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In my weekly column, we take a long look at impact fantasy football rookies.  I compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them.  Let’s continue this 2014 version of the series by looking at the first quarterback taken blakein the draft, Blake Bortles.  While he wasn’t going in the first round of most rookie drafts, injuries and poor performances may lead more teams to get him in their lineups than originally thought.

Here are my thoughts from watching a few of his college games:  The quarterback is a bigger, athletic player that can hurt teams with his strong arm and surprising feet.  In his bowl game against Baylor, the junior ran for over 90 yards and a touchdown, but he isn’t as athletic as fellow rookies Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. Unlike the rest of his quarterback class, he stands 6’ 5” 235 lbs and is built to take punishment.  Even though it’s been said many time and many ways, Bortles plays similarly to a younger, skinnier Ben Rothlisberger with his same pocket presence (sometimes holding the ball too long) and running down the field (delivers as much punishment as he takes). He was fairly accurate in the pocket, but throws a little better rolling out which cuts the field in half for him.  Keep in mind, Bortles is raw and has not played against a great level of competition, but improved his completion rate and yards per attempt from his sophomore to junior seasons.

The young signal caller shows maturity taking sacks when nothing was open and no safe passing lanes were present.  He is very mobile when he chooses to take off from the pocket, sets his feet before he throws, but needs to improve his pocket presence getting rid of the ball quicker.  Bortles has a strong arm and usually places the ball where only his receivers can get to it , but dealt with his share of dropped passes.  In the bowl game, Bortles had some difficulty reading coverage that caused him to throw one interception and a tipped ball caused another.  The quarterback settled down after that keeping his passes on the shorter side (within five to fifteen yards), while finding weaknesses in the defense to exploit.

This is what I saw from Bortles playing against the Steelers in Jacksonville: This was a difficult test for the young quarterback.  The Jacksonville offense coordinator placed him in a lot of shotgun formations to give him more time to scan the field.  Bortles’ poise is what initially stood out to me.  He remained calm in the pocket, stepped into the majority of his throws while demonstrating good ball placement, not that his young receivers did him a lot of favors in this regard.  Bortles needs to work on focusing on quick reads until his offensive line develops.  There were a few times where he threw all upper body and the ball sailed on him, including his game costing interception in the fourth quarter that got returned for a score.  His arm is a bit stronger than I originally thought, and the young signal caller was not shy about scrambling when an opening presented itself.  On a few throws, Bortles should have protected his receivers better, instead of causing them to lay out for the ball and take more punishment than was necessary.

The rookie quarterback is quick enough to roll out and throw against his body accurately, even though those aren’t the type of passes you want him throwing right now.  Bortles got plagued by some ill-timed drops from his young receiving corp.  He sells his handoffs and fake pumps well.  With his mobility and improvisation, the quarterback could grow into a dangerous weapon with a few years of seasoning.  The game is definitely slowing down for him after each snap he takes.  Please keep in mind Steelers crafty defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, has been successfully playing tricks on rookie quarterbacks for 20+ years in the NFL.  I like this rookie quarterback and would want him on my dynasty team as a strong QB2 who could develop into a top eight dynasty fantasy option by 2016.  It won’t happen quickly, but he has a strong group of young playmakers that can help.

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