Blake Bortles Needs to Make Similar Strides in 2016

Evan ReierCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2015

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) warms up before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

When all was said and done in the 2014 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't have too much reason to think that quarterback Blake Bortles would provide a quick turnaround and take immense strides in his sophomore year.

It's almost hard to remember now, but Bortles' rookie season was pretty rough going. Seventeen interceptions, four of which were pick-sixes, and a 69.5 rating at the end of his 14 appearances provided the idea that Bortles may be a three-to-four-year project.

He definitely showed signs of progress and ability, but the raw playing style and poor decision making made the end goal seem far off in the distance. But that's what used to be the expectation.

The 2015 season has been something else entirely. He still makes mistakes, sometimes incredibly bad ones, but he's quickly found his identity as a high-volume, big-play QB, something the Jaguars have never really had.

He's developed strong bonds with his wide receivers, most notably WRs Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and, as 2015 has progressed, he's become a leader who typically can find a way to put up numbers and reach his targets.

Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have combined for 24 TDs this season.
Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have combined for 24 TDs this season.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

His improved composure and ability to bounce back from a bad mistake has been one of the more impressive qualities this season. He's still making numerous mistakes, which is apparent in his 16 interceptions this season, but he's not letting that bother him.

It's those mistakes, however, that are holding him back from really dominating the game. Bortles will probably never be a QB with only a handful of interceptions in a season, but averaging over one per game is still a problem.

One of the notable parts of Bortles' offseason coming into the 2015 season was his work with noted QB guru Tom House. House works with QBs to improve technical play as well as the mental and tactical aspects of the job.

In the 2016 offseason, Bortles should look to go back to House or someone similar. After the first year or two, QBs start seeing teachers a lot less often, but Bortles knows how close he is to becoming one of the top QBs in the NFL.

Blake Bortles Stats For 2014 and 2015 Seasons

A QB's second and third year are typically the two seasons that tell exactly how good he is or will be, so 2016 will likely be a major moment for his progress. The cutting down of mistakes could still continue after, but in terms of straight performance, this third season will be vital to finding out how good he really is.

He's obviously not there yet, but he's certainly proven that he's capable of taking that next step. The aforementioned expectations have changed, and Bortles' improvement has raised the bar for himself just two years in.

It's also fair to expect more thanks to his incredible arsenal of weapons like Robinson, Hurns, tight end Julius Thomas and running back T.J. Yeldon. The offense is lethal, and similar progress in 2016 could help the Jaguars have an even stronger attack.

This isn't to take away from Bortles' improvement so far, but he plays the most important position in the game and long-term success for the Jaguars rests on his shoulders.

Where Bortles is at right now is good enough to produce, but he, as well as a lot of the younger members of the team, needs to take that next stride to win. He's good in crunch time, but limiting mistakes and being consistent nearly every weekend is what the offense needs.

There is a lot to be excited about for Bortles in this offense. But he and the Jaguars can't be content with the current edition of the offense. They can still get better, and that starts with Bortles reaching the next level in 2016.


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Evan Reier is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Jacksonville Jaguars. Follow Evan on Twitter @evanreier.