INDIANAPOLIS — In between throws that would be picked apart and scrutinized, Blake Bortles spun the ball in the air to himself.
The former UCF quarterback stood on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday morning in front of a cadre of NFL executives. A national TV audience was watching. The next hour had the potential to have a major impact on his standing in May’s NFL Draft.
Yet, Bortles looked like he was readying to toss the ball around with friends in the backyard.
It’s the same aura that propelled Bortles and the Knights through so many close wins and clutch fourth quarters and prompted him to throw at the combine in the first place. And once again, the Oviedo native delivered in the pressure packed situation.
Bortles turned in a strong performance during throwing drills at the combine. As the only player among the top three quarterback draft prospects who opted to participate, all eyes were trained on Bortles. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel were among the spectators because they opted to wait until their respective pro days to show off their passing skills.
Bortles was accurate, displaying his arm strength and ability to adjust on the fly. He ended the workout with his best throw of the day.
“I liked what I saw from Blake Bortles,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Nothing seemed to really bother him, either.”
During a day full of tests, Bortles ran the 40-yard dash, turning in unofficial times of 4.81 and 4.88 and an official time of 4.93. The results were not among the top quarterbacks, but they were decent for Bortles’ 6-feet-5, 232-pound frame.
He was among the top performers in the vertical leap (32.5 inches) and broad jump (115 inches). He also logged respectable times in the three-cone drill (7.08 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.21 seconds). The only event he declined to participate in was the bench press because he did not train extensively for it ahead of the combine. He will have the option to do the drills again for NFL executives attending UCF’s pro day March 19.
The most important task, though, came around 10 a.m. when Bortles stepped up as the first quarterback to throw the ball during drills.
Bortles started out with shorter patterns, quick slants and outs, and progressed to fade patterns and fly routes. He displayed accuracy on both, though he did overthrow one of his three deep passes. Bortles’ footwork may have been the biggest area to critique, especially in the five- and seven-step drops, but there were no glaring issues.
The Knights’ two-year starter shined during the longer throws late in the session, showing great arm strength on out routes and connecting on all three post-corner routes. Bortles adjusted to complete a pass when a receiver cut the route short and he closed his workout session with a perfectly placed pass to Pittsburgh State receiver John Brown — perhaps the best throw of any quarterback in the entire morning session.
Reaction from media was positive. Several scouts and national analysts said they were impressed with Bortles’ ability to adjust his timing with the receivers, and the overall tone indicated that Bortles came away from the workout having helped, or at least held up to, his top-tier draft stock.
With Bridgewater and Manziel sitting out drills, NFL Network analysts focused on Bortles. Analyst Charles Davis compared him favorably to Ben Roethlisberger. Analyst Brian Billick said of Bortles, “I don’t see any negatives.” And Mayock added, “I think he’s a franchise quarterback.”
Those who have spent time helping Bortles prepare for the combine were proud of his performance.
“Just from text messaging some guys, it sounded like he did really well,” said former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, who trained Bortles at a facility in California as he prepares for the draft. “He made a tough decision to throw, but for him to feel good about his decision and feel good about the way that he threw he had to make the most of the opportunity. It sounds like he did that and that’s why I’m happy for him.”
For a quarterback who took a major risk just by opting to throw, there was a definite reward.
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