While we try to be unbiased in evaluating these athletes, every scout has their "favorites," guys that might not be the first player at their respective positions that will be taken in the draft, but rather those they feel will play at a level higher than their peers in their draft class.
Based on countless hours of research, game film viewing and analysis, below is a look at the offensive players eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft that I feel will end up being better than the rest of their peers, and my evaluation in naming them to my 2014 Dream Team.
University of Central Florida Knights
Bortles has a big frame with broad shoulders, good overall muscle development, smooth tone and room to add more bulk. He looks the part of a pocket passer, with impressive arm length, big hands, decent chest thickness, good quadriceps and calves. He must be conscious of his weight, as he tends to lose some mobility when playing at more than 235 pounds.
Bortles has a strong arm that allows him to deliver the long ball with touch and accuracy. He has the ability to put the ball where the receiver can catch it and shows good balance throwing on the move. He has the avoidance quickness stepping up in the pocket and the strength to pull away from pass rushers when pressured. He shows some elusiveness on the run with decent mobility, but won't frighten any defense when having to carry the ball long distances. He has functional change of direction agility and shows nice quickness to slide and move around the pocket. He is not the type that can consistently make plays with his feet, but he does run with a normal stride and good balance, doing a nice job of driving through arm tackles, but is not the type with great hip swerve or avoidance skills.
Bortles is a good student of the game, showing the field vision and intelligence to recognize coverages on his pre-snap scan of the field and in his pass drop. He is field savvy, doing a very good job of making checks. He has no problems retaining plays and it was rare to see him make mental mistakes on the field. He plays with good awareness and is a quick decision maker with the ball in his hands.
Bortles plays and practices with good intensity. He stays under control when pressured and, with the new offensive scheme, continued to grow on the field as a junior. He likes a challenge and wants the ball when the game is on the line. He works hard to improve and has no problems taking the hit while standing tall in the pocket. Even when he makes a mistake, he quickly forgets it, comes back on the field and then makes the big play. He will do the little extras (after practice work, film review) to get better.
Bortles shows decent foot quickness in his set-up, keeping his feet under him while maintaining balance. He can reach his throwing point with a normal stride and has the body control and agility needed to drive back from center quickly. When he steps into his throws, he is ready to unleash in an instant, doing a nice job sliding in and out of the pocket. In 2013, Bortles was more effective pushing away from the line of scrimmage in his drops than he did in the past and the result was a good decrease in the amount of interceptions he threw.
Bortles has keen awareness and a good grasp of the offensive system. He does a nice job scanning the field and throws with good timing and touch. In 2013, he only had a few moments where he forced the ball (South Carolina, South Florida). He demonstrates good vision and judgment on route progression reads and did a nice job of getting the ball over the coverages. When he holds the ball too long, he will take a sack or throw it away rather than try to force the ball into tight areas. In the past, he was inconsistent to read the defense and tried to use his strong arm to get the ball past the coverage, but once he learned how to make proper reads, his production greatly increased.
Bortles carries the ball medium/high and can flick it out either with a high delivery or over the head. He has a compact release to unload the ball quickly and good mechanics when launching the ball long. He used to drop the ball and pat it a bit, but with his improved over-the-top release point, he was able to generate better quickness with his tosses. When he throws with a long arc, he doesn't always follow through, but he worked hard in 2013 and the result was evident by his 25/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Bortles puts good zip on all of his throws, especially in the intermediate area or when going long. He can throw in the seam with consistency and you now see a more accurate long ball and a lively short pass. He will still revert to a long arc on his deep outs, but continues to improve in that area. He still needs to be conscious of setting his feet better in order to put more power behind his tosses, but late in 2013, he was throwing the long ball with good ease (see Temple, Rutgers and Baylor games). He seems to have very good velocity on the ball when needed, but must continue to work on setting his feet.
In the short passing game, Bortles puts the ball where the receiver can catch it. He throws a catchable ball with zip or touch and does a nice job of keeping the receiver in the route. He will still sometimes force the receiver to adjust a bit on crossing patterns and needs to take something off his passes when dumping off, but can drop the ball over the top. He showed better touch in 2013 on flares than he did in the past. He can also air it out well on his deep throws. When going long. Bortles gets good velocity and timing behind his throws. He does not have that overpowering arm to lead the receivers going deep, but can put good touch on those throws. When airing the ball out, Bortles shows good improvement with his trajectory, but when going long on the move, he did make his receivers adjust a bit.
Bortles shows good anticipation and timing with the awareness, field smarts and athletic agility to slide or step up in the pocket to buy time. He has better timing when taking a three-step drop, but may hold the ball a little too long. When he takes a longer (five-step) drop, this will usually result in unnecessary sacks (43 in his last 27 games). He has developed a nice feel and awareness to anticipate when the receivers are coming out of their cuts. He makes good adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
Bortles shows fine poise in the pocket and demonstrates the presence to stand tall in the pocket. He is confident in his passing mechanics and continued to improve throughout the 2013 season. He does a good job of scanning down field and shows enough pocket movement awareness to find the lanes when flushed out. As a junior, he was much more effective throwing the ball away when his targets were covered (except for questionable throws into a crowd vs. South Carolina). In the past, he would hold on to the ball too long, resulting in either interceptions or a costly fumble on the sack. He now demonstrates a much better feel for the pass rush.
Bortles is the type of passer who wants the ball in his hands in pressure situations, but does need to show more emotion on the field. He has control of the huddle, but there are times when he needs to become more vocal. He shows good maturity and confidence, as he is a tactful and respected leader. He does not get rattled in pressure situations and had the team believing he can lead them.
Bortles shows good poise and awareness in the pocket. He has the athletic ability to slide or step up to buy time and does a good job of maintaining focus down field, even under heavy pressure. He has good movement skills for a tall quarterback to avoid and elude the pass rush, but must continue to work on ball security. He has the delivery timing needed to throw into windows and can keep the play alive by stepping up and finding lanes when avoiding the pass rush.
Bortles can do a decent job of avoiding the pass rush, but leaves the ball too exposed when on the move. He can throw on the run, but needs to do a better job of squaring his shoulders when delivering the ball. He plays on his feet, but you see that he loses some of his accuracy when throwing on the move. He is not considered a running threat with his feet, appearing more likely to run through an opponent's arm tackle rather than trying to avoid contact. Still, he does have has enough avoidance skills to get out of the pocket and good vision racing into the end zone (14 touchdown runs during the last two years. Still, while he has good body control, throwing on the move is not his forte. Out in the open, he simply lacks the elusiveness to gain positive yardage.
TOM BRADY, New England: Bortles is a well-built pocket passer with adequate scrambling ability. He runs with a normal stride and is a decent threat to gain valid yardage with his feet when flushed out of the pocket, but is not the type that can win lots of foot races going long distances. Even with 14 touchdown runs the last two years, he is much better passing from the pocket than on the move, as he is still a work in progress learning how to square his shoulders on delivery when forced to pass on the move.
While operating mostly under center, he also shows the quick release to operate from the shotgun. He has adequate feet and is more of a pocket passer who will need time to set up and deliver, but Bortles shows a compact over the top delivery. He gets your attention with his developed frame frame. He has better quickness getting to his release/throwing point now and stands tall under pocket pressure. He knows how to keep his feet under him and step into his throws better than he did earlier in his career.
You can see his solid development in 2013 – showing sound mechanics, a quick release and delivery and impressive field vision, along with the ability to anticipate when his receivers will come out of their breaks to hit his targets in stride. He shows fine touch and accuracy airing the ball out and carries the ball numbers up. On his deep throws, he has greatly improved his accuracy, as in the past, he used to make the receiver adjust to the ball too often.
While you do not see any real wild throws that go high, low or behind the receiver, he continues to work on his touch when airing out the ball long. He has very good accuracy on short and intermediate routes, doing a nice job of keeping the receivers in their routes on crossing patterns. In 2013, Bortles was much better at making the progression reads and locating his secondary targets, as he no longer looks down and isolates on one receiver.
Bortles shows good field vision and awareness in the pocket, displaying enough agility to slide or step up. He has learned to use his athletic agility to put himself in position to make the proper throws. His anticipation and timing is excellent and he has greatly improved his ability to get the ball out quicker. You will still see a bit of a long arc at times when he throws deep down field, but he does a good job of selling the drop-back. He no longer holds on to the ball too long, but must continue to understand that it is better to throw the ball away rather that wait too long and take the unnecessary sack (43 sacks in 27 games).
In a nutshell, Bortles is a big, strong, functionally mobile passer with good arm strength, above-average accuracy and good touch. He showed in 2013 that he can make the proper decisions with the ball. His awareness in the pocket allows him to read coverages and go through his progression to locate the secondary targets. When he has time to throw, he is very capable of hitting his receivers in stride.
Bortles will never have the top elusiveness you want in a scrambling quarterback, but he has the quickness in his delivery, along with good accuracy to all areas of the field. He demonstrates solid anticipation and timing when he steps into his throws. If he can continue to improve on his touch dropping the ball in over the top or in the hole between the cornerbacks and safeties, some team will find themselves a Tom Brady clone in Bortles.
Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.