Blake Bortles keeps buzz going at pro day but also demonstrates flaws
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles took the next step in his own pre-draft process with his pro day Wednesday afternoon at Nicholson Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla.. Head coaches, general managers and scouts from all the teams in the top 10 of the NFL draft with obvious quarterback needs were in attendance, and Bortles made 65 throws of all kinds.
It was unlike Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's Monday pro day in one key way -- no major and obvious disappointments. Bortles is not a complete NFL-level player yet, but he showed many of the attributes we've seen on a regular basis from his tape. I saw a lot of what I saw when I wrote up his tape last December, and a few improvements were also evident.
"I thought it went well," Bortles told Paul Burmeister and Mike Mayock of the NFL Network after the workout was over. "I put on a show of the things I wanted to. I obviously missed a couple throws and would like to have a couple back, but when you throw 65 balls, you're going to miss a couple."
Bortles told Mayock before the session that his base had been too narrow in college, and he became aware that he needs to be more "quiet" with his upper body by looking at players with similar body types such as Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger. Bortles has been working with NFL veteran Jordan Palmer on being more efficient and integrated with his mechanics.
He made throws to all different levels, and a few repeatable flaws showed up.
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Bortles tends to plant with a stiff front leg in the pocket, which affects his downfield accuracy (Josh Freeman has this issue as well). And in a general sense, he's far more comfortable planting and throwing off his outside foot to either the left or right in motion than he is when setting in the pocket. This is, to a certain degree, a product of the system he was in, but it's worth noting that Vince Young and Jake Locker each has this issue, and neither one of them really overcame it.
Bortles may be a better motion thrower than a pocket thrower throughout his NFL career, and if so, that would limit his professional development. Because at a certain point, you have to stand in the pocket and make a bang-on throw with bodies around you.
Overall, there's been a lot of talk about Bortles' velocity -- that a guy who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds should be able to rip it downfield at any time. He clearly has the physical tools to do so, but mechanics still get in the way at times.
Bortles tends to push the ball when he throws to the right at short and intermediate levels.
Of the several throws he made the distance of half a field toward the end of his workout, he overthrew more than he should have -- a function of his mechanics getting out of line with his intent to make deep, accurate throws. This is especially problematic given that he's worked with the guys he threw to Wednesday before. A couple times, he over-dropped and overthrew, letting his body mechanics go out of whack. But when he has a flexible front foot and throws through his body, he's going to make any throw an NFL team could want. No problem there.
"The two deep [dig routes] off play-action are good throws," Bortles said. "Throwing firm, and the ball was dropping over [what would have been a safety]. And the bang-eights [skinny post routes] are something that we ran a lot [at UCF]. I think a couple of the deep balls that I missed. I would like to have a couple of those back."
In a general sense, I really liked what Bortles did on the run, especially when he was throwing from a simulated shotgun base. While he has a decently quick delivery, there are times when it takes an extra millisecond to get everything in line, but this issues is minimized when he's on the run. Any team playing heavy shotgun to motion, or play-action/boot-action under center, would find him a perfect fit over time. He has a consistent over-the-top throwing motion.
On quick screens and longer timing throws, Bortles has a better than average sense of how much he needs to take off from a velocity perspective. He had a couple of howlers in this regard, flat-out missing on a longer wheel route, but this part of his game has potential, and it's important. Also, when on the run, he can line up with receivers running crossing routes in the same direction. He keeps his base to the target for the most part, and the results show -- both at his pro day and on tape.
You want to see quarterbacks throw from the legs up -- like pitchers, that's where they derive their natural velocity so that they don't have to over-extend. When Bortles does that, his velocity and accuracy line up, and you see why some consider him to be the best quarterback prospect in this draft class. But there are times when he'll throw off his back foot or with both feet on the turf or with his upper body, and you see he still needs work on certain things. And this, as much as anything, is why some in the league will tell you he needs another year of development before he's ready for the rigors of the NFL.
At times, Bortles overthrew on intermediate routes, and his targets would have to reach up for them. At other times, he slightly underthrew the finesse passes, and his targets would have to reach back for the ball. Neither one of these issues is acceptable on a consistent basis in the NFL, where tight coverage windows and hyper-aggressive defenders are the order of the day.
Finally, when Palmer ran around with Bortles to simulate pass rush, Bortles' mechanics got a little floppier -- he seemed to need an extra split second to line everything up.
Overall, I thought Bortles did well enough in this environment. Unlike Bridgewater, he didn't look worse in a controlled environment than he does on tape. And with that in mind, and with all the positive reviews about his intangibles, Bortles put himself firmly at or near the top of the 2014 quarterback draft class. FARRAR: Teams in need of quarterbacks now turn to NFL draft for solutions