MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL draft is now just nine days away, and for the better part of the next week, we're going to spend some time breaking down the quarterbacks who might come to the Minnesota Vikings, either with the eighth overall pick or in the draft's later rounds.
We'll be doing that with the help of Matt Williamson, ESPN's resident NFL scout who used to be a college and NFL scout for the Cleveland Browns (in other words, he's spent some time assessing options for a quarterback-needy team). Williamson said earlier this week he believes the Vikings are actually in the best position of any team needing a quarterback in this draft, because of how many pieces they have in place on offense and how much better Matt Cassel is than the stopgap options available to other teams looking at a passer.
"Cassel, I think, you can win with. I could see him being Matt Schaub with the Texans before Schaub (struggled) a year ago," Williamson said. "If quarterbacks fly off the board, you're getting some high-quality prospects at other positions. I would view this (quarterback) class, for the Vikings, as, 'We're going to get a quarterback in one of the top two rounds, and we don't mind if he's somewhat developmental.'"
To get started with our look at the quarterbacks, we'll take a look at Central Florida's Blake Bortles, whom ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both have the Vikings taking with the eighth overall pick:
Bortles, Central Florida junior
2013 stats: 67.8 completion percentage, 3,581 yards, 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions.
NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-5, 232 pounds, 32 7/8-inch arm length, 9 3/8-inch hand span.
Pros: Of the quarterbacks widely projected to be taken first, Bortles might be the best fit for the Vikings; he's got the size that offensive coordinator Norv Turner has typically sought in his quarterbacks, and while his arm strength might not be at the top of the draft, he's got enough to make the throws required in Turner's offense. He hit 13 of 22 throws of 16 yards or more when he was under pressure last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and would seem to have the mobility and athleticism to drive the ball downfield while facing a rush. There aren't any character questions with Bortles, and there's little doubt about his eagerness to learn. "He's a ways away, but I think that's OK for the Vikings' situation," Williamson said. "I don't think they need a 'now' guy. Would you use that pick on him? I don't think he's going to be there, but of the three (Bortles, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater), he's the best fit."
Cons: Bortles' footwork probably needs to be refined at the NFL level, as he got himself in trouble by not stepping into throws and allowing the ball to flutter at times last season. He's been compared to Ben Roethlisberger, but Williamson said those parallels shouldn't be drawn. "Ben, I think, has as much functional arm strength as anyone in the league," Williamson said. "It's not just standing in the pocket and throwing rockets. I mean, with people all over him, he throws the ball 65 yards down the field. I don't see Bortles ever being that guy. I think he probably is a better athlete than Ben, in terms of foot speed, but I don't think he's nearly as functionally strong." He also would need time to absorb the complexity of an NFL offense after playing at Central Florida. "I don't think they put a lot on his plate," Williamson said. "I think he's very much a work in progress."