Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida (HT: 6’5”, WT: 232 lbs)
First Round: Third Pick
NFL Comparison: Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans
+ Prototypical size at 6’5”, 232 lbs
+ Excellent pocket presence
+ Very good mobility in and outside of the pocket
+ Poised, confident leader who rises to the occasion
+ Throws well on the move
- Inconsistent footwork and weight transfer
- Somewhat of an elongated throwing motion
- Must do a better job of protecting the football
- Erratic deep accuracy
|6050||232||32 7/8"||9 3/8"|
|40-yd dash||10-yd split||Vert||Broad||3-Cone||Shuttle|
Staring Down the Barrel
At the next level, pocket presence makes or breaks young quarterbacks. Those who cannot function with the pocket collapsing are quick to fail. While his meteoric rise has led many to compare him to Blaine Gabbert, Bortles clearly separates himself in this category.
The term “pocket presence” encompasses not only a quarterback’s ability to climb and maneuver the pocket, but also the poise and toughness to make throws with defenders in his face. Taking big shots is inevitable for NFL pocket passers, and it is important to be able to keep a cool head under pressure.
On a consistent basis, Bortles has displayed the confidence and discipline to keep his eyes downfield even when staring down the metaphorical barrel of the gun. The following two passes highlight his ability to get rid of the ball in the nick of time and throw accurately, knowing he will be hit:
Against a four-man rush, he stands tall in the pocket on 3rd-and-11. The weak-side defensive end crosses the face of right guard Justin McCray as he slants toward the quarterback. Bortles’ focus never wavers as he throws a strike 40 yards downfield, outside the numbers and between two defenders, as he is being hit.
Now let's take a look at another big-time throw in the Golden Knights' biggest game of the season and quite possibly the history of the program:
This time, against Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he must deal with pressure coming from the edge. Off play action, he looks deep. The weak-side defensive end quickly applies pressure as he blows by both the tight end and running back. Bortles responds by resetting, aligning his feet and his hips to his intended target and delivering a perfect pass from the far hash to his receiver streaking down the left sideline.
It is this comfort in the pocket that will encourage scouts and decision-makers alike as they try to determine whether he can be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL.
Tackle Him While You Can
Something that immediately catches your eye when watching Bortles is how well he navigates a muddy pocket. Due to a combination of size and mobility he's able to both elude pass-rushers and break tackles. He demonstrates not only the ability to maneuver the pocket but also escape and make plays on the move.
This 2nd-and-9 play against Rutgers will serve to illustrate his elusiveness in the pocket. Within two seconds of receiving the snap, Bortles has two defenders bearing down on him quickly.
Johnson makes a poor read in pass protection as he slides to his left to pick up a blitzing cornerback, leaving the Scarlet Knights’ “Mike” linebacker unblocked to shoot the B-gap between the left guard and tackle. Additionally, right tackle Chris Martin has been quickly beaten around the edge by a stunting defensive tackle. What happens next is not something you will see from many quarterbacks in this class:
As the defenders close the gap, he spins to his left to avoid the linebacker and then shows tremendous reflexes to duck under the edge-rusher’s tackle. Before he is able to escape, he slips yet another tackle, this time a defensive tackle that has worked his way free. Once he is able to create some breathing room, his eyes shift downfield where he is able to pick out a target and deliver while rolling to his right. The play nets the Golden Knights 33 yards, though it could have easily been a loss due to less-than-stellar protection.
Much like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it is very important that defenders bring Bortles down while they have the opportunity to do so. He never gives up and has a knack for making plays outside of the pocket, as you will continue to see.
Surgical on the Move
While many quarterbacks are athletic and capable of eluding pressure, not all are able to keep a cool head on the move. Whether he is forced to roll to his left or right, Bortles demonstrates a knack for keeping his focus downfield and making good reads. His improvisational skill and scrambling ability create cracks in coverage and allow him to hurt opponents with his arm.
On this 3rd-and-7 against Akron, he appears to channel his inner Johnny Manziel. The ball slips from his hands as he tries to throw a screen to his running back in the flat while defenders are quick to converge. Bortles steps up into the pocket to avoid this pressure before stiff-arming another defender and sprinting out to his right. Again, as soon as escapes, his eyes instantly return downfield.
As he rolls right, he waits for Zips cornerback Malachi Freeman (No. 20) to commit to the outside receiver. When his desired throwing lane appears, he tosses it accurately across his body to J.J. Worton who has enough running room to make it in for a touchdown.
This read while on the move is exactly the type of thing that will win him adoration in NFL front offices. It is one thing to be able to move, but another entirely to be able to move and think.
Work in Progress
Despite all of the positive attributes I have chosen to harp on, Bortles is still limited by mechanical inconsistencies. Lapses in footwork and failure to transfer his weight properly often lead to erratic velocity and accuracy. What’s more, he has an elongated delivery that can create timing glitches. He has the necessary arm and is capable of throwing with precise placement, but he is unable to maximize his abilities at this point due to those mechanical hiccups.
It is worth noting that Bortles is, in this sense, a bit behind the eight ball compared to his peers. Mechanical issues can be corrected much more easily than other flaws, but if thrown to the wolves early it is possible he will fail to overcome bad habits.
Many feel he may have benefited from staying an extra season in college, where he could have further refined his craft.