Former Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles
With the hoopla of pro days nearly over, the Cleveland Browns' coaching staff and front office have intensified their search for draft prospects.
According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Browns have conducted or are planning to hold private workouts with seven quarterbacks: Fresno State's Derek Carr, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, Ball State's Keith Wenning, and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. The most recent session, according to media reports, was with Bortles. While the specifics of the workout are unknown, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likely tested Bortles on his scrambling capabilities, a borderline necessity for new-age quarterbacks. Don't let Bortles' 272 rushing yards in 2013 fool you – the Florida native can make defenders miss in the open field and chooses wisely when to use his wheels. Bortles' speed is unique for his size (6-foot-5, 232 pounds) and Shanahan has had success implementing his quarterback's athleticism.
Shanahan operated a run-first, zone-blocking scheme in Washington that's most effective when the quarterback's legs threaten the defense. Some will look at the Redskins' 3-13 record and proclaim his innovative approach has run its course.
That isn't totally valid. Defenses were forced to pay extra attention to quarterback Robert Griffin III (even with his reduced speed last season after knee surgery) and in turn the Redskins' running game ranked first and fifth in the NFL in 2012 and 2013, respectively. It morphed sixth-round pick Alfred Morris into a star running back.
Option formations with Griffin freed up the middle of the field for receiver Pierre Garcon to haul in a franchise-record 113 receptions. Issues on defense plagued Washington much more than the team's ability to move the football.
Many mock drafts have the Browns selecting Bortles with the fourth overall pick. Bortles possesses the measureables and arm strength conducive to most franchise quarterbacks. He notably led his team in come-from-behind fashion against SMU, Louisville and Penn State, delivering clutch throws to seal victories in all three contests.
On the flip side, the lack of competition Bortles' Knights faced in the American Athletic Conference is among some of the hesitation NFL draft experts say is troubling certain front offices. Bortles only played against four ranked teams in his career, and seven of his 19 career interceptions came against them. Central Florida competed in Conference USA during Bortles' junior season, the only other year Bortles was entrenched as the starter. Scouts have also griped about his accuracy on deep throws. If Bortles is on the board with the fourth overall pick, Browns will at the very least have to consider him.