With an offseason full of promising draft selections and free agent acquisitions, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ future stock looks to be on the rise.
Despite going 5-11 in 2015, there was plenty to get excited about. The WR duo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns combined for 2,431 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2015, rookie runningback TJ Yeldon offered explosive running, and the addition of Chris Ivory brings more options. Finally, the talented Rashad Greene and Marqise Lee offer WR depth.
Some analysts and fans have gone as far as predicting a playoff birth for the Jaguars, and part of the reason is because of quarterback Blake Bortles.
Bortles is coming off a breakthrough statistical season, in which he completed 355 of 606 passes for 4,428 yards, and 35 touchdowns. Based on this alone, it’s easy to see why Jaguars fans and many of the media are high on this young QB.
But while Bortles’ 35 touchdowns ranked (or should I say tied for) 2nd in the league, and his passing yardage ranked 7th, he threw 18 interceptions, the most in the league in 2015. His 3.0 INT% was the 4th worst, his 58.6 completion percentage ranked 5th last in terms of qualifiers, and his 88.2 passer rating only ranked 23rd. So while he dominated PPR leagues, his statistics on a whole were inconsistent.
That’s the word that comes to mind when discussing Blake Bortles; inconsistent. He is the most inconsistent quarterback in the NFL in my opinion. Even his game-by-game stats show this.
But enough about the stats. It’s time to show exactly what I mean when I say Bortles is inconsistent. As a passer, he is well known for his escapability and ability to buy time and extend the play in the pocket. He also has a talented arm, evident by the amount of vertical plays the Jaguars ran in 2015, and has been described as a Brett Favre-esque gunslinger for this reason.
If being a QB was just about these traits, Bortles might be in the top 10 or outside it looking in. He has a laundry list of flaws, however, that hold him back for now. The Allens have the ability to erase the need for accuracy on throws, and perfectly overwhelm defensive backs. Hurns is one of the game’s top slot receivers, while Robinson on the whole is a matchup freak.
This makes the 58.6 completion percentage all that puzzling. While it wouldn’t account for drops or failures at the catch point, Bortles is at times a very inaccurate passer. Part of that comes from his footwork. Sporadically, Bortles awkwardly sets his feet under pressure, often resulting in inaccurate passes.
Right away in the above two plays you can notice several issues. In the first, Allen Robinson has not yet developed his route, while Bortles’ pocket is collapsing. The correct thing to do would be to escape the pocket the buy time. Instead, Bortles gets scared because of the incoming pressure and rushes the throw, resulting in a dangerous incompletion. His mechanics looking awkward on the throw confirm this.
In the 2nd play, Bortles’ feet are planted awkwardly from the beginning. As the 5-man protection collapses, Bortles’ foot placement and his mechanics result in an inaccurate pass to Robinson with what would have likely been a first down with good mechanics.
Shown above are 2 more examples of Bortles providing poor footwork and scared throws under pressure. The first throw was tipped by the Bills pass rush, but this was likely because Bortles ducked as he threw the incomplete pass. His objective here is to stand tall and take the probable hit from the rush, but cowers and instead fires this. On the 2nd play, not only did Bortles miss a wide open receiver down the middle, but as the Bucs defense pressured him, he rushed his throw to a receiver that wasn’t close to being open, resulting in an interception.
It’s this kind of play under pressure that worries me about Bortles. When he’s required to quickly get the ball out under this kind of pressure, he often stumbles and fires awkwardly, which seemed plentiful in 2015.
But Bortles also has another major flaw, and that is running into sacks. The Jaguars’ pass protection was by no means good in 2015, but matters were not helped by #5’s inability to feel pressure around him.
The first 2 sacks are pretty bad, but the last 2 are something else. In the Titans game, Bortles literally ran into a sack. True, there might not have been much to do there, but he has to have better awareness than that. The one from the Ravens game is the worst, though. After doing a nice job of escaping pressure, Bortles, for reasons I’ll never understand, never saw the incoming defender on the left and took too long to get rid of the football (or should I say attempt to get rid of the football). Ultimately, he paid the price for it and took this abysmal sack to end the first quarter.
Lastly, Bortles’ inaccuracy is not as major of a flaw as his footwork and sack taking, but it’s still something to take note of.
In the first play, Bortles offers good footwork as he makes the throw, but misses the wide open receiver on what would have likely been the game winning touchdown. The 2nd play offer more terrible footwork under pressure, preventing the receiver from creating separation or even getting a chance to win on a 50/50 jumpball. The 3rd play is similar, except Robinson makes the catch because of his talent matching up.
Because Bortles’ momentum on the last 2 plays pushes him backward, the passes are weaker, resulting in 2 nearly intercepted throws. Receivers like Julius Thomas struggled at times to catch the ball, but Bortles’ was equally as bad, if not worse.
You get the idea at this point; Bortles has several flaws that need to be fixed. Now let’s describe the good side of #5.
As previously stated, Bortles does not thrive when asked to get rid of the ball quickly under pressure, but when forced out of the pocket, he’s given more time to survey the playing field in front of him long enough to pick out the open receiver.
Above are 2 great examples of Bortles thriving out of the pocket. The first play represents the closest he is to resembling a young Ben Roethlisberger. As he rolls right, Bortles is able to do this, he notices Robinson getting open at the last minute, and fires an excellent pass for a big play.
The 2nd play is not a completed pass, as Hurns drops it, but Bortles nevertheless does a nice job of avoiding the sack and climbing up the pocket to deliver what should have been a catch.
3 more examples of Bortles’ well known ability to play outside the pocket are documented above. The first play feels like something Tony Romo would do, as the QB evades pressure and gets his receiver to come closer to him, resulting in an accurate pass and a first down. The 2nd play is a designed rollout, but it results in a dime of a touchdown throw to Robinson. The third play is a game winning touchdown to Hurns, and Bortles does an excellent job of putting the ball in a place where only his receiver can catch the ball.
While Bortles takes some really bad sacks, for the most part he knows when to throw the ball away when needed to, something a QB like Kirk Cousins often failed to understand last year. As his mobility also helps him extend plays, it also allows for big gains on QB runs, which is something the Jaguars should continue to utilize in the near future.
While the first and third running plays above aren’t spectacular, they show off Bortles’ awareness to climb out of the pocket and run when he needs to. The 2nd play is an impressive run, with the QB climbing to gain ground and barely get the first down on a 2nd and long.
#5’s gunslinging attitude frustrates at times, but it also amazes with the connections and playmaking. Such style of play could be compared to top quarterbacks like Eli Manning or Cam Newton, but their consistency and decision making are far greater than Bortles’ for the time being.
At times, the gunslinger will make multiple reads, and at times he doesn’t. Sometimes he’ll stand tall in the pocket, other times he’ll awkwardly pedal backward. Sometimes he’ll make an astounding extension of the play, other times he’ll hold onto the ball to long and take the bad sack. Sometimes he’ll connect downfield, other times he’ll throw a questionable pass or a boneheaded interception.
Bortles will be an adequate starter for a while, but whether or not he’ll be a good or great one has yet to be determined. He has some of the tools to become a star, and some of the bad play of the worst QBs in the league. You really never know which side of him you’re going to get, and while the Jaguars have issues with the offensive line and defense, they also need Bortles to step up as a whole.
Regardless of what side you see more of, Blake Bortles’ maddening inconsistency offers both frustration and excitement for the Jaguars’ future, and I look forward to seeing if the young QB can take strides in 2016.
(Featured Image via realtor.com)