In his list of “The NFL’s 50 most fascinating people: Players, coaches, GMs to watch in 2018,” ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell writes this is a “Now or Never” season for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.
Someone else is once again questioning whether Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is the man to lead the team to the playoffs and beyond. This time, it’s ESPN.com’s, Bill Barnwell. In his story on the website, “The NFL’s 50 most fascinating people: Players, coaches, GMs to watch in 2018,” the analyst wonders out loud (on a computer screen) if this is a “Now or Never” season for the fifth-year starter.
"“The best example of the unique position Bortles occupies in the NFL world is that he is a former No. 3 overall pick who had an organization shop for pieces to make him look good each offseason while simultaneously making excuses as he failed to improve and yet, still, Bortles manages to have a persecution complex,” Barnwell writes."
He is talking about the day Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone named backup Chad Henne as the starter for the third preseason game against the Carolina Panthers in 2017. Bortles even referred to it when he spoke to the media earlier this week.
Bortles reclaimed his job with a solid showing in that game last year. While Henne has since moved on the Kansas City and took a few snaps on mop-up duty last year, Bortles remains the guy who the Jaguars believe can help them get past the AFC Title game.
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Yes, the Jaguars have added pieces to the puzzle on offense, which includes depth at wide receiver and a beefier offensive line. Bortles, however, looked his best last season when it counted – in the last two playoff games the Jaguars played.
"Barnwell makes a case for the ebb and flow of Bortles’ career. “I took each quarterback’s top 16 starts by Total QBR over the past five seasons and combined their numbers into what amounts to their best-case seasonal line.”"
It wasn’t pretty, which helps Barnwell’s case.
"“Of those 37 passers, Bortles’ best 16 games combine to rank 35th in completion percentage, 26th in yards per attempt, 34th in interception rate and 29th in adjusted yards per attempt,” he added."
Bortles had his best season as a Jaguars starter last season but did not put up the monster numbers he did in 2015. That is thanks in part to one of the best running games in the NFL last season which allowed him to do more with less.
He also had his career-best season in terms of the fewest interceptions thrown (13) and the least number of times he was sacked (24).
Oh, and if you forgot, the Jaguars had the second best defense in the league last season and first in the AFC.
Even with these “pluses” Barwell appears on the fence of whether or not he will concede Bortles could have an even bigger season in 2018.
“The best-case scenario is that we see more of the Bortles who pieced together the best three-game stretch of his career last December along with the guy who subsequently held his own against Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in the playoffs,” he states.
“The worst case is that we get the Bortles who showed up in between the stretches, the guy who threw five interceptions across three games and became the first quarterback in nearly two decades to throw 20 passes in a playoff game and win despite failing to make it to 100 passing yards.”
In this case, where Barnwell talks about other quarterbacks in the same position as Bortles, namely Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Joe Flacco, the Jaguars starter still must prove he is better on the field. Then, maybe, Barnwell and others will have something better to say after the 2018 season.