Central Florida’s Blake Bortles was considered the top quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft class just a short time ago, but quarterbacks like Derek Carr, and certainly Johnny Manziel, just seem to have more to offer. Consequently, he has fallen out a favor as a top ten pick on many draft boards, despite having prototype size at 6-5, 232 pounds and a degree of mobility that belies his 4.93 40 time. Still, though, in a draft that promises to be as unpredictably entertaining as any in recent memory, he could easily be back at the top come draft day.
As far as suitors, there are a number of teams in the top ten that could use Bortles, but only two—Cleveland at 4 and Minnesota at 8—appear to be serious contenders. The Browns also having the 26th pick in the first round affords them plenty of space with which to maneuver. Cleveland GM Ray Farmer has been, as expected, evasive about the team’s draft plans, but the word on the street is that he is enthralled by just about everyone the general public is. Namely, Sammy Watkins and Johnny Manziel. And Bortles. Farmer said the team has someone in mind at number four, but stopped short of naming any leading candidates.
Brian Hoyer tops the depth chart for the Browns and is the likely starter, but that should do little to keep the team from going after a quarterback. For one, Hoyer is recovering from an ACL tear, which could quite easily mean he might never return to being the player he once was. And exactly what kind of player that is, quite frankly, is still up in the air. Hoyer played in just three games last season and really only impressed in one. His totals for the entire season: 615 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions, while completing 59.4 percent of his passes. Hardly eye-pooping. Somehow, though, the only likely scenario that sees Cleveland taking Bortles is the one in which Watkins and Manziel have already been selected by the time the fourth pick hits.
Minnesota, meanwhile, looks to be the best place for him to end up. Christian Ponder has to be on his way out after three marginal seasons. Actually, two. He did pass for nearly 3,000 yards in 2012 and lead the Vikings to the playoffs, but the fact remains that he is just not getting it done. Ponder’s 2013 season, his worst as a professional, in which he struggled with injuries and threw seven touchdowns to nine interceptions for just 1,648 yards, is indicative of that. Veteran Matt Cassell stepped in and played half the season, totaling 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and 9 picks, but the Viking finished a miserable 5-10-1.
Moreover, offensive coordinator Norv Turner is now at the helm and he is known for his affinity with the pocket passer. The breadth of Bortles’ upside is well-known. The size, the mobility, the pocket presence, the football I.Q. His weaknesses, while small in number, are the likely reason for his recent slide down draft boards. His lack of touch, footwork questions, and sometimes gunslinger mentality are all things that can be improved upon.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat