The last few years have not been nice to the Jacksonville Jaguars. First was their huge miss with Blaine Gabbert, a first-round pick who turned out to be a pitiful excuse for an NFL quarterback. Then the whole Justin Blackmon fiasco happened. However, with the addition of Blake Bortles, there might actually be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Although the Jaguars have made it clear they plan on using Bortles’ rookie season as a redshirt year, this past May’s No. 3 overall pick is quickly living up to his draft status.
In two preseason appearances, Bortles has looked the part. Albeit against second- and third-team defenses, the rookie quarterback has showed more poise under center than Gabbert could ever muster. Not only has he been cool and collected in the pocket, but he’s done a great job of scrambling to extend plays instead of just chucking the ball away or panicking himself into an unnecessary sack.
What’s even more impressive, though, is his ability to throw the football – obviously something NFL quarterbacks must be pretty good at. While there were some questions coming out of UCF regarding Bortles’ accuracy – especially on deeper passes – the young gunslinger has proved time and time again this preseason that airing it out isn’t an issue.
Whether he’s drilling the ball into a tight window or hitting one of his receivers over the top, Bortles seems at home when throwing down the field.
Just take a look at his 21-yard beauty of a throw (46-second mark) to undrafted rookie Allen Hurns during the Jaguars’ preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While dropping back, Bortles looked off the safety and rifled the ball into a tight window to find Hurns. Even with the short set, he managed to manipulate the safety into giving him an opening.
That is not something you see every day from a quarterback playing in his second NFL game. Especially one who came into the league with so many questions about his arm and instincts. And yet, Bortles routinely did a great job of using his eyes to look off safeties and often checked down (40-second mark) to his second and third options instead of forcing the ball into coverage.
What really makes Bortles special, though, is his blend of arm talent and athleticism. While more than capable of picking apart a defense through the air, the first-round pick also has the awareness and athletic ability to make plays with his feet. The Jaguars have relied heavily on play action rollouts when Bortles is in the game, which allows him to get out on the perimeter and threaten the defense with his dual-theat abilities.
Another plus for Bortles is the fact that, when he’s on the run, his accuracy has been just as impressive. While many quarterbacks struggle with throwing on the run, he’s done a great job of using sound technique – squaring the shoulders, getting good hip rotation, planting and driving the ball – to deliver accurate throws when on the move.
Put simply, Bortles is showing that he has the tools to be a franchise quarterback. It’s not going to happen overnight, and the Jaguars might actually be making the right move by not throwing him into the fire this season. Chad Henne certainly isn’t going to get the Jaguars much closer to the playoffs than he did last year, but allowing Bortles to sit back and learn is a better long-term option for Jacksonville.
Still, it’s hard not to wonder what could become of the Jaguars’ offense if Bortles was given the opportunity to start this upcoming season. With a few exciting receivers in Cecil Shorts, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, and a solid running game that features the one-two punch of Toby Gerhart and Jordan Todman, it’s hard not to imagine what adding Bortles’ athleticism and playmaking into the mix might look like.
Chances are the Jaguars will be forced to give their rookie quarterback a shot at some point this season. As strong as their will to redshirt him might be, the temptation to bring him off the bench might be too great once Henne starts to play like, well, Henne.
One way or another, the Jaguars are likely in for a long season. They made subtle improvements this offseason and should benefit from another year under head coach Gus Bradley, but simply don’t have the talent on other side of the ball to seriously contend. Putting in Bortles and letting him put on a show, however, might be enough to keep those seats (and pools) filled at EverBank Field.
Bortles entering the starting lineup is inevitable, especially if he continues to play the way he has during the preseason. Why delay the inevitable?
The Jaguars were wishing for a franchise quarterback when they drafted Bortles. I think their wish was granted.