The selection of Blake Bortles by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft was met with a fair amount of skepticism; however, the former UCF standout quickly put all doubts to rest during a very strong preseason.
Through three games, Bortles has continued to look every bit the part of a franchise quarterback, making the right throws, reads and decisions in each contest. He's quickly shown why he's the most talented quarterback—by far—on Jacksonville's roster.
So, how was the rookie rewarded for his efforts? Head coach Gus Bradley announced on Friday night that Chad Henne would be the team's starting quarterback for its Week 1 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, via NFL on ESPN:
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley reiterates that Chad Henne will start Week 1 over Blake Bortles. pic.twitter.com/6PtbmnipZd— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 23, 2014
The news irked plenty of NFL analysts. Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon was one of the many:
I'm so confused by Gus Bradley naming Chad Henne the starter over Blake Bortles.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) August 23, 2014
That's a rather befuddling decision, especially when taking into consideration each quarterback's performance Friday against the Detroit Lions.
Henne started the game and completed nine of his 14 passing attempts for 70 yards and a passer rating of 76.5. That's not terrible, but it's not exactly strong.
Bortles entered the game with just 1:43 left in the first half, which gave him just enough time to run the two-minute drill—a daunting task for most rookie quarterbacks. Here's how that turned out:
Blake Bortles played just the last 1:43 of the first half, but he has more passing yards than Chad Henne (89 vs. 70).— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 23, 2014
Bortles completed passes to multiple targets during a drive that resulted in a short field goal as time expired. Keep one thing in mind: This was against Detroit's first-team defense.
Bradley commented on his rookie quarterback's performance against Detroit during a press conference with The Associated Press, via USA Today:
Blake, he made a couple of mental errors in checks. But there was one where he checked us into something that we weren't anticipating and he made a big play off of it. I like that he takes risks. I like that he's aggressive. He'll attack the situation when he's in it and it's not too big for him. So all those things are really good signs.
Here's a look at the rookie signal-caller's preseason stats through three games:
|Week||Opponent||C / ATT||YDS||TDs||INT||Rating|
While Henne has shined at times—he earned a 112.4 passer rating against Chicago in Week 2—he's been wildly inconsistent throughout his NFL career and doesn't really bring anything to the table in Jacksonville.
Some could argue the fact that Bortles is better suited as Henne's backup so he can sit and learn before seeing in-game action, but the rookie has shown he's not the project many analysts once thought he was.
When should Bortles start for Jacksonville?
These days, it's become a common practice to play rookie quarterbacks early and allow them to grow from experience on the field. This method has worked with many of the league's top signal-callers. Based on what we've already seen from Bortles, there's no reason to think his progression would be any different.
While the Jaguars aren't in win-now mode—this is a young team still in the midst of building around a solid core—the team could clearly benefit from getting its quarterback of the future some regular-season reps to propel the learning process and gain rapport with his teammates.
The quicker we see Bortles under center, the quicker Jacksonville will begin to see better numbers in the win column.