As evidenced by their current quarterback controversy, it’s no surprise that Blake Bortles lands at the bottom of ESPN’s quarterback tiers.
While everyone is waiting with bated breath to see who head coach Doug Marrone will trot out as the starting quarterback on Thursday night for the Jacksonville Jaguars preseason game against the Carolina Panthers (spoiler: it’s probably Chad Henne), the rest of the football world has taken this week to pile it on Blake Bortles.
The fall from grace of a guy who was once considered a top 60 player in the NFL by his peers is pretty astonishing. Even Jon Gruden, a notoriously uber-positive commentator and former coach, couldn’t hold back in his criticism of Bortles during last week’s broadcast.
While it’s expected for talking heads on ESPN and NFL Network to make offhand remarks about Bortles and his inability to become a viable NFL QB, we’re also seeing legitimate analysts and team personnel guys make similar comments.
This transitions nicely to a recent piece by ESPN on where each quarterback lands in their defined “tiers.” In this annual piece, Mike Sando polls league executives and scouts to get their opinion on each quarterback. Here are the definitions of each tier.
"A Tier 1 quarterback can carry his team each week. The team wins because of him. Expertly handles pure-pass situations.A Tier 2 quarterback can carry his team sometimes, but not as consistently. Can handle pure-pass situations in doses or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. Has a hole or two in his game.A Tier 3 quarterback is a legitimate starter, but needs a heavier run game and/or defense to win. A lower-volume pass offense makes his job easier.A Tier 4 quarterback could be an unproven player with some upside, or a veteran that is ultimately best suited as a backup. Teams might not want these guys starting all 16 games."
Tier 4 is reserved for the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but that short description sounds generous for Bortles considering what we’ve seen from him this preseason.
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Unsurprisingly, Bortles did make the 4th tier and the snippet on him is scathing.
"Bortles dropped from a 3.0 balloting average last summer to a 4.0 average this summer, with most of those votes coming in before the Jaguars said Chad Henne was in the mix to compete for the job. There was at least some thought that the Jaguars’ defense and renewed commitment to the run game could take enough pressure off Bortles for him to become more efficient.“He can’t do it, in my opinion,” a GM said. “He is too slow with the ball, too inaccurate, too indecisive.”An offensive coordinator said he thought there was a mental disconnect between Bortles’ training and on-field performance. How else could Bortles’ mechanics deteriorate so much? A weak offensive line and so-so talent at running back has not helped. Voters still struggled to explain why Bortles had fallen off so much. It’s possible Bortles was basically the same guy all along. He was 28th in Total QBR, one spot below Blaine Gabbert, over the final eight games of his alleged breakout 2015 season.“If you take away all that two-minute production where he is playing against Cover 2, getting a bunch of yards at the end of the game, he is not very good,” a QB coach said. “I was hoping they would take [Deshaun] Watson or somebody higher. What they are banking on is if Bortles doesn’t get it, if he is not any good this year, they are going to have a loaded roster and pick one of those quarterbacks next year.”"
The final comment in that analysis suggests the Jaguars have a plan focused on 2018, but that doesn’t jive with what we’ve seen the team do and heard Tom Coughlin say. The Jaguars want to win now and it’s shocking that they didn’t acquire any real contingency in the situation that Bortles falls flat on his face.
Going back to the QB tiers, here are the guys ranked around Bortles.
"26. Trevor Siemian 3.7827. Mike Glennon 3.8628. Colin Kaepernick 3.88T-29. Blake Bortles 3.98T-29. Paxton Lynch 3.9831. Brian Hoyer 4.0032. Jared Goff 4.0633. Tom Savage 4.0834. Josh McCown 4.1235. Brock Osweiler 4.2036. Cody Kessler 4.42"
It’s a bit funny to see Kaepernick, the guy fans are clamoring for to replace Bortles, ranked just above him. It’s also unfortunate to see the likes of Mike Glennon now considered more viable than Bortles.
Bortles has always been a high-variance quarterback, and that may now apply to his actual future as an employed NFL player. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bortles back as the starter for the Jaguars next year or out of the league entirely – both outcomes are in play.
I’ve been as willing as anyone to give Bortles another shot, but his horrific play in the preseason and the reports of his inconsistency during training camp is not conducive with the new level of accountability under Marrone and Coughlin. The coaching staff can’t just hand Bortles the starting job if he continues to be awful.
For now, it appears Bortles is appropriately ranked as a tier 4 QB.