We now look at the upcoming class of beloved college players and answer the only question a dedicated college fan can about their NFL prospects: can this player fuck your whole life up with their football skills?
He is big. Like, really big. He's so big you sort of instantly thought of him as stupid, not because he was inherently stupid, but mostly because you assume that evolution only makes things that big if they take their character hit points and put them all into "bigassedness," and not "IQ." Also, Roethlisberger-y. Just a touch of Roethlisbergerness will make you think that about someone, fair or not.
You think this is a joke, but it was the first thing Ron Jaworski mentioned one morning when discussing his pro prospects, because the NFL shops for quarterbacks the way your mother shops for cars: she just wants something big that makes her feel safe out there in all that traffic. Something bigger than a sporty Manziel, like a dependable Roethlisberger you can drive headfirst into a another car with confidence.
He also has big, floppy, snowshoe-like feet, making his ability to escape pressure all the more remarkable when you forgot how big his actual mass is, and just marveled that something that big and slow-looking could pull away from defenders, and sometimes run into defenders horribly, and other times make passes with three defensive linemen gnawing on his legs.
He throws a really accurate, moderately attractive ball. Not a trashball knuckler, but not a gorgeous line drive godball like a Matt Stafford would throw. He was recruited as a tight end by most schools, and as polished as he is, he still looks like the best possible case scenario of a quarterback who had to play tight end due to everyone else getting injured, and then never gave up the job even after everyone got healthy.
Success is about context: terrifying, variable context. If you watch Blake Bortles play and play well in most of his game tape, you see someone who was very, very well coached. That's great: he's obviously capable of taking coaching, and of giving the offensive coordinator enough varied skills to confuse the shit out of a defense. That's bad: he's not displaying a lot of the eye-popping, uncoachable things you might want in your base model quarterback you expend an expensive draft pick on in the draft.
*This is an issue at any level, by the way. That superb five-star recruit you just blindly committed to? He's John Brantley, and peaked exactly at the age of seventeen years and nine months. All ceilings are translucent in scouting.
So if you want to be sort of panicky about Bortles as a prospect, it would be with the kind of panic you want to have: that he's moldable, but needs some kneading into product within a system. Charlie Taaffe did a brilliant job last year using Bortles as destabilizing force in the UCF offense, rolling him out, using him on the occasional zone read play-action, and straight running him just to keep the defense honest. UCF's offense never felt like a lot of spread offenses feel-- that grease fire rolling out of control sort of look that a 2012 Oregon or 2013 Auburn had-- but was instead controlled fury. If Baylor in the bowl game was the Nick Diaz type, throwing eight fruitless punches a second, the UCF was on some Anderson Silva business. They took one move, and then another in sequence, and then you were on the floor in brutal, calculated fashion.
Then again, Bortles is capable of doing so many nice things so well, and with such formality. He steps up in the pocket, a unique thing to actually do in college without freaking out, holding the ball forever, and running endlessly towards the sideline before throwing an interception. He takes easy throws for short games if they are there. He rolls out really well and sees all those easy throws that magically appear on those rollouts. (See: the game-winning throw in the Louisville game.) He can improvise, but even then it's a measured improvisation ending with a quick slide.
Mannered sounds like a bad word to use to describe a football player, but it shouldn't be. It means "behaving in a highly specified manner," which Bortles undoubtedly is. Blake Bortles is a highly mannered football player with a lot of habits he clearly developed through a tremendous amount of practice. It's not exactly organic, and watching him was never overwhelming, jaw-dropping football, but that's kind of the point.
ODD COMPARISON THAT IS NOT REALLY THAT ODD
Steve McNair, and wait wait wait we know that sounds weird but bear with us: big, mobile, and will likely have to rely on some cunning scrambling in his first few years playing play-action dealer in a run-first offense. He doesn't have McNair's arm, but does have McNair's a.) background from a smaller and/or off-brand school, and b.) that thing where you're not really sure how he beat you so badly, but usually does. McNair didn't come into the NFL as a running QB, and neither will Bortles, but a bit of LEG IQ* could keep Bortles starting until his pro-style passing skills blossom.
*TRADEMARK FILED FOR DON'T STEAL THAT PERFECT BIT OF HACKY DRAFT TALK SHIT JAWORSKI YOU BE-JOWLED TROLL DOCTOR.
CAN BLAKE BORTLES FUCK YOUR WHOLE WORLD UP?
That's really the question you can ask a college football fan that carries over into the NFL well: can this player, at their position, fuck your whole world up from the other side of the field? Can they utterly ruin your dreams, poop pure disappointment into your town's well, and poison the hopes of not just you, but your children and their football children?
Absolutely. Blake Bortles can fuck up your whole world, and sort of specialized in it in 2013. (Hi, Louisville and Baylor!) We have no idea if he will succeed in the NFL, mostly because so much of the NFL is dependent on whether your owner is distracted buying an EPL team on credit, paying entirely too much attention to the team, or merely freeloading off the TV money other NFL owners kindly earn for you. If we knew what success was in the NFL, Tim Couch would have a Super Bowl ring and Trent Dilfer would not.
But does Blake Bortles have that ability to spew ruination and hellfire on you and your hopes? Absolutely. We feel utterly confident in saying that the mannered Blake Bortles model is capable of doing a lot of the detail work the NFL loves while also doing the thing you want a skill player to do: completely fucking someone else's world up, and making someone cry in the process.