Blake Bortles will expect to hear his name called in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. In fact, he could hear his name called within the first five picks.
But in such a bizarre and unpredictable draft, he could fall much further than that. It's even possible, although unlikely, that he could drop into the second round.
How could a player's draft stock be so hard to pin down? Well, in the case of Bortles, it comes from the fact that he looks the part of the prototypical quarterback but lacks some polish.
Whether a team sees him as a player in need of some tweaking or a full-on project will likely dictate where he falls in this draft.
If you only look at Bortles on paper, it's hard not to like him. According to NFL.com, he stands 6'5" and weighs 232 pounds. His 4.93 40-yard dash wasn't terribly impressive, but he's more Ben Roethlisberger than he is Robert Griffin III anyway and his 32.5-inch vertical leap should give you an indication of his athleticism.
He looks the part of an NFL quarterback.
"When they walk into a room, one looks like a quarterback. The other two? Not so much," one unnamed general manager told Pete Prisco of CBS when comparing Bortles to Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.
That pretty much tells you all you need to know.
Flip on the tape and you'll see some great things. He can extend plays by shedding would-be tacklers and he throws a pretty ball. He's very effective throwing on the move, hence the Roethlisberger comparison, and seemingly has the capacity to learn the NFL's more complex offenses.
If there was Tinder for quarterbacks, you'd hit the heart button on Bortles.
Despite that huge potential, there are concerns. Chris B. Brown of Grantland outlines one of them:
Far too often, though, Bortles’s throwing motion looks plain weird. Like a golf swing or a jump shot, a quarterback’s throwing motion should be a single, fluid movement. Bortles, however, often steps without transferring his weight, or transfers his weight but only afterward pulls his throwing arm through. These issues surface most frequently when Bortles is facing pressure, because although he’s naturally poised, his mechanics are unrefined and thus break down when he’s under duress. Against South Carolina’s constant pressure, for example, Bortles delivered a flurry of off-target throws.
Some evaluators have dismissed these concerns as a “footwork issue” that NFL coaching will remedy, but I’m not so sure. Bortles’s upper body presents just as many issues as his lower body, and getting all his movements in sync will be no small task. The team that drafts Bortles will likely need to rebuild his entire throwing motion.
Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth breaks down a few of Bortles' other issues:
Bortles tries to wheel and scramble to his left often. He is fast enough to do it in the American Athletic Conference, but he is not Randall Cunningham, and that move will result in a 12-yard sack in the NFL.
Ball security in the pocket is a minor issue, as Bortles gets stripped easily and sometimes just loses the football on his own. Bortles is very willing to stand in the pocket and deliver the football before the hit comes, which is a mixed blessing. He won't wilt under a pass rush, but he may also take too many hits, and his tendency to not step into throws is exacerbated by all the passing he does with defenders in his face.
Of course, sometimes the best people to ask about a prospect are players he faced. If nothing else, they certainly offer a different perspective.
Dan Duggan of NJ.com asked three players from Rutgers, which faced Central Florida this season, to break down Bortles' game. Keep in mind that Rutgers also faced Bridgewater and David Carr this year, so they have some perspective on these prospects.
- Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton: "The best one to me was Bortles. I just felt like not only was he a great player, but he made his team a lot better. They were a good team, don't get me wrong, but I just feel like he was the quarterback who made his team a lot better."
- Cornerback Nadir Barnwell: "Bortles really amazed me. He definitely made a lot of plays, broke a lot of tackles and extended a lot of plays for them."
- Linebacker Steve Longa: "He's a very good quarterback. There's nothing I can say about him that's negative. He just does everything right. When we blitzed from the edge, you think he doesn't see you and then he just rolls out and you miss the tackle. He got me one time with that. I thought I had a sack, but I didn't wrap up. He's a big guy and he can run and he can throw the ball."
So, where does Bortles end up?
Without any consideration for draft boards or value, teams like the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals would all make sense.
However, the draft is far more complex than simple team needs.
Houston isn't going to take Bortles at No. 1. Jacksonville is a possibility, but it could wait until the second round for a quarterback if it prefers more talented players than Bortles when it picks at No. 3. The Browns seem likelier to go after Manziel if they take a quarterback at No. 4.
The Raiders added Matt Schaub in the offseason and have a plethora of other needs. Ditto for the Bucs with Josh McCown.
The Vikings are a legitimate fit. So too are the Cardinals, if Bortles drops that far.
It's tricky, though. Peter King of MMQB.com and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport don't see a natural fit for Bortles:
In his mock @SI_PeterKing says “I couldn’t find a Bortles lover,” has him @ 26. I have same dilemma. Can’t find the team that has him in 1st— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 6, 2014
On the other hand, NFL Media PR notes that Mike Mayock of NFL Network thinks he'll be off the board pretty quickly:
Mayock: "I think we’re going to see Manziel and/or Bortles go in the top eight."— NFL Media PR (@InsideNFLMedia) April 30, 2014
Take a stroll on Twitter by searching "Bortles" and you'll be able to find rumors linking him to a number of teams, reasons why he should be a top-10 pick, reasons why he should drop, reasons why he's the best quarterback in the draft, reasons why he isn't, arguments for his athleticism and size, arguments against his throwing motion, and other aspects of his game.
What you won't find is a consensus about where he should be drafted or how good he'll be. Sure, he'll likely be a first-round pick, but at what spot? Sure, the potential is high, but will he put it all together?
You need only to look at Bortles' measurables to see that he is a sexy quarterback prospect to coaches and scouts alike.
He's not sexy the way Jonny Manziel—had Johnny Football shown up to his pro day in a leather jacket, would anybody have been shocked?—or Bridgewater—what with that beautiful mind of his—are.
No, Bortles is the all-American boy of quarterback prospects. He just so happens to be the all-American boy with some mechanical issues.
Where he is drafted will ultimately be determined by whether a team is more enamored with the former or concerned with the latter.