Blake Bortles set to prove he’s more than mediocre for the Jacksonville Jaguars

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Blake Bortles
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Blake Bortles /

After not selecting a quarterback until the sixth round of last week’s NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars made it clear that they’re all in on Blake Bortles for 2018.

From his rookie season in 2014 to his junior campaign in 2016, Blake Bortles ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in just about every major statistical category, including QBR and completion percentage.

He became the laughingstock of the NFL for his glaring in-accuracy and knack for turnovers. Bortles was so bad in last year’s preseason that head coach Doug Marrone declared there was a open competition at the quarterback position after the team’s embarrassing loss to the Buccaneers.

Then, when the pressure and intense criticism reached an all time high, he did the unthinkable, having his best season yet in 2017. Bortles ranked 12th in QBR last year, and was the efficient game manager the Jaguars needed. In fact, during a five week stretch, he was the among the best quarterbacks in the league. In the team’s divisional round matchup against Pittsburgh, Bortles proved he could be more than a game manager, stretching the field and making the Steelers respect their passing game.

While Bortles still has a long way to go in proving himself, he certainly showed he can drive the train in a straight line, making some big time plays in the process. Yes, he had an outstanding defense helping him, and Leonard Fournette in the backfield to take the load off, but the Florida native certainly deserves some credit, too.

Over the course of last season, he lost top wideout Allen Robinson, and had veterans Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee miss significant time with injuries. In fact, at one point the wide receiver depth chart was down to undrafted rookies Keelan Cole and Jaydon Mickens, and 4th round pick Dede Westbrook. During this period, Bortles had arguably one of his best games as a pro throwing for 326 yards and three touchdowns against the Houston Texans.

In addition to having a wide receiver and tight end depth chart that was talent deprived, he also played through the entire season with a partially torn right wrist.

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Even though he was inconsistent and went back to his wobbly ways at times, Bortles ultimately flashed the traits that made him the 3rd overall pick several years ago. He’s athletic, mobile, and has solid arm strength. Add in the fact that the team got some intriguing new pass catchers in Austin-Seferian Jenkins, Donte Moncrief, and rookie D.J. Chark, and all of a sudden it feels like this might be a guy who’s just scratching the surface in his potential.

Yes he struggled right out of the gate, but it’s important to consider the circumstances. Bortles was thrown right into the fire after playing at an mid-major school, had a pedestrian run game with, for the most part, mediocre receivers, and had a career resume duster offensive coordinator in Greg Olsen. Having the young, innovative, Nathaniel Hackett calling the plays last year made a world of difference.

Rather than forcing Bortles to go out and throw the ball forty times a game, forcing him to make long, pressure ridden passes in the process, Hackett flipped the script – forming his gameplan around Bortles. The former UCF Knight wasn’t that type of quarterback in college, which makes sense why he struggled to be that guy in the pros.

It’s also important to remember that the learning curve at the quarterback position is typically incredibly steep. In the past we’ve also seen guys struggle out of the gate, only to have their best seasons as a pro later in their career – with much more favorable circumstances (Peyton Manning anyone?)

A year after that embarrassing postgame press conference against the Bucs, it feels like Bortles has new life. More important than having a fresh set of receivers or a offensive coordinator he’s finally comfortable with, Bortles has the arguably most important thing of all: confidence. Blake Bortles has all the tools in place to make the jump from game manager to game changer, now it’s just time to do it.