One of the most discussed prospects throughout the college football seasons is Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, and there’s a good chance he’ll remain prevalent in conversations leading up to the NFL Draft in May.
In his second year as a starter, Bortles emerged from the unknown to be considered a top two or three quarterback in this year’s draft class. He threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns, completing almost 68 percent of his passing en route to earning a first-round draft from an NFL Draft Advisory Board.
Bortles was a difference-maker for the Golden Knights, lifting the team to a nine-game winning streak including the program’s first BCS bowl game where the team upset of Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. And that’s not a surprise.
Against Baylor, which features its fair share of NFL-caliber defenders, Bortles went 20-of-31 for 301 yards with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. More important than his final stat line, however, was his team’s final score. After Bortles tossed two picks in as many drives in the second quarter, he bounced back to lead the Golden Knights on scoring drives in four of their next six drives. That’s the sort of poise and competitiveness numbers cannot measure.
Scouts are impressed with Bortles’ size and arm strength, as well as his field vision and natural football IQ. They see a lot of underrated athleticism in him as a ball carrier, comparable to the skill-set of Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker. He does need to improve on his accuracy, though, and perhaps improving his footwork and throwing mechanics will allow him to get better in that regard.
Bortles is considered the No. 12 overall prospect and third-best quarterback, according to CBS Sports. ESPN Scouts Inc. rates him No. 15 and Mel Kiper Jr pins him at No. 10, but both agree he’s the No. 2 quarterback in between Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville (No. 1) and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M (No. 3). ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay suggests Bortles has the highest ceiling of any of the top three quarterback prospects.
Where Bortles will land will be the most interesting discussion. Some mock drafts have Bridgewater or Manziel falling No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans and first-year head coach Bill O’Brien, but let’s not count out Bortles just yet. In an interview with Houston Sports Radio 610, O’Brien said Bortles stood out — for his accuracy, his versatility and his preparation — so it may be too early to rule out Bortles to Houston.
Should the Texans pass, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns are potential landing spots. The Jags may have the option of nabbing South Carolina standout Jadeveon Clowney, should he be available, while the Browns are reportedly very interested in drafting the former Heisman Trophy winner.
If the Browns wind up not making a draft-day move for Manziel, though, Bortles is certainly a fit. And the next most likely landing spot is to the Minnesota Vikings four picks later at No. 8. But if none of those quarter-thirsty teams select Bortles, he could fall to the Browns with the No. 26 overall pick or even be a steal in the second round.