The Jacksonville Jaguars had high hopes for rookie quarterback Blake Bortles when they took him with the third overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. While short term expectations were tempered because it was agreed Bortles needed time to develop, the Jaguars are banking on Bortles being the long term solution at quarterback.
Bortles’ ascension into a functional NFL quarterback needs to begin this year, and that’s why he cracked SI.com’s list of the 100 most influential people for the 2015 season. Here’s what Gary Gramling had to say about Bortles coming in at 98:
"As far as young quarterbacks go, it’s an age of instant gratification. Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and the eight-division alignment in 2002, nine rookie quarterbacks have gone to the playoffs in Year One. When the Jaguars selected Blake Bortles with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft they knew he was a different breed, a raw talent with the emphasis on raw. Despite his physical gifts, Bortles’ mechanics were so out-of-whack that the Jaguars were leaning toward a redshirt year. He ended up debuting last September, compiling a few brilliant moments but typically looking overwhelmed over the course of a three-win season. The Jaguars have spent two seasons loading up on passing-game weapons, spending big on walking mismatch Julius Thomas and burning top-75 picks on Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee in the ’14 draft. Bortles doesn’t have to be Mark Brunell. He doesn’t even have to be David Garrard. But this is a fan base wearing the scars of four straight double-digit-loss seasons, and a fan base that just watched this year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, the long-awaited edge rushing monster, crumple to the ground with a torn ACL while practicing in shorts. What Bortles has to do is show enough progress as a passer—particularly functionality within the pocket—to show that he won’t be the next Blaine Gabbert. He has to become proof positive of hope in Jacksonville."
These are points that we’ve seen before, but now it’s just coming from a very prominent national source. All the familiar notes are there – Bortles struggled his rookie year, the Jaguars started surrounding him with weapons, he’s worked hard in the offseason, etc… Now it’s time for Bortles to take the next step.
The more interesting thing to talk about is what kind of range Bortles has on this list. While he comes in as the 98th most influential person in the NFL this year, he has a chance to be significantly more impactful. The Jaguars seem to have a fairly respectable roster across the board, especially in relation to what they were working with 3 years ago. If Bortles can improve even marginally, the Jaguars could be a feisty matchup week in and week out.
My main point of contention in this analysis is Gramling’s assertion that Bortles doesn’t even need to be better than David Garrard. Taken in the top 3 of one of the better drafts in recent memory, Bortles will almost certainly be a disappointment if he isn’t as good as Garrard. Fortunately, Bortles appears to have a higher ceiling, and will hopefully reach that level sooner rather than later. The success of the franchise over the next 2 years or so depends on it.
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