Blake Bortles, Central Florida (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The 2014 NFL draft stayed right on script ... until the third pick.
The first huge surprise of the event came courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who passed on Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack (to name a few) in favor of UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. Not all that long ago, Bortles had been linked to the Houston Texans at No. 1 overall, but his stock seemingly had settled back to its pre-combine status -- a little deeper into Round 1.
In Jacksonville, the high-upside Bortles will compete with Chad Henne for the starting gig, though Henne's presence may allow the Jaguars to ease Bortles into the lineup.
Strengths: Almost every pro-Bortles argument you hear will start with his size. Even though the Seahawks just won a Super Bowl with the comparatively diminutive Russell Wilson running the show, many teams still want QBs who fit Bortles’ 6-5, 232-pound build. He takes advantage of that height, keeping his eyes downfield and using a steady release to avoid having passes swatted at the line. Bortles also moves better than one might expect, both inside and outside the pocket.
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Touch is there, especially in intermediate windows and to the sideline. Bortles really has no issues stepping up and resetting to throw, or sliding to his left or right and throwing with zip. Intangibles all are there, at least if his interviews and comments by his former teammates/coaches are to be believed — all of the latter speak glowingly of Bortles. He was not rattled by any situation, from road games at Ohio State and Penn State to the BCS bowl stage against Baylor.
Weaknesses: Decision-making needs to improve, as his INT numbers (16 total over the past two years) easily could have been higher. Sometimes drifts into a gunslinger-style approach, attempting to thread the needle, and he does not necessarily possess the arm strength to pull off all of those gambles. Can float some deep balls, too, a problem most noticeable when a pass rush rattles him. UCF’s offense will slow his adjustment to the NFL; it did not require him to make a ton of progression reads.
O’Leary’s comments about Bortles as a pro QB will be taken with a grain of salt, but we cannot dismiss completely Bortles’ college coach doubting his abilities to start as a rookie: remember, O’Brien (whose team has the No. 1 pick) has worked with O’Leary, so he is likely to pick the UCF coach’s brain.
Wow. The Jaguars obviously love the prospect of having a QB prototype with a sky's-the-limit outlook on his career. The wisdom in the pick is that Bortles meshes with Jacksonville's rebuilding approach, which may take another couple of years under head coach Gus Bradley.
However, Bortles arguably was at least the third-best quarterback available here and may have been on the board deeper into Round 1, so it'll be interesting to find out if Jacksonville tried to trade down. It also will be tough to swallow passing on Watkins -- especially with Justin Blackmon's future so up in the air; and on Mack, who might have added precisely what the Jaguars are missing off the edge on defense.
This is a "trust us" moment from the Jaguars' front office to the fans. It might be a make-or-break decision for the brass, too.
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