Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Scouting The 2014 NFL Draft: Blake Bortles

Now that college football has officially ended for eight months, I can take a look at any quarterback that has graduated or declared for the NFL Draft. After already taking a look at LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Georgia's Aaron Murray, I decided to get out of the SEC and take a look at Central Florida's Blake Bortles. Bortles's buzz has grown as the year has gone on, and he is currently being talked about as a top five pick. I will admit that I didn't watch a ton of Central Florida this year, but I did take the time to look at his games against Penn State, their lone loss against South Carolina, and the Fiesta Bowl against Baylor.

The first thing that stood out was the way he opened up the game against Penn State. He was able to just set and fire when he sees an open receiver. Check out the first five passes from the Penn State game.

This is partially good play calling, but he has good patience, gives his receiver a chance to run routes and hits them. It is always good when a quarterback is making it look easy out there.

Another thing I loved is his mobility within the pocket. He sees the blitz, and instead of scrambling outside, he waits for the blitzer to get close, and just steps up, sets his feet and fires the ball down the field.

This was excellent awareness from the quarterback and something that I rarely see at the college level. Guys are either unable to move within the pocket while keeping their eyes down the field, or they bail out of the pocket and cut down their options or run into more trouble. This is an essential skill for professional quarterbacks, and Bortles shows that he can handle pressure. The receiver makes a nice catch, but Bortles gives his teammate an opportunity to make that play. 

Speaking of his eyes, he also uses them to manipulate defenses, as he shows on this touchdown pass. He scans through his reads over the middle of the field, then quickly sets his feet before throwing the outlet pass to his running back who is able to make it into the end zone.

If he looks in that direction any earlier, the defense can break on the pass and has a good chance of stopping the running back from making it into the end zone. Since he keeps the coverage towards the middle of the field, it gives his back enough space to make it into the end zone. It's subtle but still incredibly important. 

He is also really good at leading his receivers and letting the make plays, as you will see here against South Carolina.

That is just a great ball that gives his receiver the opportunity to make people miss and turn it into a huge play. I also want to bring up that Central Florida was very close to making things very interesting for the last year of the BCS. They very easily could have beaten South Carolina in this game, as a bad play call of a wide receiver pass turned into a pick that set up a touchdown for South Carolina. This would later be part of the reason Bortles tried to force a ball into the end zone from the 27 that led to an interception. This offense was very good, and they very nearly went undefeated this season.

He has good mobility. I don't think it would be wise to base him in a zone-read offense, but that is an option to mix teams up and keep them honest.

He is definitely a legitimate athlete.

I am finally done (for now) gushing over his positive qualities, because it is not all perfect for Bortles. He really needs to clean up the consistency of his footwork. When it's on, his throws are great, but he has no chance of success when he gets sloppy. This is a play where he does a great job of moving his feet as he looks around the field. Unfortunately, his footwork fails him. From the end zone cam, you can see that his feet are aimed behind the receiver, and that is where the ball ends up.

When the quarterback is trying to fit things into tight windows, everything needs to be perfect. If he cleans up his footwork on this throw, this is a play that can end in six points. It usually is quite good, but finding a little more consistency will be paramount to his success.

The other big concern I had was his deep ball accuracy. This is a play you need to complete as his receiver had a step, but he badly underthrew the football.

This was also something that showed up in the Fiesta Bowl where the coverage was over the top, but he still threw it deep and it got picked off. So, if there is one major concern with him, it's his ability to attack down the field. Still, on other plays, he has shown he has the ability, and I don't believe that arm strength will be an issue, so I think he has the tools to improve in this area.

One thing that bothered me a bit was his motion. On some passes, he really throws his entire body into it. It's very busy, but he was able to still make accurate throws while doing it. He also contorted his body in weird situations when throwing the ball, but he maintained accuracy through all of this. It's not always pretty, but as long as it is effective, this is a minor issue.

One more positive note, as this is one of my favorite throws, even though it is a simple crossing pattern. It shows nearly everything good about Bortles in just one play.

He takes the snap, scans the field, makes the decision to throw the ball, squares his feet, fires a ball that splits defenders while perfectly leading his receiver across the middle. He does this all in about two seconds.

I will admit that I came in very skeptical of the talents of Blake Bortles. Then I watched him carve up three different defenses that can all be considered at least pretty good. He consistently finds the open receiver, and makes smart decisions. His ability to handle pressure while keeping his eyes down field is something that is incredibly underrated in prospects (cough Blaine Gabbert cough), and although the arm is not a cannon, it looks to be good enough to make all the throws at the next level. He's not perfect, but I think he has the potential to be a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. That sort of potential makes him worth a gamble in the top five picks of this draft. 

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