Jacksonville Jaguars: Full Breakdown, Depth Chart Analysis at Quarterback
In their own minds at least, the Jacksonville Jaguars have their present and future situations set at football's most important position. General manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley are counting on a blend of experience and youth at quarterback.
The former quality will be provided by veteran Chad Henne, the incumbent who started started 13 games last season. But Henne will merely be keeping the job warm for the third pick in this year's draft, Blake Bortles.
The former University of Central Florida standout wasn't drafted that high to sit on the bench for too long. Bradley and Caldwell will be eager to begin building an offense around Bortles sooner rather than later.
Here's how the roster breaks down for the Jags at quarterback, along with complete analysis of every member of the depth chart.
Early Depth Chart at the Position
The depth chart currently shows four players at the position. Henne is the designated starter, while Bortles appears destined to spend his rookie year watching and learning from the sideline.
Bradley seemed to ordain Henne the starter for this season when the team gave the 28-year-old passer a new contract, per John Oehser of Jaguars.com:
I would say going into it he (Henne) would be (the starter). That’s our plan, (Jaguars General Manager) Dave (Caldwell) and I … If we did go that route, where we did bring in a quarterback at No. 3, we’d like to create an environment where that quarterback could come in and put all of his focus on preparation and learning without the distractions that come with it.
Even after drafting Bortles third overall, Bradley doesn't appear to have changed his mind about trusting Henne this year. During an interview on NFL Network's NFL Total Access, Bradley suggested he is ready to let the team's prized draft pick ride the bench for a season, per NFL.com writer Dan Hanzus:
We really felt comfortable with (Henne) coming back with another year in the system. I think it gave us flexibility. When Blake was there available for us, we really wanted to capture that opportunity.
And we do feel good about where Blake's at, but we feel like this time that he has under Chad, a year to develop, will be really good in the end result.
Depth behind the two front-runners is a little shaky. It consists of ex-Kansas City Chiefs third-stringer Ricky Stanzi and undrafted free agent Stephen Morris.
Henne is still this team's primary option under center, although don't expect that situation to last. Bortles is the quarterback of the future for this franchise, and with Henne starting, that future could be more immediate than the Jags are counting on.
It's not that Henne is a terrible NFL quarterback, it's just that he is not outstanding in any one area. His arm strength and accuracy are merely average.
Henne's game is actually defined by its inconsistency. His delivery can go from between the numbers to into the dirt in the space of two passes.
When Henne gets in a rhythm he can be dangerous. But his moments of flourish are punctuated by too many pedestrian performances.
That level of inconsistency inevitably produces some pretty average numbers. Last season Henne threw 13 touchdown passes, but still tossed 14 interceptions.
He completed just over 60 percent of his passes and threw for 3,241 yards. But his average yards per pass was a meager 6.4, per numbers from NFL.com.
Of course, not all of the problems that blighted the Jacksonville offense were down to Henne's shortcomings. Those same numbers also reveal he was sacked 38 times behind a pitiful O-line. He was also robbed of any credible support thanks to an almost nonexistent ground game.
Fortunately for Henne, his supporting cast looks a lot stronger headed into the new season. Caldwell drafted a pair of wide receivers in the second round. He also recruited a lead running back and Pro Bowl lineman during free agency.
Starting Henne for another season means a series of trade-offs for a rebuilding team. In one sense, the Jags get a veteran presence comfortable with the schemes of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
What Jacksonville won't get is a quarterback who can stretch the field or make consistent use of the new talent around him.
Stretching the field is the one thing Bortles can really do. The 6'5", 232-pounder is blessed with the proverbial rocket for an arm.
Bortles meets all of the physical requirements for the position. The question is does he have the right temperament for the mental nuances of the pro game?
But the Florida native actually has more shades of former pro Drew Bledsoe in him. Like Bledsoe, Bortles has the look of a classic passer, with the height, solid frame and arm strength to terrorize defenses from the pocket.
Also like Bledsoe, Bortles can amass yards in chunks, but won't always be the most accurate. Bledsoe only topped 60 percent in completion percentage four times during 14 pro seasons, per figures via NFL.com.
When he was good, Bledsoe was prolific and deadly. When he was bad, 1993's top overall draft pick had troubling deciphering coverage and diagnosing pressure and often forced throws.
Bortles could be exactly the same. Back in March, MMQB.com writer Greg A. Bedard provided a superbly detailed analysis of the obvious weak points that undermine Bortles:
If Bortles played in the NFL right now, he would be a turnover machine and would probably flame out because his mechanics, mostly in the lower body, are extremely flawed.
While Bortles has problems with an inconsistent delivery—it can range from short and compact to long and wild—the biggest problem is his feet. Bortles is constantly stepping into a bucket, or stepping away from the throw instead of toward the receiver. Not only does that lead to accuracy issues, the ball also loses energy very quickly and underthrows are common on deep passes.
Bortles has sloppy footwork even in a clean pocket. More troublesome is that when he feels pressure, Bortles will stare down receivers, his footwork breaks down even more and the likelihood of a turnover increases greatly. In this way, he is similar to another unfinished NFL pocket passer: the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick. But Bortles doesn’t have Kaepernick’s wheels to help in the playmaking department.
Bedard's critique is well-founded when aimed at a player who the phrase "boom or bust" was seemingly invented for. That's why the Jags may be right to give him a year learning schemes and playbooks, before actually putting them into practice on the field.
The problem is can the Jags really afford to wait for Bortles to get up to speed? This franchise needs a lift after being treated as an afterthought for the past few seasons.
A rookie signal-caller can provide such a lift. The Jags also have weapons who probably need to learn alongside Bortles, targets like rookie wideouts Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee.
But the danger is overexposing Bortles to struggles too early. Bledsoe was thrown into the deep end with the New England Patriots in 1993 and never really shed his early bad habits.
Deciding when exactly to turn Bortles loose will be a delicate balancing act for Bradley and Caldwell. How they handle it won't just define this season but many more to come.
Ricky Stanzi and Stephen Morris
It's slim pickings at the third spot on this vital depth chart. But at least the Jaguars have some competition for the right to hold the clipboard.
The battle will pit Ricky Stanzi against rookie Stephen Morris. Stanzi spent two seasons in Kansas City before joining the Jags in 2013.
He has yet to start an NFL game, but the 6'4", 228-pounder has the frame and arm strength to impress coaches this offseason.
Yet despite those attributes, there's a reason Morris was acquired after the draft. He's another strong-armed passer, perhaps that's evidence of Bradley and Fisch wanting a more expansive passing game in 2014.
However, they have a lot of work to do with Morris, who is extremely raw, according to NFL.com draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki:
Was forced to cycle through three offenses in four years at the helm and never grew comfortable as a passer. Teases evaluators with his arm and athletic talent, but must prove he can hone his accuracy and decision-making. Has moldable talent for a backup role and enough raw tools to pique the interest of a patient quarterbacks coach. Will require a strong offensive line and a full supporting cast of weapons to function. Developmental talent.
It will be intriguing to see how much work Morris is getting during OTAs. That will be the best indicator of whether or not the coaches feel they can make something out of his base talents.
The situation at quarterback in Jacksonville will be defined by Bortles. Specifically, by how quickly he is judged to be ready to supplant Henne.
If it takes more than a season, this franchise is in trouble.