CLEVELAND – Ten years after passing on Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 NFL Draft, could the Cleveland Browns pull the trigger and take his clone in Blake Bortles in 2014?
Roethlisberger, a Findlay, Ohio native, would be selected 11th overall by the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, and go on to win two Super Bowls and boast a 16-1 mark vs. Cleveland.
The man that the Browns took over Big Ben, Kellen Winslow, an all-American tight end out of Miami (FL) would be more remembered for his off-field motorcycle accident and playing for four different teams in nine seasons the form of Tampa Bay, New England and the New York Jets.
For the Browns, there is no room for error in the 2014 NFL Draft as they have two picks in the first round, one in the second and two in the third. Thanks to another fourth quarter collapse against the Jay Cutler-led Chicago Bears, 38-31 Sunday, the Browns are in prime position to draft in the top five.
Thanks to the struggles on offense in the lack of a running game and lack of continuity, two of the top needs for the Browns going into May will be on both quarterback and running back. Other areas—as painfully highlighted by Cutler down at FirstEnergy Stadium are inside linebacker, offensive line (guard—most notably) and in the secondary.
Make no mistake, the top priority for the Browns is to identify its franchise quarterback.
Former first round pick, Brandon Weeden is an epic bust unworthy of words in this column, Brian Hoyer will be coming back from an ACL injury with a small sample of games of proof and Jason Campbell is a glorified band-aid under center. All three do not have the intangibles to be seen as the standard-bearer for the Browns to invest heavily in for the next decade, which leads this writer to make a case for Bortles.
Bortles, a 6’4, 230-pound junior quarterback out of Central Florida has thrown for 3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns and rushed for 179 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Thanks to his strong arm and Roethlisberger-like, Houdini-esque ability to escape and extend plays outside the pocket, his draft stock is the fastest rising, and in addition to a suddenly so-so quarterback class that has the likes of Brett Hundley, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr, could vault into the top-five depending on his performance in a likely shootout in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Bryce Petty’s Baylor Bears.
If Bortles puts on a Teddy Bridgewater-like performance against a quality opponent, the same way that Bridgewater did vs Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, it wouldn’t surprise many draftniks if he vaulted to No.1 overall in the draft. That in addition to his mobility, deft touch on deep passes and passing the “eye test’ of NFL scouts and executives such and Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi and Bortles could end up being “the guy” in Cleveland.
Playing in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference many are quick to question the level of competition that Bortles faced. Bortles beat both Penn State and the aforementioned Bridgewater’s ACC-bound eighth-ranked Louisville Cardinals on the road, while losing 28-25 to No.12 South Carolina.
With these intangibles, is Bortles worthy of the No.1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft? Should the Browns take a gamble on a player benefitting from playing inferior competition in a weak BCS conference?
Clearly, playing in the Mid-American Conference for the Miami Redhawks didn’t hurt Big Ben’s NFL career in Pittsburgh.
Depending on a few scenarios—namely his performance in the Fiesta Bowl and NFL scouting combine and weak quarterback class—look for Bortles’ stock to trend upwards and onto the Browns radar in May.