Pro Days: Blake Bortles 'solid,' footwork better in scripted session
Blake Bortles' startling ascent from relative unknown to potential No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick stayed on course with one long-time NFL scout at UCF's pro day characterizing the quarterback's workout as a 'very solid performance overall.'
Blake Bortles' startling ascent from relative unknown to potential No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick stayed on course with one long-time NFL scout at Central Florida's pro day Wednesday characterizing the quarterback's workout as a "very solid performance overall."
The question now is whether the relatively raw Bortles has shown enough to leap past NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated passer, Teddy Bridgewater, in the minds of NFL teams. Bridgewater is coming off an inconsistent showing at his pro day Monday.
Another high-ranking scout at Bortles' workout gave the throwing session a "B" on a typical A-F scale, acknowledging Bortles' "good" accuracy on underneath passes but also questioning his deep ball accuracy after several of the quarterback's final throws sailed over the head of his intended targets.
The majority of his misses during the scripted throwing routine were either drops from his receivers or overthrows on deep balls.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, whose team is thought likely to select a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick, was complimentary of Bortles' performance.
"I thought it was a good day for him," Bradley told Jaguars.com, which streamed the workout online.
"There are always things, for him, I'm sure he'd like to do better, but I thought it was a good workout."
Bortles began stretching his right arm at approximately 2 p.m. ET and started actually throwing approximately 30 minutes later.
The majority of his early throws were touch passes, a few of which hung in the air and forced receivers to wait on the ball. Most were thrown accurately, allowing receivers to run after the catch easily. Receivers occasionally had to reach high outside of their frame to make tough grabs.
Rather than build momentum as he did in UCF's thrilling comeback win over Bridgewater's Louisville team in October, Bortles' workout finished with several of his deep throws sailing too far over the head of his intended targets.
The inability to connect on long throws won't necessarily hurt the quarterback's stock with scouts, as he showed good touch and trajectory on the passes.
It was clear that Bortles wanted to demonstrate his comfort in moving about the pocket, slipping past a coach directing the action as well as avoiding objects thrown toward his feet. He did not take snaps from an actual center but took three-, five- and seven-step drops as well as mimicking the shotgun before throwing passes.
Because his footwork is considered an area of concern for the young quarterback, the improvement shown in this area is significant.
A few passes to his right were thrown low, one of which (a quick comeback) was the first incompletion of the day.
Two of Bortles' best throws on the day were actually dropped by his receivers. One came after play-action and a brief rollout to his left in which a well-thrown 20-yard pass that hit his receiver in hands was simply dropped. The next play, Bortles attempted to hit a running back on a wheel route down the right sideline. This pass also bounced off the hands of his intended target.
Velocity was not an issue for Bortles. The ball doesn't necessarily explode out of his hand but when Bortles decided to let it rip, the ball sizzled through the air. Several of Bortles' best throws on the day were intermediate targets down the seam and to the sidelines.
Due to a blend of size, athleticism and arm talent, Bortles is widely regarded as the quarterback with the highest upside in the 2014 class, and he is projected as the No. 1 overall pick to the Houston Texans by NFLDraftScout.com analyst Dane Brugler.
Bortles officially measured in at 6-feet-4 and 3/4, 229 pounds on Wednesday, apparently shrinking slightly since the ombine, where he was listed at 6-5 even and 232 pounds.
Scouts won't quibble over fractions of an inch. Instead, they'll focus on how well Bortles uses his unique traits. In addition to his height, Bortles possesses the well-built frame to handle the pounding of the NFL. He is also more athletic than his 4.93-second 40-yard dash at the combine might lead you to believe. Further, he possesses plenty of arm strength to make every throw, as well as developing accuracy to all levels of the field.
Most important, he uses these gifts well. Bortles stands strong in the pocket, showing poise and vision to exhaust all of his passing opportunities downfield rather than dropping his eyes as the rush intensifies. When he does run, Bortles shows some agility, power and surprising acceleration for a man of his size.
Despite his obvious talents, Bortles is considered a risky selection in large part due to inconsistent accuracy from the pocket. Throughout his collegiate career, Bortles showed a tendency to throw off-balance, sapping some of the velocity from his passes and impacting ball-placement.
He appeared much more under control during Wednesday's scripted workout.
Because much of the concern over Bortles is based on his technique, Wednesday's improvement after a solid (but unspectacular) combine workout could be enough to win over some of his critics.
Among those attending Wednesday's workout was a large contingent from the Texans, including general manager Rick Smith, head coach Bill O'Brien and quarterback coach George Godsey. The Vikings, owners of the No. 8 overall pick, were similarly invested, sending general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner to the workout.
The Texans and Vikings were among four franchises which met "extensively" with Bortles the day before his workout, according to respected draft analyst Tony Pauline. The Jaguars (who own the No. 3 overall pick) and Oakland Raiders (No. 5) also reportedly met with the quarterback on Tuesday.
Decision-makers for each of these clubs were represented at Wednesday's pro day, including Jacksonville's Bradley and general manager David Caldwell and Raiders head coach Dennis Allen. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also sent a strong contingent with head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht on hand.
According to a live video stream, there were 27 teams represented at the workout in all.
The other notable UCF prospect, junior running back Storm Johnson, unfortunately suffered a pulled hamstring on his first 40-yard dash attempt. He was clocked at 4.59 seconds according to the source, the same as his fastest hand-held time recorded in Indianapolis. Johnson, a talented running back with mid-round potential, did not participate in shuttle drills.
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