At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Blake Bortles of the University of Central Florida ranks among the top three quarterbacks in this year's draft class. It may be unfair to draw comparisons between quarterback draft prospects to NFL athletes, but according to draft experts, commentators, and NFL scouts, Bortles has the physical attributes and pocket presence of the likes of the Super Bowl-winning Ben Roethlisberger.
"Well, I think the Ben comparison is a good one from a physical standpoint in regards to similarities," Marc Daniels, play-by-play voice of the Knights told Texans All-Access Radio. "We saw Ben when UCF was in the MAC and played Miami of Ohio those two years that Ben played. I think there are some things about Blake that people also don't realize. He ran effectively. I mean he was a good, effective runner for UCF by design. Blake was huge as an offensive weapon at UCF and I don't think the NFL teams will shy away from him."
With the first-overall pick in the draft, the Texans already have several connections to Bortles. Head coach Bill O'Brien coached under UCF head coach George O'Leary at Georgia Tech and cites him as one of his mentors. The Texans newly-named quarterbacks coach George Godsey also played for O'Leary and O'Brien at Georgia Tech. O'Leary's style of coaching could very well yield a prospect consistent with the standards of O'Brien and Godsey. While O'Leary admits that a franchise quarterback only comes along once a decade, like Andrew Luck, Bortles has size and learns quickly.
"Blake is like a lot of the good quarterbacks that can extend a play," O'Leary said in an interview with SportsRadio 610 on Wednesday. "That's what I can see. He can take a bad play and make a good play out of it. We were just looking at tape today from last year and how many plays he extended, that would have been dead plays with someone who couldn't make a play."
O'Brien saw Bortles do just that last season when Penn State faced UCF in its third game of the 2013 season. Bortles was 20-of-27, passing for 288 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in UCF's 34-31 win over the Nittany Lions. That may have been the turning point for Bortles' role in the Knights offense.
"I would say from that Penn State game on, where UCF knew they were going in front of a hostile crowd, they had to give Blake a little bit more freedom," Daniels said. "You saw a guy that had the command to do some things and as the year went along as he made big plays, I think Blake showed his ability to read defenses well. He loved going on the sideline, getting on the headphones, talking with (offensive coordinator) Charlie Taaffe and say 'Hey, I saw this.' They did that a couple times in the game against Baylor where early they saw some things that Blake thought they could take advantage of, and they did and it worked to their success."
In the American Athletic Conference's inaugural year, Bortles led the No. 15 Knights to their first-ever BCS Bowl appearance in the Fiesta Bowl as AAC champions. Facing a heavily-favored No. 6 Baylor Bears, UCF pulled off a 52-42 upset, one of the biggest upsets of the BCS era. Bortles passed for 394 total yards and four touchdowns. Despite throwing two interceptions in the second quarter, the Oviedo, Florida native maintained his composure and was named Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP.
"He's a very poised guy, no highs, no lows, right down the middle," O'Leary said. "He has great fieldmanship. There's no question in the college ranks, he walked into the huddle, he commanded the respect of his teammates. He's not a loud, boisterous guy. He's a guy that, 'hey, we'll find a way to get it done' type of attitude. There's no question about it."
In 2013, Bortles finished his junior season with 3,581 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions, rushing for 272 yards and six touchdowns. He was also named AAC Offensive Player of the Year with first-team AAC honors, and earned honorable mention All-American.