By: James Johnson
The Jacksonville Jaguars sent shock-waves through the city and league as they drafted Blake Bortles with the #3 overall pick Thursday night in the 2014 NFL Draft. The selection came as a surprise to most (including myself) as it was believed that the Jags were leaning towards taking Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, or even another QB in former Heisman trophy recipient Johnny Manziel. But Dave Caldwell, being the wizard he is, thought otherwise and decided to pull the trigger on the nearby Oviedo Florida native.
Tapes of choice to evaluate: Thanks to the good people at Draftbreakdown.com I’ve broken down roughly over 8 of Bortles’ games, but the tapes I choose to rewatch for the sake of this scouting report were the Louisville, Baylor, Penn State, and South Carolina tapes. They all can be found through the links below.
Penn State: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6JLz-M9E8E
South Carolina: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYd29xlmc04
What He Does Well/Pros
- I want to start by saying an underrated part of his game is his abilities as a scrambler. He’s more than capable at it ,and I’d go as far as saying he’s a little better than Andrew Luck in terms of athleticism. Also worth noting is that he was a former LB in his early days of high school.
- He has prototypical NFL size at 6-5, 232 lbs.
- He steps up and moves well in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. It appears he really has a good sense of what is going on around him.
- He’s hard to bring down, and is much like Ben Roethlisberger when trying to sack.
- He’s resilient in crunch time. I can recall him bringing back UCF in a game winning drive vs Louisville in the first ever game I evaluated him in last year. He’s also brought his team back in many occasions from behind.
- At times he’s shown the ability to throw in windows, but will be asked to do it more often in the league.
- I like his ability to take advantage of unaware defenders. I’ve seen him throw some solid back shoulder throws and some jump balls over DB’s who have their backs turned.
- He understands when to resort to a checkdown.
- He’s an intelligent player with a high football I.Q. His father was (and may still be) a football coach so it’s fitting that Blake knows the game well and how to make a good impression with football personnel.
- I think another aspect of his game that has gone unnoticed is that at times he’s shown the ability to operate his offense as a field general. I’ve often seen him communicate with his lineman and RB’s before snapping the ball.
- He’s a leader and a competitor, which are two traits Gus Bradley was high on about him.
- He’s proven to be coachable.
- He has a high ceiling.
What can He Work On/Cons
- His biggest flaw to me is that he stares defenders down at times. There’ve been multiple times when I’ve seen a defender follow Blake’s eyes on his target and, as a result, pick him off.
- Some question his velocity/arm strength (which I think is fine, just not elite); most also feel that due to his velocity he’ll have to make quicker decisions in the league.
- I believe his lower body mechanics are a big reason his velocity is questioned at times. I think that if he practiced consistently stepping into his throws that would improve the velocity on some of them. As Matthew Fairburn of SB Nation mentioned, Bortles seems to have recognized this problem seeing as he showed the ability to drive behind his throws at his pro day.
- Another flaw that I goes back to his lower body mechanics is the fact that he takes false steps at times while dropping back.
- He’s a bit careless with the ball in terms of fumbles.
- Didn’t play against an elite level of competition for the most part.
- His deep ball accuracy could use some work.
- He often throws off his back foot while under pressure.
- His throws have a bit of a wobble to them. He’ll need to work on tightening his spiral.
- He needs to work on consistent ball placement as he doesn’t always hit his WR’s in stride.
So why Bortles?
Well aside from the obvious answer of the Jags needing a franchise QB, there were a variety of reasons that the Jags drafted Bortles. I believe one of the biggest variables in their decision was the combine/interview process, which I had read that Bortles exceeded in. I remember reading Ryan O’Halloran saying that Bortles “Took over the room” when the Jags met him in Indianapolis for the combine. Gus also mentioned after Bortles was drafted that he liked Blake’s willingness to compete as he did everything at the combine, something very uncharacteristic in today’s QB’s when entering the combine. So for anyone that believes that throwing at the combine isn’t a big deal, well…. it can be. Looking at where Bortles was drafted over Manziel, and Bridgewater, I think it’s safe to say in this case it made a HUGE difference. The interview process for Bortles also pretty much solidified everything that Caldwell and Bradley needed to know in terms of whether they found the right man to potentially lead this franchise to the promise land.
Below is a video segment I saw on NFL Network of Bortles being interviewed by Steve Mariucci during the combine process. He instantly struck me as a young man with sharp communication skills (which isn’t surprising because he’s a Communication major), and a high football IQ. Obviously, he was just as sharp while speaking to the Jags during the process, who got a lot more time with him than Mariucci.
So I’d guess the next question is on who could this young man exactly become? Well, nothing is guaranteed of course, but I’d agree with those who have compared Bortles to a young version of Ben Roethlisberger. As I mentioned above, I also see shades of a slightly better version of Andrew Luck in terms of athleticism (NOT as a passer to be clear). Being that he has a ways to go in terms of mechanics, yet showcases solid arm strength when using proper mechanics, I’d say that he’s about on the same level Colin Kaepernick was coming out of Nevada in terms of a passer. Kaepernick, however, possessed a noticeably stronger arm.
I think the x-factors in the equation to develop Bortles of course lie in his coaches, most notably Jags offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, as well as Jags QB coach Frank Scelfo, both of whom who have succeeded in recent times with coaching young talent. Fisch, recently worked as Miami University’s offensive coordinator before coming to Jacksonville, and aided Stephen Morris and company to become one of the better offenses that Miami has had in a long time, while Scelfo recently did his due diligence in developing Nick Foles back in the 2010-2011 season as Arizona University’s QB coach. Both also showcased their abilities to work with and develop young talent in their short time in Mobile Alabama for the Senior Bowl, as both Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo showed great strides throughout their week of practice under the Jags coordinators. So, needless to say, this is nothing new for either coach.
All that into consideration, it’s hard to say whether Bortles will start year one over six year veteran Chad Henne, as the Jags declared him the starter back when he resigned in free agency this season. Even after drafting Bortles, the team has been on record for basically saying they would ideally like Bortles to sit under Henne, but only time will tell if that will happen or not. I personally believe that Fisch and Scelfo have shown enough in developing young talent to make me believe that it’s quite possible they could have Bortles ready to start week one, but again, only time will tell. One thing is for certain, however, and that is the fact that the QB battle between Henne and Bortles will certainly be the most watched competition this summer at Jags training camp, as well as one of the most watched in the league.
And the Verdict on This Pick…
Even my initial reaction at the time the pick was was to give it a B +. Why? Because at the time, I felt that the Jags “reached” for Bortles here and quite possibly could have traded down for Bortles. I also personally had one QB in Teddy Bridgewater graded higher than Bortles. However, reports surfaced that Dave Caldwell felt that the Jaguars couldn’t have been the only other team with Bortles as their #1 rated QB, and that after round 1 he asked a couple other organizations in the top 10 if they had him graded the same. Well….low and behold, some did. That said, a trade back could’ve had dire repercussions….. and that was the possibility of Caldwell losing the QB/prospect he had as the #1 overall prospect on his board for months. Jacksonville’s own Pete Prisco of CBS Sports even confirmed these reports himself.
All that into consideration, I bumped my initial grade up to an A – for the selection of Bortles. I must give Dave Caldwell credit here for believing in his board and not passing up the opportunity to get a potential franchise QB that he felt strongly about. Now it’s all just a matter of developing him with the staff that both he and Gus Bradley put in place to work with young players like Bortles. And if Bortles himself does what he’s done throughout his collegiate career (and that’s develop over time), Dave Caldwell and company just might’ve struck gold with this pick.
So what do you guys think? Feel free to share your draft thoughts and questions with me on Twitter under the handle of @IES_Don, and as always we appreciate your views.
Also, stay tuned as my next article will be an in-depth scouting report on the Jags first second round pick Marqise Lee.