Being the “overlooked guy” is nothing new for Blake Bortles. A two-star recruit from suburban Orlando, that garnered little interest from college recruiters, he went with the program that gave him his first offer, a Central Florida program led by the disgraced but excellent coach – George O’Leary (who would have been coaching Notre Dame if not for a padded resume).
Being the guy that proves the doubters wrong is also not new to Blake. As a redshirt junior, he led Central Florida to a 12-1 record, an American Athletic conference title, and a Fiesta Bowl victory over heavily favored Baylor.
A draft loaded with teams in need of a franchise quarterback, but an uncertainty in how many this class possesses, many are reminded of the 2004 draft. That year Eli Manning of Ole Miss was selected first, followed quickly by a trade among the Chargers – who selected Manning – and the New York Giants, who selected Philip Rivers of NC State with the fourth pick in the draft. It’s the guy that went eleventh in that 2004 draft that Bortles draws most comparisons to most often. The Texans can only hope they have the next Ben Roethlisberger, who came from Miami of Ohio in the Mid-American conference.
Like Big Ben, Blake Bortles is primarily a pocket passer with the arm strength to make all the necessary throws, and the size and strength to extend plays when the pocket breaks down. Bortles doesn’t have the video game numbers of Johnny Manziel or even Teddy Bridgewater which is why he’s “rising up the draft board” instead of comfortably sitting atop the “Best Quarterback” list.
The reasons for his ascension up this years draft board is two-fold: he may have the best physical tools among this years class, and he plays well in big games. At Penn State – with Bill O’Brien on the Nittany Lion sideline, Bortles threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 UCF victory in Happy Valley. In his next game, the lone Knight loss in 2013 against South Carolina, Bortles was 5-6 for 56 yards passing, and his 19 yard run from the Gamecock 20, set-up the first UCF touchdown and a 7-0 lead in the games opening drive. Before extending their lead to 10-0 at the half, the Knights found themselves down 28-10 going into the fourth quarter. But rather than give up, Bortles found Rannell Hall for a 73 yard touchdown, and J.J. Worton for the two-point conversion. After throwing an interception with 6:48 to go, Bortles got the ball at the UCF five with three minutes and change remaining. After completions of 14, 79 and 7 yards, Bortles had the Knights in the endzone and a field goal from overtime. The rally fell short and South Carolina escaped Orlando with the win, but despite a fumble and two interceptions Bortles was very “Roethlisberger-like” throwing for 358 yards and two TD’s.
In a prime-time match-up with Louisville and Teddy Bridgewater (okay a Friday night prime-time), Bridgewater won the statistical battle (341 yards 2-TD’s for Teddy, 250 yards and a touchdown for Blake), but Bortles won the game. Down 28-7 halfway through the third quarter, Bortles led the Knights to three touchdowns and a field goal to take a 31-28 lead with 7:36 left. Bridgewater then led the ‘Ville on a nine play 88 yard touchdown drive, that seemingly secured the win. Instead, with just 3:00 minutes on the clock Bortles went 6-8 for 68 yards including the game-winning two yard touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey on a 3rd and goal from the Louisville two with :23 second left.
Finally as the biggest underdog in a BCS bowl, Bortles outplayed Baylor’s record-setting offense by throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing another eight times for 93 yards and a score.
For the year, Bortles completed 68% of his passes for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns. (It’s his nine INT’s and 21 sacks that promote the Roethlisberger comparisons.)
In his introductory press conference new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien stressed accuracy and intelligence and leadership as qualities his new QB must possess. Bortles probably struggles more than a top pick should at accuracy, but has the smarts and leadership qualities in spades.
As for intangibles, or as Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin might call proof of leadership qualities, just Google, Blake Bortles girlfriend.
A perfect scenario for the Texans would be a draft day trade similar to the 2004 draft. That year Manning was selected first by San Diego and then traded to the Giants for Rivers, whom New York took with the fourth pick. That exchange also earned the Chargers the Giants third round selection in ’04, and their first and fifth round selections in ’05.
I would love to ship Bridgewater to Cleveland in exchange for Bortles and picks. History would suggest that would provide the Texans a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback and a top 10 pick next season.
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