Sometimes NFL teams can be sold on upside, potential and what the future may hold, and that way of thinking is what Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles will be selling to the Houston Texans.
It's not that Bortles is a long-term project, an unrefined passer in dire need of seasoning before he'd be capable of competent play at the professional level. It's just that the perceived ceiling of the strong-armed, 6'4", 230-pound signal-caller may in fact eclipse that of which he is presently capable.
The 22-year-old Oviedo, Fla., native appeared in 37 games over the past three seasons for the Knights and took the reins as the full-time starter at the outset of the 2012 campaign.
Although he won two bowl games in his college career—the most recent a 52-42 Fiesta Bowl triumph over Baylor—there's a good chance the most important game of Bortles' tenure at UCF occurred on Sept. 14, 2013, against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
He completed 20 of 27 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns and one interception en route to a 34-31 road victory against Bill O'Brien's squad. Now the head coach of the Texans, O'Brien got a firsthand look at Bortles' abilities.
The performance was brilliant enough that it might have had an indelible impact on the former New England Patriots quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Here's what O'Brien said about Bortles after that game, per Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:
Anytime you have a quarterback like [Bortles], who is accurate, has a strong arm, is big and can stand in the pocket and can run, it is a difficult challenge. He played a great game tonight and all the credit to him. I think he is a heck of a player. I didn't get a chance to meet him or say hello to him, but I think he is a heck of a player.
Furthermore, Bortles' gradual improvement at the collegiate ranks is encouraging:
|Blake Bortles' Collegiate Career|
|Completions||Attempts||Completion %||Yards||YPA||TDs||INTs||Passer Rating|
While he isn't a Johnny Manziel-caliber escape artist—no quarterback in the 2014 class is—Bortles offers versatility by way of athleticism, proficient scrambling capabilities and experience keeping the football on the read-option.
He logged 87 carries in each of his final two seasons at UCF, had five games with at least 60 yards rushing and scored 15 rushing touchdowns in his career. In the BCS win over Art Briles' Bears, Bortles toted the rock eight times for 93 yards, which included a 15-yard touchdown scamper that extended UCF's lead to 42-28 early in the fourth quarter.
While size may not have any correlation to injury prevalence, the fact that 6'5", 245-pound Cam Newton has remained unscathed in his NFL career despite carrying the football 364 times in three years while the 6'2", 217-pound Robert Griffin III has found himself on the injury list often could help how Bortles is viewed.
With a frame larger and bulkier than the other top quarterbacks in his class, Bortles may be seen as the signal-caller with the most enticing body type and skill-set combo to become a viable and relatively low-risk running threat at the next level.
Then there's the ever-important intellectual aspect of the QB position.
Thought it's difficult to quantify one's cognitive abilities while deciphering coverages, making proper reads and ultimately throwing to the proper target on time, many have compared Bortles to Andrew Luck.
Everything from his size to his stride in the open field to his throwing motion, pocket movement and arm strength:
@SI_PeterKing I really like Bortles. Reminds me of Andrew Luck athletically. Needs to clean up his footwork, but he's aggressive and smart.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 8, 2014
Bortles' mobility, frame and poise are all very reminiscent of Andrew Luck.— Ross Jones (@RossJonesFOX) January 2, 2014
But watch Blake Bortles and tell me that he's not very comparable *aesthetically* to Andrew Luck coming out of Stanford.— RGTree (@BeauxJaxson) September 25, 2013
Someone to keep an eye on, #UCF QB Blake Bortles. Size, arm talent, similar runner to Andrew Luck.— AndrewParsons:Expert (@ap575) May 23, 2013
And those are just a few of the tweets from respected draft evaluators who've noticed a Luck resemblance in Bortles.
The Texans know all about the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
He's 3-1 against Houston in his young NFL career with nine touchdowns and only one interception.
Russ Lande of Sports on Earth mentioned this in a recent column about what the Texans might do at No. 1 overall:
According to trusted sources, the Texans are initially leaning towards taking either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel with the top pick. Although Manziel would obviously be the choice of owner Bob McNair, O'Brien is not sold that Manziel possesses the work ethic and intangibles necessary to be the face of a franchise.
He went on to write, "selecting Bortles with the first pick makes the most sense if they are not completely comfortable with Manziel's maturity and mental makeup."
Bortles' offense at UCF prominently featured short, horizontal throws and emphasized yards after the catch, which aided his stat line and completion percentage.
Due to what he wasn't asked to do in college, teams may feel he's behind in more traditional aspects of playing quarterback in the NFL. However, the tape clearly shows a prototypically sized signal-caller, who, in most cases, makes sound decisions, is an impressive athlete and usually delivers an accurate football.
With some fine-tuning from a head coach who worked with Tom Brady, Blake Bortles should be regarded as the quarterback with the highest ceiling in the class. His inherent potential might be so alluring to the Houston Texans that they can't possibly pass on him with the first pick.