2014 Jaguars Draft Review Series: Blake Bortles

The Jaguars shocked most NFL and draft analysts, including me, on Thursday night by selecting UCF QB Blake Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick. Bortles is clearly seen as the quarterback of the future by the Jaguars brass, but who is he really? What does he do best? Where does he need work? What are some realistic expectations?

The Player

Blake Bortles was a semi-surprise entry into the NFL Draft, as early on most expected the 6'5" 232 pound, junior quarterback from UCF to go back to school and become a high draft pick in 2015. But as the college season progressed, and UCF racked up more wins and recognition, Bortles' popularity had hit its peak and he took this chance to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

There were some rumblings of NFL front offices being high on him (even first-round high) as soon as he entered. Not long after Bill O'Brien became the Texans head coach was Bortles' name tossed into consideration for the No. 1 overall pick. That talk quieted down over the last month or so before the draft, but many still expected Bortles to be a first-round lock.

Fit with Jacksonville

First things first: Blake Bortles is not Chad Henne. The 2013 Jaguars offense was designed not for Chad Henne, but to cater to Henne and the offense's strengths. Since the end of the 2013 season, the Jaguars have added a new starting running back and two wide receivers, so I do expect the 2014 offense that Bortles is entering to be fairly different from the 2013 offense in terms of design. However, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch does have some tendencies that correlate with Bortles skill-set.

As you can see on the charts below of Bortles passing attempts in three games for the 2013 season. I looked at the season opener and UCF's two biggest opponents: Penn State and South Carolina. Passes over 10 yards were a staple in the UCF offense, and this is a shared similarity with Jedd Fisch's offense.

BlakeChart1.png

BlakeChart2.png

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The Jaguars have also stocked up their wide receiver group with receivers who fit this type of quick strike offense as well, primarily Marqise Lee, who does his best work on plays where he is able to make his own yardage. Bortles has shown adept quick decision making and pre-snap reads for this type of quick striking offense and this should not be a difficult transition from his college offense to a Jedd Fisch offense.

In terms of the type of quarterback that Jedd Fisch and Dave Caldwell seem to want skill set wise, Bortles appears to be a very good fit. Fisch frequently moved Henne out of the pocket in 2013, whether on play-action or other designs and this is a strength for Bortles as he does some of his best passing when he is allowed to throw on the move.

Caldwell has also said he wants a quarterback who can handle pressure not only within the pocket, but outside it as well, and Bortles is as good as any 2014 quarterback prospect in that aspect. All in all, Bortles appears to be a very good fit for Fisch's offensive tendencies and what Caldwell seeks in a quarterback.

Value

Value is a term I dislike using when it comes to first-round quarterbacks. When the Jaguars took Bortles, many said it was a reach and they should have traded down to get him. The problem is, that is an extremely risky tactic and the reward is not greater than the risk.

So overall, the value for a first-round quarterback in this draft was with the No. 3 pick. Bortles skill-set may not be that valuable, but it was the only realistic and responsible draft slot the Jaguars could use on a quarterback in the first-round. In terms of value, the Jaguars hit the mark.

Blake Bortles' Biggest Strengths

IN THE POCKET

If there is one thing that can be said about Blake Bortles, it's that he's the polar opposite of the last first-round quarterback the Jaguars selected. This is especially true in his pocket awareness, how he moves in the pocket, and how he reacts to pressure. He is everything you can ask for in a quarterback in terms of pocket presence. He has the smoothness and coordination to avoid contact by stepping up in the pocket to avoid edge pressure, and he always keeps his eyes downfield, no matter how many bodies are around him. He shows the ability to shrug off defenders with his size, strength, and balance, and still deliver an accurate ball while being hit.

Here is a perfect example:

BortlesInPocket.png

UCF's offensive line broke down almost right off the snap. Bortles has two defenders to his right, one unblocked and closing in on him, and one limiting his space, and then another defensive end breathing down his neck from the edge.

Despite these three defenders swarming him, he steps up, keeps his shoulders squared to the wide receiver and most importantly, his eyes up and downfield. One thing that I simply don't think can be taught in quarterbacks, especially young ones, is pocket toughness. And considering where Bortles is at in his development, his pocket toughness is special.

ON THE MOVE

Aside from how well Bortles handles pressure, his biggest strength, as touched on earlier, is passing when moved outside the pocket (and sometimes even up the pocket). Whether it is a designed play-action or when he is escaping pressure, Bortles shows the ability to keep his eyes downfield (again) and deliver accurate strikes to all parts of the field. Inside the pocket, Bortles is sloppy. But outside it, he has phenomenal flashes.

Blake Bortles' Biggest Weaknesses


FOOTWORK

Bortles' biggest issues, consistent accuracy and velocity of his throws, all really stem from one thing -- his footwork. It can't even be called inconsistent. It's just plain bad more times than not.

Below is an example of Bortles not having good control of his lower body. Bortles is throwing to the left sideline, and instead of shifting his feet and then using his lower body to add more power to his throw, he tries to "All Arm" the throw, leading to mediocre velocity.

BlakesMechanics2.png

Below is an example of Bortles just being sloppy for no clear reason, which is another frequent occurrence. This is on a play-action play, and while it did result in a touchdown, it also pinpoints a bad habit of Bortles. Despite having no bodies around him, he fades away from his target and throws with poor balance.

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More illustrations of Bortles not using his lower body to generate more arm strength:

BlakesMechanics3.png


ROOKIE MISTAKES

Bortles had some mistakes that, while not fatal, do show where he is at in his development and should remind us of what he really is: A young, rookie quarterback, who is not a finished product or near to one yet.

Below is the first mistake:

BlakeINT.png

You can see Bortles start his windup before his receiver even finishes his break. Bortles kept his eyes on his receiver the entire play. As you can see by the defensive back having his eyes on Bortles and not the receiver, it's clear that this throw was telegraphed. This play resulted in an interception.

This goes to show us that while Bortles does have a ton of physical talent, he will still have the mental ups and downs that should be expected from young quarterbacks in the NFL.

The second mistake, illustrated below, is just another play that leads me to the same conclusion.

Blakeint2_medium

He does not show awareness of the roaming free safety who is ready to undercut his throw.

The second mistake, illustrated below, is just another play that leads me to the same conclusion.

Blakesmechanics_medium

Bortles telegraphs his throw and does not show good awareness of the area around his actual target. In the first picture, he did not notice the defensive back baiting him into the interception. On the second play, he does not show awareness of the roaming free safety who is ready to undercut his throw.

The Best Case Scenario for Blake Bortles' Rookie Season

The best case for Bortles' rookie season is for him to firmly establish himself as the starter over Henne in the preseason. It won't be hard to do. He also needs to force Caldwell's hand into prematurely starting their plan for him as the teams quarterback. Some, like Caldwell, think he should sit. Personally, I think he should play early because that is the best way to fix his issues. Bortles is the quarterback of the future, so I don't think there's much use in putting it off.

By displaying improvements in mechanics, Bortles could see the field earlier than Caldwell anticipated, and fast forward the rebuild a bit. Plus, Bortles could gain experience within the offense and with his weapons. The best thing that we can hope for in Bortles' rookie season is he establishes himself as the starter, shows mechanical improvement, and starts to gain experience.

The Worst Case Scenario for Blake Bortles' Rookie Season

The worst case for Bortles' rookie season is that he does not show sufficient improvement in his mechanics, rendering his development and putting the Jaguars offense back some in terms of development. Caldwell says he wants Blake to play in 2015, not this year. But realistically, it is best for Bortles and the rest of the offense to grow together as soon as they can. The worst thing for Blake is for himself to not prove the Jaguars brass that he should play early.

Reasonable Expectations for Blake Bortles' Rookie Season

Reasonable expectations for Bortles' rookie season seem pretty simple to me. He will likely look better than Henne in training camp and in preseason. By a lot.

Let's be honest, Henne is simply not good in August. Blake is a rookie, but he also is only at one disadvantage to Henne skillset wise, and that is experience within the offense and NFL. I think Bortles will show he is the best quarterback on the roster early, but Caldwell and Bradley will still be hesitant to start him.

Whichever comes first -- Henne's implosion or the Week 9 bye week -- I expect Bortles to win the job and not look back. I think the most realistic thing for Blake is that he will look like the rookie he is, and have his ups and downs. But ultimately, I think his ups will overshadow the downs. I don't think he'll light the NFL on fire as a rookie, but I do think he'll prove to be the formidable option going forward.

Overall Opinion of Pick

Bortles was not my No. 1 graded quarterback. Or my No. 2. But I do think he was worth a first-round pick and I have no issues with where and why the Jaguars selected him. He would not have been my first choice, but he has some baseline traits that are very hard to teach, and his weaknesses seem to be fixable. He is a very good fit for Fisch's offense, and the team's philosophy going forward.

All in all, I think it'll prove to be a worthwhile selection.

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