Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is polarizing. LSU's Zach Mettenberger is injured. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty are going back to school. UCLA's Brett Hundley probably should.
With plenty of teams desperate for a quarterback, the 2014 NFL Draft needs a third signal caller to emerge alongside Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Derek Carr of Fresno State. That quarterback may be Central Florida junior Blake Bortles.
Bortles is the hot name right now amongst those online who write about the draft. ESPN's Todd McShay recently ranked Bortles as the No. 2 quarterback in the draft behind only Bridgewater.
When you watch Bortles, the first comparisons that come to mind are Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger. Those are the names that come up because of Bortles' combination of size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and athleticism. Like Newton and Roethlisberger, he's a capable passer on the run. When he works to the right, his accuracy doesn't wane. On pays where he rolls to the left, Bortles shows he can square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and rely on his arm strength to complete passes.
On the move, Bortles has a flair for the ridiculous, like this pass:
Or this unfortunate pass against Ohio State in 2012:
While he may never be compared to Matthew Stafford in terms of sheer arm strength, Bortles has enough of an arm to threaten all areas of the field. That was evidenced in a last-minute 52-yard touchdown pass against the win to Breshad Perriman to give UCF the win against South Florida.
There's something to be said for a quarterback who can rally his team on a fourth quarter comeback like Bortles has this season. Central Florida is in a BCS game thanks largely to Bortles leading the team to come from behind wins against Memphis, Louisville, Temple and USF.
Bortles has all of those classic, cliched traits people love about a quarterback – the size, the arm strength, the athleticism and that unmeasurable clutch ability. While Bortles has firmly played himself into the first round (thanks partly to the other quarterbacks going back), he is not without flaw.
In the UCF offense, Bortles gets to call plays at the line of scrimmage. The system there also requires him to read the whole field and actually go through his progressions. These days, that can be a rarity for a college quarterback. But doing those things, Bortles will have a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, leading to sacks or turnovers.
This was particularly evident in the USF game where Bortles threw two interceptions.
"Nothing bothers me more than turnovers," UCF head coach George O'Leary said after the game. "I thought they were sloppy and irresponsible. … Blake Bortles held on to the ball too long. You just can’t do that; you need to get rid of the ball. Overall I thought the guys that played the best were the running back as far as making some hay out of plays. I just didn’t think between the quarterback and the offensive line we did very much today."
Bortles will hold onto the ball because he's looking to hit on the deeper throws. Compared to last season, his deep ball accuracy is improved considerably. However, he's not always on point when trying to place the ball over the receiver's shoulder in stride.
On underneath throws, Bortles can pick a defense apart. He gets a fair amount of yards on check downs in the flat. That is, at least, when his receivers catch the passes. If you look through Bortles' box scores, his game against Memphis this season sticks out. It's the only game in which his completion percentage was less than 63 percent, dropping down to 47.2. Sure, some of that is due to rush by Tigers defensive end Martin Ifedi, but the UCF receivers were dropping several catchable passes.
In the Memphis game, the Tigers played tight man coverage on the outside and brought extra blitzers to force Bortles to move around in the pocket. At this point, it's trite to talk about a quarterback struggling against pressure. Few quarterbacks are good when offensive linemen are being pushed into him. But Bortles tends to shuffle his feet around more than some of the top-level quarterbacks who have come out before him.
That may be a symptom of Bortles knowing he can "win" with his legs and get yards rushing the ball. While he does have less than 200 yards rushing on the season, the former tight end is an adept runner.
As the current top 10 of the NFL Draft order is constituted, five teams obviously need a quarterback. That would be Houston, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Oakland and Cleveland. An argument could also be made for St. Louis and Tampa Bay needing a franchise quarterback. Because of that, Bortles has a strong chance of being a top 10 pick. He just has to decide on whether or not he'll go pro. It's something he's likely considering now.
"He understands that we have a big bowl game coming up, that that's where his attention needs to be," O'Leary told reporters during a teleconference this week. "His parents thoroughly understand that also. I don't think (the NFL) will be a distraction at all knowing Blake and the type of person he is, just the way he addresses things, the way he handles himself. I was very pleased with the meeting. I don't think that will be a distraction at all with him."