Jacksonville Jaguars Blake Bortles Is Not Ready to Be a Quality NFL Starter Yet

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Jacksonville Jaguars Blake Bortles Is Not Ready to Be a Quality NFL Starter Yet
USA Today

The framing of Blake Bortles' arrival in the NFL has heavily impacted public perception of his play.

Despite being the third overall pick and the first quarterback taken in the 2014 NFL draft, Bortles had conceded the spotlight to both Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel prior to the beginning of this year's preseason. Bridgewater was drawing most of the attention from analysts, while the mainstream media was and is watching every move Manziel makes.

Furthermore, by landing with a team that is typically neglected by the national media, and because that team immediately ruled him out of competing for a starting spot in 2014, Bortles was saddled with few if any expectations before his preseason debut.

This meant that his first game with the Jacksonville Jaguars was overlooked until he shone on the field.

Bortles has outperformed expectations. He has been better than incumbent starter Chad Henne, and he has arguably been the best rookie quarterback of his class through Week 3 of the preseason. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that Jacksonville must change its mind about starting him immediately.

Even if the Jaguars selected Bortles because of his long-term outlook rather than his short-term impact, they likely understood that he was already a better player than Henne.

Henne is one of the worst starters in the NFL. He has a limited skill set, and he is inconsistent within that skill set. Offensive coordinators couldn't work around his deficiencies because they never knew what he is going to do from snap to snap.

There's no argument against the idea that Bortles has been better than Henne, but it's also impossible to argue against the idea that being better than Henne means very little.

Bortles is essentially competing with himself. There may not really be a downside to starting rookie quarterbacks, but the Jaguars staff clearly wanted him to develop in the background for the beginning of his career. In order to change their minds on that, Bortles needed to excel and be consistent with his decision-making in the preseason.

While he has shown plenty of flashes of talent, he hasn't been completely consistent.

Against the Detroit Lions in Week 3 of the preseason, Bortles came into the game at the end of the second quarter. He played a couple of series before leaving the field late in the third. Bortles completed 10 of 17 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. He didn't have a turnover.

Even though he didn't have a turnover, he was fortunate to not have three.

NFL.com

On his first drive of the game, Bortles started off with two accurate throws, including a very impressive bullet down the sideline. However, the Lions then decided to blitz him. By sending five defenders after the quarterback, the defense forced Bortles to throw while under pressure.

His mechanics weren't impressive on this play, as he threw the ball off his back foot to soften the incoming hit from the blitz. That caused his pass to flutter down the sideline. To make matters worse, he made a very bad read and threw the ball to a wide open Lions defender.

This is the kind of mistake that quarterbacks are more prone to as rookies or early in their careers. Bortles should expect to learn from it, but it was a reminder that he remains raw. 

A few plays later, the Lions blitzed Bortles again, this time sending six defenders at him at the snap. Bortles showed better mechanics while under pressure in the pocket on this play, but his throw was inaccurate. He threw the ball inside of his receiver running a deep out route.

That receiver, Kerry Taylor, reacted brilliantly to pull the ball in just ahead of cornerback Darius Slay. Bortles was very lucky on this play. A better cornerback than Slay would have had an easy interception and likely a return for a touchdown, but this wasn't one of the three plays that stood out as worthy of a turnover.

The second of those plays came on Bortles' next throw.

NFL.com

Bortles stood in the pocket and delivered the ball under pressure on this occasion. The Lions didn't blitz, so they had plenty of defenders in coverage. Bortles ultimately looks off his first receiver and delivers the ball down the middle of the field.

He appears to badly overthrow his receiver on this play, but it was negated by an illegal-contact penalty.

It would be easy to just presume that the illegal contact caused the missed throw, but when the ball arrived, his intended receiver, Marqise Lee, appeared to be running free across the field while the ball sailed high over his head. A replay of the illegal contact wasn't offered up, but it didn't appear to be the reason why Bortles threw the ball straight to the deep safety. Unless Lee was supposed to run down the seam, this pass was never going to be caught by his receiver regardless of the illegal contact penalty.

NFL.com

Bortles' first drive of the game finished with a field goal.

At the start of the third quarter, two penalties set the offense up with a 2nd-and-14 at their own 5-yard line. The Jaguars decide to run a tight end screen after play action to the opposite side of the field. This puts Bortles deep in his own end zone.

NFL.com

The Lions defend the screen play perfectly. They have players chasing down Bortles in the end zone and players flowing toward the tight end. Bortles is smart to throw the ball away, but he was very fortunate to avoid a mistake given the way he threw the ball away.

As the above image highlights with red arrows, Bortles' pass lands some distance away from the closest eligible receiver. It would have been very easy for the official to call this intentional grounding, and intentional grounding from the end zone results in a safety.

In other words, another turnover.

That wasn't the third turnover-worthy play though. The third turnover-worthy play came on his next throw, when facing 3rd-and-14. The Jaguars coaching staff put their faith in Bortles by spreading the field and giving him no rushing threat, but the called route combinations suggested the offense was just trying to make room for their punter.

NFL.com

Bortles was only given four slant routes with which to work. He located the right receiver, but his pass was off target, forcing his receiver into an unnecessarily difficult attempt to make the catch. The ball bounced off his receiver's hands and was nearly intercepted again.

This is a simple play for an NFL quarterback. A routine throw from a clean pocket.

Bortles can't struggle with his ball placement on this kind of throw, because it's the kind of throw he will be attempting on a regular basis. If this had been an isolated incident of poor ball placement, it could be overlooked, but it wasn't.

If Bortles comes away from this game with two drives that finished in turnovers, his potential to be a rookie starter wouldn't be so celebrated.

He obviously didn't come away from this game with two turnovers, but that was largely due to the Lions' inability to capitalize on his mistakes and some help from the officials rather than his own ability to take care of the football.

Because Gus Bradley is the team's head coach, the Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks are always linked. In 2012, the Seahawks started a rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, who developed on the field and played well enough to take his team to the playoffs in his first season.

Importantly, Wilson was more consistent within his skill set that year, and he was playing with a significantly better supporting cast.

Starting Bortles as a rookie may or may not hurt his development, but it seems certain that he won't be able to replicate the effectiveness Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck and Wilson demonstrated in their rookie campaigns.

This isn't a case of being down on Bortles' ability as a quarterback.

He clearly has the talent to be a high-quality starter in this league, and he is further ahead in his development than seemingly anyone expected. It's simply a reminder to keep his displays in perspective and understand that being good for a rookie isn't the same as being an effective NFL starter, especially during the pressure-packed grind of a regular season.

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