By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
The quarterback position is not just the most influential position as far as affecting wins and losses likely in all of sports. It’s also one of the toughest positions to evaluate, scout and project to the next level. Blake Bortles of UCF has everything one would look for in a quarterback prospect, but like all young signal callers has flaws as well. Let’s take a closer look at a few of his games this year and then wrap up with his overall strengths and weaknesses.
Blake Bortles, UCF – QB
+ positive play
- negative play
~ neutral, or hard to evaluate
I also took out less important or routine plays like short screens for the sake of length.
Vs South Carolina 2013
+ excellent velocity and placement to receiver running a slant
+ good pass to receiver stationary at the sticks on 3rd down
- pass is wide left on a out route but well defended
+ great decision to tuck it and run on a zone read, then fakes defenders with a pitch and continues down field for a chunk play. Can’t run that play any better
- intermediate throw to his left is slightly off target incomplete
+ simple screen pass complete, but hangs in there to throw while being thumped in the end zone. Saves a safety and completes it.
+ good pass on another slant to the right, led receiver correctly
- faked screen pass and terrible high throw to wide open receiver in the short middle
~ nothing special but good read on the zone read to tuck it
- under duress, avoids a couple defenders but has to throw it away. Instead he takes a sack and even lost the ball temporarily
+ another high velocity throw to a slant on the right on the money. Sort of led the receiver into contact but on the money and complete
- fakes to the left, slightly overthrows receiver who had beat his man running down the sideline. Not an awful miss, but could have been a nice gain.
+ steps up against pressure and throws across his body right on the money in the short middle of the field for the first.
+ steps into the throw nicely and hits receiver running across the field from left to right on either a slant or crosser. Puts it on his hands, but did lead him slightly into contact. Receiver draws a penalty for targeting
+ nothing too special but rolls out to the right and completes a short pass
+ double clutches and throws with nice velocity and decent placement to the right sideline
- looks down the receiver just a tad and allows the corner to break in front for an interception. Needs to have better feel for the coverage and look off the defender
~ very impressively breaks free from tacklers and gets near the line of scrimmage. Could have stepped up earlier or thrown it away, but shows the strength to avoid a sack
- quick throw on a slant. Not a good decision. Receiver wasn’t ready and defender was in a position to make a play. The ball was deflected off the receiver’s helmet incomplete
~ pass complete to the far sideline. Throw was a little late but he got the job done, although he was leaning back away from the throw. Needs to keep his momentum play side
+ makes a solid open field tackle on an interception return that he did not throw. It was a botched throw from the receiver across the formation
- rolls out to the right, under pressure. Has a receiver open for positive yards, but elects to wait and ends up throwing out of bounds incomplete
+ moves around in the pocket to avoid the rush and makes a throw to the receiver on the right sideline that was dropped
+ avoids the rush, fading back in the pocket. He keeps his cool and dumps it off to a back who picks up the first
~ quick slant inside is complete but a little ahead of his target
- designed sneak, loses the ball but tracks it down to fall on it, however its slides just out of his hands and loses it
+ steps into the throw, good velocity and decent placement (slightly high and in front, but nicely over the top of the linebacker) on a slant or crosser. Receiver runs to open field and scores a long TD
- miscommunication leads to an incomplete pass on the sideline. He was leaning back quite a bit on the throw as well
+ escapes pressure from Clowney and gets to the sideline area to throw it away
- really poor throw and read on a pick. Receiver runs a seam route and has space in front of him as he hits the end zone. Bortles throws it too shallow and is easily picked off. Pressure from the tackle prevented him from stepping into the throw with a clean release and did affect the trajectory.
+ hits his receiver in stride on another slant from the right, who takes it for a big gain, first and goal
+ relatively easy throw to an open receiver in the left corner of the end zone
Recap: Showed some great throws when he could step in rhythm and was able to generate the necessary velocity with little effort. He was particularly lethal on slant routes. Didn’t seem flustered even when the pressure got to him. Not a standout athlete but more than enough mobility to navigate the pocket to buy time and when forced to can get downfield with his legs. A lot of yards came from receivers running to open space.
Vs Akron 2013
- under duress and attempts to step up into the pocket but is hit just before he throws and fumbles the ball. Bad start
+ Comes right back with a great touch pass to an open receiver in between the short and deep defender on the sideline. Receiver makes a cut to the middle to take it in for a score
+ keeps it on the zone read and actually gets outside to beat the first defenders to the edge and shows quick feet to gain extra yardage
+ nothing special but pass on target to receiver sitting in the soft spot of the defense
+ steps into the throw to hit a receiver in the middle of the field. Receiver does most of the work bouncing off a defender and going in for the score
+ fires a strike on another slant, dropped
~ pressure coming from the backside, but manages to get the ball out to the sideline for a throw away
~ fires a ball to the deep sideline, dropped but the hard to tell if the placement would have worked had the defender not lost himself on the play. Also Bortles likely knew it was a free play, offside defense
- steps up and delivers a pass ever so slightly behind the receiver on a slant. Not a horrible throw but could have done better
~ on target over the middle to TE. If you are nitpicking it didn’t lead the receiver as much as possible
- takes a sack, could have known to get rid of it but not really his fault
+ crazy play as the ball slips out of his hand and then rolls right making a strong throw across his body to hit a receiver down field
+ very nice throw out to the near sideline on an out route
+ steps into a dig route and hits an open receiver. Little pressure
+ looks to the right and then to the left as he leans back a bit but throws a beauty over the top of the trailing defenders right into the hands of the receiver. Great touch and placement
- a little off his back foot he throws up a fade route too far in front of the intended target
- quick throw out to the flat, incomplete. Apparent miscommunication but could have been costly
+ throws a strike on a slant that is ever so slightly behind the receiver
- pulled out of the handoff, lost the ball but fell on it
+ throws it just on time in between the corner and the safety as he gets hit
Strengths: Bortles has a big, strong frame, which suggests he will be relatively durable. That strength coupled with his surprisingly quick feet helps him avoid sacks and make plays on the move. He does a terrific job of keeping his eyes down field and loses almost nothing throwing on the run to his right or left. I don’t think I’ve seen a right-handed quarterback throw better going to his left. The arm strength is there, and he can make NFL caliber throws. When his footwork is precise and he steps into his throws he can look elite. He’s shown flashes of making “window” throws and touch passes over defenders. He also has a model girlfriend for what that’s worth.
Weaknesses: His confidence and arm strength are definitely positives, but they also get him into trouble at times. He has a bad habit of leaning back when throwing instead of stepping into his throws. His deep ball is tough to gauge because most of his passes in the UCF offense are short bubble screens, slants and out routes rather than vertical routes. When asked to throw deep he’s had mixed result.
There are times he tries to force the ball into tight coverage or loses a defender underneath. While he’s a load to bring down and rarely is handled by a single defender, he could improve on getting the ball out earlier to avoid a collapsing pocket.
Final Thoughts: Bortles is a name to watch throughout the draft process. He has excellent size, feet, arm strength and has shown he can make all the throws. The test for him, and essentially every young quarterback, will be his decision making. It doesn’t matter how many yards you throw for if you turn it over. Bortles isn’t turnover prone but the interceptions are the only thing holding him back from a first round grade. That’s a lofty projection, but all the tools are there.