Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles was a polarizing No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft, but his performances in the first two preseason games suggest he is worthy of that top billing.
The Jags' plan from the outset has been to sit Bortles behind veteran Chad Henne, yet it's hard to ignore how well Bortles is faring in his first taste of pro football. Bortles completed 11 of 17 passes for 160 yards in Thursday's game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, enhancing his campaign to see the field sooner in the regular season.
Unless Jacksonville strays from its hard-line policy of entrenching Henne as the starter, Bortles won't offer much in the way of fantasy value. There is always the chance that Henne, never a sure thing atop an NFL depth chart, struggles to the point that Bortles is thrust into duty during the regular season.
However, the following quote from June by Jags head coach Gus Bradley perfectly summarizes the situation under center in Jacksonville, per NFL.com's Mike Coppinger:
I think it's been out there that our beliefs and our feelings is that we feel so strongly about Chad and he's going in, I think the team has really rallied around that. Now, it has provided an atmosphere for Blake to really go out there and ask a lot of questions and gain a lot of information from all the quarterbacks that are in...He's doing a really good job, he's having more good days than days that maybe he's struggling, like all rookies have...We're very excited about his development
So don't count on Bortles yielding much immediate value as a fantasy player. Keeper leagues are another story, though, because Bortles is bound to be a great play for owners with long-term commitments.
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead brought up a good point after witnessing Bortles light it up in prime time on Thursday:
Bortles hype train in overdrive as he carves up Tampa backups and then Bears backups (starters were among NFL worst in '13). #preseason— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) August 15, 2014
Although the competition level hasn't been great, Bortles has actually looked the part of a franchise quarterback. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport referenced how Bortles will receive some work with the first team based on merit:
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller praised Bortles' quickly improved fundamentals in the heat of live-game situations:
The #Jaguars plan to have Blake Bortles sit. But he’ll get 1st team reps likely soon. They want him to keep building his resume. Is he ever— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 15, 2014
QB mechanics can be fixed in practice but fall apart when pressured in a game. Bortles has been rattled, didn't revert back to old habits— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 15, 2014
Who should be the Jaguars starting QB in 2014?
Henne didn't do anything on Thursday to lose his spot, looking unfazed by any Bortles hype, going 12-of-17 passing for 130 yards and a touchdown against Chicago's starters. That has to be encouraging for both Henne and the Jags.
Henne knows his long-term successor is waiting in the wings and playing well, yet he still came out, excelled and moved the offense. It also keeps Jacksonville on course for its Bortles plan.
Like the Jaguars did in the draft, fantasy owners will be playing the waiting game to see Bortles and Jacksonville's QB situation develop. How he comes out on the other side, based on the early returns, should keep Jaguar fans and those bullish on Bortles as a future fantasy star excited.