Few people expected Blake Bortles to enter the draft, even as late as November of last year. But with a spectacular junior season (67.8% copmletions, 9.4 yards per attempt, 25 TDs, 9 INTs) and a positive review from the NFL's draft advisory board, he shot up (internet) draft boards these past months.
Why he's a realistic option
Lately, the consensus among draftniks appears to be that Johnny Manziel will be the first quarterback off the board, which means there's at least a chance he falls to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at number seven. And they've made it clear they want to add a quarterback -- an athletic, mobile passer, and Blake Bortles certainly fits that description. If the Bucs fall in love with his physical talent, he's likely to be their first-round pick -- assuming he's available.
Why he fits the Buccaneers
Because he's big, mobile, has a decently strong arm and a decently quick release. Those are the elements the Bucs are looking for: the ability to move around behind the line of scrimmage, the ability to get the ball out quickly, and to get it to a receiver quickly. Bortles fits all of that.
In addition, Blake Bortles is not ready to play right now -- but the Bucs are not looking for a quarterback to play right now. They want someone who can sit and develop behind Josh McCown, though they haven't precluded a QB taking over McCown's job in a training camp competition. Bortles should have the time to work on his footwork, adjust to the speed and reads of an NFL offense (and defense), and learn all the nuances of the game. Or as many as he can, at least.
Bortles also has the pocket presence to thrive in the NFL. Many top quarterbacks fail because they can't handle pressure (see also: Blaine Gabbert), but that won't be an issue with Bortles. At times, his pocket movement is reminiscent of Andrew Luck's, as his size. The rest of his game isn't, though.
Bortles has some concerns: his footwork is inconsistent-to-bad, which leads to inaccurate and weak throws. He has no experience in a pro-style offense, which means he'll have to be taught a lot of things he doesn't know, and we don't know how he'll do. Bortles is talented, but he's also risky. Still, if the Bucs like his skillset and trust Jeff Tedford's skills as a quarterbacks coach, he'd certainly fit the team.
What others say about him
Bortles is not the best quarterback in this draft class. He's not nearly as ready to step in and play from day one as Bridgewater is, and he may not have the upside Johnny Manziel does. What he does have is size and quite a bit of developmental potential. He's an athletic quarterback who is extremely competitive and shows great leadership qualities. Those traits are all things the NFL loves. For that reason, it shouldn't surprise anyone if Bortles is the first quarterback off the board in May.
Sometimes, he looks like Big Ben Bortlesberger. Other times, he's Blaine Bortlebert. There is a wide gap between Ben Roethlisberger and Blaine Gabbert now, but there was not when each left college as big, athletic dudes who threw hard. The difference between champion and embarrassment is as much about nurture as nature, circumstance as skill.
Scouts and coaches watch Bortles film and see beautiful 30-yard downfield strikes in bunches, followed by hinky screen and flat passes and harder-than-they-should-be eight-yarders along the sidelines. The coaches reason that they can fix the short stuff by tightening the screws on Bortles' feet. With a little tinkering, Bortles becomes a great downfield passer who can run and distribute the ball. He has the two tools that cannot be coached, so why not coach the third one into him?
I am not going to deny that this player has talent, but I do feel that he would have been better served staying in college and developing his game. He is far from being ready to come into the NFL and play. There is too much inconsistency in his overall game. I question if he can become an eventual starter and win in the NFL. That doesn't mean he won't start for whoever drafts him, but as we all have seen the last five to six years, there have been MANY quarterbacks drafted with high hopes who haven't lived up to expectations. Right now, I would take Bridgewater, Manziel, McCarron, Derek Carr, David Fales and Brett Smith before I would take Bortles. I feel all of them are better passers and better prepared to play in the NFL
However, I do care about talent, potential, and team fit. Like Manuel, I view Bortles as a player with lessons to learn, but "unlearning" a lot of bad habits isn't one of them. He'd fit best on a team with a staff that sports a track record of success developing quarterbacks. It would be even better if he sat behind a veteran sold on aiding Bortles' long-term development.
If the Central Florida quarterback lands in this type of situation, he has shown enough feel for the game that he can develop into a capable NFL starter. He has the upside to lead a team to the playoffs and carry that team in the fourth quarter of games. Yet, if his development becomes a case of mostly self-directed study, Bortles could create knots in his game that become more difficult to untie later.
What's compelling about Bortles is his athleticism, a feel for managing the chaos of the pocket, flashes of pinpoint accuracy, and budding conceptual skill at manipulating defenses. Bortles most prominent struggles occur in three areas: complex coverage schemes common to the NFL, executing accurate throws outside the hash, and making consistent and mature decisions with regard to placement of targets.