In a year in which some rookie quarterbacks—namely a particular individual on the Cleveland Browns roster—are grabbing headlines after some very lackluster performances, Jacksonville Jaguars first-year signal-caller Blake Bortles is simply tearing up the preseason.
When the Jaguars selected Bortles with the third overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft, the pick was immediately met with skepticism. He was viewed as a project with questionable upside. Well, as it turns out, Jacksonville's brass knew exactly what they were doing.
Through three preseason contests, the rookie has displayed advanced decision-making, poise, competitiveness and confidence to pair with his vast tangible qualities. Stats may not tell the whole story, but they do provide some insight into Bortles' efficiency. Take a look:
|Game||Opponent||C / ATT||YDS||TD||INT||RTG|
Despite the quarterback's solid efforts, head coach Gus Bradley decided to stick to his original plan, naming veteran Chad Henne the regular-season starter.
Considering the traits Bortles displayed during the preseason, that may not be the correct move.
Let's forgo his first two preseason performances. After all, the most common rebuttal to the notion that Bortles looks like an NFL starter is a statement referring to playing against second-string defenses. Well, he played against the Detroit Lions starters in Week 3.
Bortles came in to the Jaguars' preseason contest against the Lions late in the second quarter—with 1:43 on the clock, he had just enough time to run the two-minute drill starting from his own 5-yard line. That's a daunting task for most rookie quarterbacks.
Unfazed by pressure, he completed passes to Allen Hurns, Mike Brown and Kerry Taylor to quickly move down the field in a drive that ended on a 34-yard field goal as time expired. During the drive, Bortles completed five of his nine passing attempts—including his two clock-killing spikes—for 89 yards.
That's impressive in its own right, but what may have been even more incredible was the quarterback's attempt at a fake spike to take a shot to the end zone in the waning seconds of the half.
Bortles' attempt at that trickery drew the praise of several analysts—one being Jeff Darlington of NFL Network:
Blake Bortles just attempted a fake spike with four seconds left in the first half! It was incomplete… but I love that confidence!— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) August 23, 2014
Sure, his drive wasn't perfect—he narrowly avoided an interception—but that's typical of any rookie. What was important is the way he played afterward—he didn't get rattled.
The rookie came back into the game in the third quarter, continuing to light up Detroit's defense and tossing his first NFL touchdown. After his performance, there was no question as to which Jacksonville quarterback was playing better.
NFL on ESPN tweeted the final stat comparison:
Blake Bortles is done for the night. His line: 10-16, 156 yds, TD. Henne's line: 9-14, 71 yds. pic.twitter.com/NuyjcmwAGK— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 23, 2014
Here's a look at some of the quarterback's highlights against Detroit:
Sitting Bortles for the beginning of the regular season won't hurt the quarterback. He's already shown his ability to make the necessary adjustments to succeed in the NFL. However, the Jaguars' early schedule would allow him to keep up his hot streak.
In the first four weeks of the regular season, Jacksonville doesn't exactly face strong secondaries. Here's a look at the team's opponents and rating against the pass in 2013:
|Week||Opponent||Rank vs. Pass in 2013|
|4||San Diego Chargers||29th|
Regardless of what the immediate future holds, the Jaguars franchise finally appears to have a bright future after so many dismal seasons. Luckily, it's not a question as to if Bortles will eventually start, it's a question of when.