Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is deceptively effective on his feet and could do well playing into his strengths as a runner as well as a passer.
First things first, it’s important to note that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is not Cam Newton or Michael Vick. In fact, he may not even be Steve Young.
Yet when Bortles gets moving, there’s something special going on. It can be seen when he has a designed roll out of the pocket and it can be seen when he makes a surprising rush for an extended gain or, rarely, a reception like that 20-yard touchdown courtesy of Marqise Lee.
What is often overlook, because Bortles is not widely viewed as a runner, is that he makes a surprisingly reliable dual-threat at the quarterback position. Through three seasons as the primary starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars (he took over in Week 3 of the 2014 season), Bortles has 1088 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
How well does that stack up to the rest of the NFL in that period of time? Bortles is fifth in the NFL among quarterbacks in rushing yards since 2014 and 11th in rushing touchdowns. Most importantly, however, his 1088 yards came on just 166 rushing attempts, giving him the highest yards per attempt (6.55) among all quarterbacks over the last three seasons.
What 2016 did was prove that Bortles can be more effective with his legs. While struggling as a passer, Bortles managed to post impressive numbers as a runner. The decision to run was far more deliberate than his early scrambles for his life in his career-high rookie season.
As Hays Carlyon wrote for The Florida Times-Union back in November, “When you lead the NFL in something positive, you should do it more often. Sounds simply, right?” Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
While Bortles is an effective runner and should probably use his legs more to highlight that, there is an argument to be made that by becoming more of a running quarterback he may see less production per run. Right now, Bortles gets away with high per rush averages in part because he does not take off as often as other quarterbacks that are gifted runners. His 166 attempts are much more in line with those of Aaron Rodgers (168 since 2014) than they are with Russell Wilson (293) or Newton (325).
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In contemplating Bortles being more of a dual-threat it is easy to lump him in as a supplemental piece of the running game. Bortles was almost forced into that role in 2016 when T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory struggled to find running room behind a porous offensive line. Instead, Bortles’ legs should be used as a complementary piece to the running game, further enhancing the effectiveness of the running game and also adding a threat whenever he drops back.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett may have to get creative to find the right balance for Bortles’ ability as a passer and a runner. Given Bortles’ regression as a passer in 2016 it may even become a necessity. At a minimum, it’s one more tool for Bortles and the offense to deploy.