The NFL is a pass-first league, and every team needs a capable quarterback to compete. Since the focus is often on the Hall of Famers and the latest top draft picks, we can sometimes forget about the former first rounders who are still growing. Justin Twell looks at Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles as he enters his third year in the NFL.
Soon to enter his third year as an NFL starter, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was an interesting prospect coming out of Central Florida as the third overall pick in the 2014 draft. Many observers compared him to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and it’s easy to understand why based solely on his physical traits. How far has Bortles come in his first two seasons, and what should we expect to see from him moving forward?
The 2015 season was by no means a sophomore slump from Bortles after an expectedly average rookie year. Bortles was statistically impressive, completing 58.6% of his passes, throwing for 4,428 yards with 35 touchdowns against 18 interceptions, and posting a quarterback rating of 88.2. His 18 interceptions led the league and he was sacked a league-leading 51 times, but he was seventh in the NFL in passing yards and his 35 touchdowns were tied for second.
Bortles’ improved play last season suggests he’ll continue to get better, and when you watch his tape it’s easy to see why he already should be regarded as a very good NFL quarterback.
This play from Week 9 last season against the New York Jets highlights Bortles capabilities. On 1st and 10 at the Jacksonville 19, Allen Hurns goes in motion to the right side of the formation, and Bortles identifies a one-on-one matchup with his favorite target, Allen Robinson, on the left side. He then shows the ability to anticipate the rush, doesn’t bite on the play-action, sidesteps away, and patiently waits for Robinson to shake off man coverage from Darrelle Revis. Bortles keeps his eyes downfield and throws a nice pass that only Robinson can catch, completing it for 33 yards.
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Bortles has a great height advantage at 6’5”, and his solid frame allows him to stand tall in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield, even when facing heavy pressure. On this 3rd and 6 play in the Buffalo red zone, Bortles does a nice job of extending the play by stepping up in the pocket and choosing the safer option. After working through his reads, while on the run, Bortles finds T.J. Yeldon for a first down.
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Last year the Jaguars often played from behind, which allowed Bortles to put up some impressive statistical games. At the same time he refined his game and grew comfortable in their system. Playing from behind a lot can also affect decision making which can lead to interceptions. Expect Bortles to improve in this area as the Jaguars themselves improve both offensively and defensively.
In 2016 the Jaguars plan to use a hurry-up offense more frequently, which can tire out a defense and may mean a decrease in the sack numbers for Bortles. The quarterback’s increased comfort in the offense affords Jacksonville the luxury of implementing some hurry-up offense too.
It’s worth remembering that Bortles is only 24 years old. Jaguars fans, but few others, may know Bortles is just the third quarterback, along with Dan Marino and Daunte Culpepper, to throw for at least 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns at age 23 or younger.
With the weapons Bortles has around him in Robinson, Hurns, Julius Thomas — and the nice one-two punch in the backfield of Yeldon and Chris Ivory — we should expect Bortles to continue his improvement in 2016.
Although a question remains: How will Bortles perform under some real pressure situations, should the Jaguars find themselves fighting for a playoff spot or even make the playoffs? A comfortable and effective offensive scheme with trustworthy players around him will give Bortles a lot of confidence to perform in those situations. However the answer is simply, only time will tell.