By Lance Zierlein
March 31, 2014
Editor's Note: All data mentioned represents the 2013 season.
Blake Bortles has very good size by NFL standards (6’5/232) and he more than plays to his size from a toughness standpoint. Bortles has played in every game over the last two seasons and is a physical runner on called running plays or when he scrambles.
Defenses tended to blitz Bortles at a higher frequency of pass attempts (31.9%) than they did against Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater (29%). His completion percentage when blitzed was 64.8% which was higher than Manziel but lower than Bridgewater. Bortles’ 9.1 YPA, 7 TDs and 2 INTs when blitzed is good, but I found something more impressive. When games were “close and late” in the 4th quarter (score range between +7 & -7), Bortles completed 64.2% with 10 YPA, 4 TDs and 1 INT.
Bortles was especially poised when defenses brought 6+ rushers completing 65.2% of his passes which was substantially better than Manziel (52.6%) and Bridgewater (53.8%) with the highest YPA (12.5) of the three QBs. Bortles is a physical player who doesn’t appear to rattle easily. Coming out of high school, most teams wanted him to play TE in college and he wasn’t even listed in the top 137 QBs on recruiting lists his senior season. UCF took a chance with him at QB and he continues to talk about playing with a chip on his shoulder to this day.
The tape tells you that Blake Bortles is behind Manziel and Bridgewater at this current time as a QB prospect and the data tends to confirm this - especially when studying his short to intermediate accuracy.
Bortles intermediate accuracy was solid at 66%, but he only connected on 62% of his passes from 0-5 yards and completed 59% of his sideline throws from 0-15 yards which isn’t as high as it should be. On 3rd downs, Bortles completed 54.3% which is over 10% lower than the other two QBs. On 3rd downs with between 4 and 7 yards for a first down, Bortles really struggled at just 55.3% while Manziel (76%) and Bridgewater (79.1%) tortured defenses.
A big plus, however, was Bortles ability to make throws on the move. When asked to rollout, Bortles was 15 of 19 for 154 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs and he did a really nice job of squaring up to deliver his passes. While Manziel had 9 TDs to 1 INT when throwing from outside of the pocket, Bortles was equally impressive striking for 7 passing TDs and 0 INTs while outside of the pocket. From the pocket, Bortles was accurate for the most part but his 2 to 1 TD/INT ratio was disappointing.
With Bortles, you have to do some projecting when watching the tape and grinding on data. Bortles has enough arm to throw the deep digs and outs and I see enough zip on his passes between the CB and S, but right now he has a tendency to sail some of those passes and his accuracy is still a work in progress on some of those throws.
Despite the fact that less than 10% of his snaps came under center, Bortles is really strong at throwing the ball on rollouts and as he shows good technique and a willingness to keep his eyes down the field. The same can be said for his scrambles as he is generally decisive about whether he is going to run or just buy more time so he can make a throw.
Bortles had a higher percentage of throws behind the line of scrimmage (21.5%) than Manziel (20.3%) and Bridgewater (10.1%) of his throws in that area, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on that facet of his throws because it doesn’t really speak to his ability.
Bortles worked out of 3 or 4 WR sets 92.7% of the time which won’t be the norm in the NFL, but it did allow him to show that he could make the deep middle and seam throws with good ball placement and solid velocity. It might surprise you to know that Bortles had a better completion percentage and YPA (52.2%/17.2) on deep sideline throws than Manziel (51.4%/15.6) and Bridgewater (42.1%/12.1).
To be honest, I was surprised at Blake Bortles relatively pedestrian forty yard dash time at the combine because he seems to play faster than that in games. Bortles is a decisive runner when flushed from the pocket and was also called on in zone read packages to get yards with his feet.
If you look at “rushing” stats for college QBs, you are making a mistake because their sack yardage is included. However, according to STATS Ice, Bortles scrambled 64 times for 442 yards and 6 TDs. He’s no Manziel, but he is clearly a threat with his feet when it comes to extending drives and making plays in the red area.
Blake Bortles isn’t ready to be an NFL QB just yet and could have definitely benefitted from another year at UCF. However, when I watch him play, I see a QB who has areas that are “improvable”. While Manziel and Bridgewater can get better at certain aspects, I don’t see as much growth potential in their games as I see in Bortles’ game. Then again, that also means Bortles is clearly behind them as a QB at this point.
If you argue against Manziel because he played in a “system”, then you would have to do the same with Blake Bortles since 21% of his throws this year were behind the line of scrimmage and over 46% of his passing attempts came out of 4 WR sets which he won’t be utilizing in the NFL. I don’t buy into the “system” argument with Manziel or with Bortles because both guys proved they could make NFL throws and extend drives with their feet.
Bortles showed an ability to roll out and throw with accuracy. It is also worth noting that he didn’t show any recognizable tendencies for defenses to key on as his numbers were nearly identical when he threw to the left side of the field as when he threw to the right side of the field. The days of the “pocket sloth” QB is over and I’m sure teams will be excited by the fact that Bortles held up in the face of 6-man pressure and when he was pressured, he had the grit to tuck the ball and pick up unplanned yardage. It also helps that his size will make teams feel at least a little bit better about Bortles leaving the pocket.
While his interception total wasn’t ridiculously high at 9, a few of them had absolutely no business coming out of Bortles hand and the questions about what he was looking at and whether those mistakes are avoidable on the next level will have to be answered by teams who were able to interview him and take him through the film to get answers. I see the arm, however, to make the all of the NFL throws, but it is clear that he wasn’t generating enough of his power from his lower body. While that issue has been corrected since the season ended, we have to see if the corrections are repeatable.
If I had to guess, I think most teams who need a QB will have Bortles rated in the top two at that position thanks to his size, mobility and obvious ability to grow as a prospect. With Manziel, you have to let him do what he does best rather than harness him. With Bridgewater, he is more polished than the other two QBs but I don’t see much room for significant growth within the position. Bortles can play in multiple schemes,but it will take him longer to adapt to the NFL than the other two so he needs to land with a team who has some patience.