Before the 2013 college football season, Blake Bortles was sleeper for most draftniks, because his physical tools were well-known despite him not being anything resembling a household name. That all changed this season with the success of the UCF Knights, as Bortles put up big numbers and even bigger game-winning drives this past season. After initially looking like a lock to stay in school and hone his raw skills, the hype train left the station so quickly that Bortles became a top-ten lock instead of a “sleeper” QB. He would have been crazy to stay in school after the mock drafts started putting him in the top five, but there are legitimate worries that the hype has exceeded the tape with Bortles.
Teddy Bridgewater is still unquestionably my number one quarterback in this draft class, and I have mixed opinions on the other three in the “big four”. Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, and Bortles all have great physical tools, but they also have question marks that prevent them from being locked-in franchise QBs. They are great franchise QB targets, though, and their sheer potential makes them all worth top ten picks.
First, let’s look at Bortles’s numbers from this past season:
- Completed 67.8% of his passes for 3,581 yards, averaging 9.4 yards per attempt with 25 TDs and 9 INTs
- Had the 9th-best passer rating in CFB last year
- Per Second Round Stats’s Greg Peshek, among the “big four” QB prospects, only Derek Carr had a lower amount of yards per completion that weren’t the result of YAC.
- Also per SRS, had the second-best completion percentage under pressure and against the blitz
- Has all the physical tools to be a franchise QB, as he has the arm strength to challenge any defense downfield
- Easily possesses the most mental toughness among all QBs in the class, evidenced by his play in the clutch
- Poised in the pocket, won’t panic and will take a hard hit after making a pass
- Good sense of the pocket and pressure, which allows him to use his mobility as a “plus” and not an overly-used asset that turns into a detriment
- Knows how to make the easy pass
- Always keeps his eyes on his receivers
- Has more than enough accuracy to be a legit starting QB in this league
- Great running ability due to solid speed, great strength for the position, and nice vision as a rusher
- Terrific intangibles
- Everything is there for him to blossom but looks like a guy who won’t break out until his third year
- Has plenty of arm strength, but he doesn’t have a howitzer a la Derek Carr
- Very raw QB who ideally would have stayed in school another year
- Spotty decision-making at times, better at pre-snap reads than post-snap reads
- Stares down receivers
- Almost never read through progressions
- Inconsistent accuracy on deep passes
- Usually made simple throws at UCF
- Poor footwork, needs to be coached up technique-wise
- Generally could improve his accuracy
- You can tell exactly where he is going to throw it by looking at his eyes, which is extremely worrisome
- Declined in performance more than normally against better teams
- Decision-making, accuracy, and technique issues could lead to early struggles, especially with INTs
There are a lot of comparisons out there for Blake Bortles, as you’ll see some compare him to Jake Locker, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, or a mini-Andrew Luck. Each scouting report has a wide array of comparisons for him, and I’ll try to shy away from those, especially since the Big Ben comparisons are quite far-fetched. Bortles’s draft stock is largely based on upside, but he’s much more polished than the other “upside” guys who are late-round prospects. Carr and Bortles are pretty similar QBs, and I don’t think there’s much separation among the three QBs behind Bridgewater; it’s almost a matter of personal preference and even more of a matter of scheme.
In an ideal world, Bortles goes to a team like the Arizona Cardinals where he sits on the bench behind Carson Palmer in his first year, learns under Bruce Arians, and fits a favorable scheme with star talent around him (Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Andre Ellington). While Bortles can make up for a subpar offensive line (that’s the mini-Luck part of him) due to his pocket presence and poise, I think he needs to have talented wideouts around him who can get open and make things happen after the catch. This is a guy who should hopefully have a strong offensive coordinator to help him out, because Bortles could find it difficult to transition to the NFL initially. Since he stares down his receivers and barely had to progress through reads in college, he could throw around 20 interceptions as a rookie but could also make up for it with his raw talent alone.
Bortles is well-worth a first-round pick in this year’s draft class, and I would be surprised if he fell outside of the top ten. But teams picking Bortles need to know that he’s as raw as some draft analysts say he is, but his intangibles, mental toughness, and coachability mitigate that rawness. With the right WRs and coaches around him, Bortles could turn into a true top ten QB. He has a world of upside, but I’m sure the same can be said for Carr and Manziel. As a rusher, he isn’t as electrifying as Manziel, but he can get solid yardage and certainly has the size to withstand big hits (he took some tough shots at UCF). He’s not as accurate as some people think, nor is he as good of a decision-maker as the numbers state, but it’s not like he is bad at either. Again, I wouldn’t expect Bortles to have immediate success, but nobody should write him off if he struggles in year one or year two as well. There’s a big jump between the competition he’ll face in the NFL and the competition he faced in college, so don’t be surprised if he does have a rough rookie year. That said, guys like Bortles are clearly drafted to succeed in the future with good coaching, so hopefully he finds himself in the right situation with a patient team. Due to the Jacksonville Jaguars prudent, talented coaching staff and front office, as well as their WRs, I could see the Jags as a nice landing spot if they actually like him.