READ: The next Big Ben?
VIDEO: Bortles' highlights at UCF
Q&A: Jon Cooper on Bortles' rise
AUDIO: Texans 24 Hour Radio Podcast
Texans Draft Central
HoustonTexans.com: Blake Bortles seemed to explode on the scene nationally this past season. Was he someone you had on your radar in terms of top quarterbacks heading into the year?
Cooper: I’m not sure he was on anyone’s radar as the top tier quarterback he has seemingly become. Was he a nice player? Sure, many will tell you that. And some will tell you they saw his 2013 season coming, but in reality, I’m not sure anyone saw it coming. He always had great size, arm strength and pocket awareness, but if you watched him play, he did flash his upside, too. But to put it all together and make it click in 2013 on the national stage was a thing of beauty. Bortles was never a highly recruited quarterback, and it just takes some guys longer to peak and play their best football. Bortles fits that mold. He played great football for two straight seasons, but 2013 really put Bortles and UCF on the map by beating Louisville, winning the AAC Championship and beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. Quarterbacks turn heads when leading their teams to championships.
HoustonTexans.com: After putting up two solid seasons for UCF, why do you think Bortles flew under the radar in terms of national coverage?
Cooper: Most of the lack of media coverage has to do with the conference he played in. Aside from Louisville, nobody was pumping the AAC prior to 2013. And could you blame them? With teams that aren’t in the big five conferences, it’s more of a wait and see and show me what you have, as opposed to preseason hype surrounding any player or team (discounting Teddy Bridgewater). But his stock exploded because of wins against Louisville and Baylor that came while the entire country was watching. Anytime you’re on the national stage performing at a high level, you will turn heads. He was consistently good throughout the season and his career, while flashing his major upside and potential throughout.
HoustonTexans.com: In terms of expectations, where was your opinion of UCF’s team coming into the year? Did you foresee them reaching that level of success?
Cooper: George O’Leary has been building the UCF program for 10 years, and 2013 was a testament to the patience both he and the athletic department have shown throughout his tenure. The Knights have won 10 games or more three of the last four seasons. 2013 was a culmination of great recruiting and development. UCF doesn’t land four- and five-star players every year, but rather, they land good players who develop into great players. Development speaks volumes to O’Leary’s tenure with UCF.
HoustonTexans.com: Bortles has the most prototypical size among all QB prospects in this year’s draft. What most impresses you about his physical tools?
Cooper: Bortles’ 6-4, 230-pound frame is more impressive in person, and that’s the first thing that really jumps out. He has more than enough arm strength, but his ability to make things happen when the pocket collapses and put pressure on defenses with his legs is such a weapon. He’s a quarterback first, but he’s also a better than average athlete with elite size and adequate athleticism.
HoustonTexans.com: What kind of offense does UCF run? How does that type of attack translate to Bortles NFL projections?
Cooper: UCF has been more pro-style and traditional under center in years past, but with a threat like Bortles, the offense opened up to more of a zone-read and shotgun spread team over the last couple years. The Knights’ offense was multiple because the quarterback was multiple, meaning they ran variations of under center and shotgun. That translates well into the NFL.
HoustonTexans.com: What type of NFL offensive system best fits Bortles skill set?
Cooper: I really believe Bortles can run any NFL style or offensive scheme. Although Bortles is athletic and mobile, a more pro-style offense best fits his skill set, and he can run variations of zone-read attacks, too. His 230-pound beefy frame translates well for absorbing some NFL hits, but he’s a pocket passer first, who can make some things happen on the ground and make plays on the run outside the pocket.
HoustonTexans.com: Is there another quarterback with whom Bortles compares favorably to?
Cooper: Bortles compares to Ben Roethlisberger because of his size and frame, but Bortles is quicker than Big Ben. Roethlisberger’s size allows him to escape pressure, because it often takes two defenders to bring him down. Bortles is that physically impressive, but he’s a better athletic package than Big Ben. I like to compare him – athlete-wise – to Andrew Luck. Can he become an elite quarterback like Luck? I think he can develop into that type of player, but he’s not as polished as Luck was exiting college. Luck is foremost a pocket passer, but he has the ability to pick up third and four on the ground.
HoustonTexans.com: Do you think his relatively unknown status prior to the season will help or hurt him as NFL teams start to evaluate his game?
Cooper: It’s ultimately a wash, because once he gets on the field at the combine, scouts and GMs will see first hand his ability and size. Sometimes prospects develop later than others. Bortles is one of those players, but it may actually help him because of his heightened season and momentum he created for himself and his team with a spectacular finish. There’s a buzz around Bortles now, regardless of whether he was a nobody before the season started.
HoustonTexans.com: If you were the Houston Texans GM, would you select Bortles with the top overall pick?
Cooper: Bortles is a nice prospect, but I like one other quarterback better in Johnny Manziel, for several different reasons. It’s either going to be Jadeveon Clowney, who would add tremendous punch to an already potent defensive line, or one of the two quarterbacks. Houston needs a franchise quarterback, but they could also decide to pick up a veteran free agent quarterback and take an elite talent like Clowney.
There isn’t a transcendent star quarterback in the 2014 draft who can significantly change the fortunes of a struggling franchise right now. So, I would take Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick and find a veteran quarterback who can bridge the gap for a couple seasons while waiting to see if that quarterback comes along.