. I think my personal come-to-Bortles moment was when I realized that I should be evaluating him as I do a lot of other unconventional players. The Bortles-Manziel thing sort of reminds me of Ali-Frazier. Frazier became the favorite of traditionalists simply because he wasn’t Ali. It seems Bortles has become the conservative or the conventional choice simply because he isn’t Johnny Manziel. The trick, as far as evaluation is concerned, is that Bortles is far from conventional himself.
It is true that Bortles possesses many of the traditional NFL characteristics scouts look for ... principally, height and weight. However, he’s also prone to improvisation much like Manziel. Bortles likes to run, and, like Manziel, Bortles doesn’t only run when plays break down. He runs by choice and by feel--it’s an embedded part of his repertoire. He’s good at it too; like Johnny Football, Blake is a very original player. And once I started evaluating him as such, I began to like him more. I say this because, as with Manziel, Bortles has a chance to do some very good things ... if he goes to a team that has an open mind.
To get the most out of this player, you need to embrace the skills that make him special, versus trying to coach him up to play like his more conventional peers. For example, if you try to coach Bortles to play like Philip Rivers, you are almost guaranteed to end up with a finished product that is worth less than Philip Rivers is.
You need to let Blake be Blake just like you need to let Johnny be Johnny. Don’t try to take the bark out of the dog. Just teach him to best use his unique skills.
I was impressed with Bortles at the Combine, where he showed a capacity to deal with stupid questions. That could be important since NFL beat writers will now be a part of his day-to-day existence. When asked how he can inspire a fan base and whether he has a “wow factor”, Bortles had this to say. “I got no idea. I have no clue how I could inspire a fan base.” I'm not sure I could script a better response.
Bortles, to his credit, did all the drills in Indianapolis, and it seems to have served him well. “I want to compete. That’s kind of who I am, that’s what I want to do. I look forward to doing everything here.” When asked if he felt he belonged with the other elite athletes, Bortles expressed confidence. "Yeah, one hundred percent I do. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m invited. I believe that I can compete with any guy here, and that’s why I’m doing everything I’m doing. That’s why I’m throwing, that’s why I’m running, doing all this stuff. Why wait till your Pro Day when you have an opportunity to make your first impression here in Indianapolis?”
He did indeed make an impression. Here’s are Bortles Combine numbers.
- Height - 6’5”
- Weight - 232
- Hands - 9/38”
- 40 - 4.93
- Vertical Jump - 32.5”
- Broad Jump - 115”
- 3-Cone Drill - 7.08
- 20 YD Shuttle - 4.21
All of Blake’s agility numbers were in the fat part of the curve for his position and that’s impressive for a man who weighs 232 pounds. He performed well though we were hoping for a bit better in the forty. The 4.93 might sell his speed a tad short. According to most reports, Bortles was very good at his Pro Day as well.
Let’s take a look at the things we like about Bortles.
- Size - It may be boring to hear at this point, but Bortles has prototypical size for the position. He is built to take more punishment than smaller quarterbacks and he’s got no issues seeing over the action on the line of scrimmage. It’s a legitimate advantage.
- Running ability - His size and agility plus a rugged mentality make Bortles a force to reckon with when he turns into a ball carrier. This is one place where the Ben Roethlisberger comparisons hold up, though it’s worth mentioning that Big Ben has a material edge in terms of speed. Roethlisberger ran a 4.74 at the Combine back in the day.
- Arm - While it’s usually far from pretty, Bortles has a pretty big arm. The release lacks consistency and the ball wobbles more often than not. Having said that, Bortles can make some impressive arm throws at times. He could definitely use a few mechanical tweaks and it should be centered around finding a consistent motion and release.
- Footwork - I’ve heard a lot of people give Bortles negative grades for his footwork. I’m going to go the other way. I think he’s got a good base to work from. He needs some minor tinkering, but he’s ahead of most of the kids in this year’s class from what I see on film.
- Improvisation and eyes - These two are linked. Bortles sees the field pretty well and he has good instincts when the play breaks down. He can make things happen and he’s very good at keeping his focus downfield.
- Pocket presence - I like how calm and cool Bortles is in the pocket and out of it as well. He’ll show some “happy feet” at times, but he’s mostly focused with eyes downfield where they ought to be.
- Production - Bortles was the AAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 and when you look at his statistics, you can see why.
Bortles’ last college game vs. Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
One of his bigger performances against Bill O’Brien and Penn State last season.
It may surprise some folks, but I’m a fan of Blake Bortles, especially from a fantasy perspective. The depth of the position will negatively affect both Bortles' and Manziel’s fantasy value, but they are the two passers I want in this draft class and it’s because they are more than just passers. You will get rushing scores and foot-points from both Blake and Johnny. And, as we’ve learned over the years, quarterbacks who get consistent foot-points have outstanding fantasy floors. Bortles' upside in this regard is outstanding. So, the key becomes getting him on the field and keeping him there.
Back to real football. While I see Manziel as a game-ready prospect, I see Bortles as a passer who would greatly benefit from some clipboard time. I say this because, while I think his footwork is grossly underrated, he does need to clean up his mechanics. The main issue is finding his best arm slot and then making it consistent. This is huge, because Bortles struggles more than we’d like with ball placement and that issue is directly connected to his inconsistent throwing mechanics. He could also use some work on his ball security. He has a tendency to carry the ball too low in the pocket. Bortles put the ball on the ground nine times in 2013, losing three.
As Bill Parcells used to say, some things that work in the dark get exposed in the light. Bortles strikes us as a guy who should do some work away from the bright lights. Maybe an Eli Manning scenario would be best. Maybe a Tom Brady scenario is needed if Blake needs more work. Either way, we feel Bortles would be well-served long term with a little bit of learning time. In reality, that’s unlikely to happen, because there’s a senseless, arbitrary, unwritten rule that says quarterbacks who are drafted high must play right away.
As far as grading is concerned, we are not as high on Bortles as a lot of evaluators are. We see him as a bit of a project and we don’t think you draft projects with elite picks. We see him as more of a mid-to-late first rounder with excellent long term potential.
As always, I’ll update the player after the draft to account for his luck when it comes to his new home. Hopefully, for Blake, he goes to a team that will get him on the field at the appropriate time versus rushing him. We’ll see.
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Other 2014 Scouting Reports:
- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A & M
- Dustin Vaughan, QB, West Texas A & M
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
- Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
- Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
- Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
- L'Damian Washington, WR, Missouri
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
- Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
- Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
- Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
- Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
- Terrance West, RB, Towson
- Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
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