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The Blake Bortles Generation: Are Young QBs Too Athletic for Their Own Good?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 13, 2015

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) scrambles during the NFL game between Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London,  Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

How can you tell Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has made it?

"Last week, someone said something about my girlfriend," Bortles said. "I had to do a double take. I haven't had a girlfriend for a year."

When your opponents are taunting your nonexistent girlfriend, you know you're doing something right.

Trying to get inside someone's head is a sign of respect in professional football, and Bortles deserves a ton of that. He's becoming one of the best young throwers in football—talented, strong-armed, smart and bold.

And he is part of a Jaguars offense that in just a few years could be one of the very best in football. Yes, Bortles is getting that good, and so are receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. 

But now...now comes the hardest part for Bortles: staying healthy.

What's becoming clear with the NFL's new class of top quarterbacks—Bortles, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor—is that they are almost too talented for their own good.

Bortles is a good example. A handful of times every game, Bortles uses his athletic ability to bounce outside of the pocket, avoid a sack and make a play downfield.

This is the curse and the blessing of today's athletic quarterbacks. They are so good, they have almost X-Men-like abilities. The problem is, so do the quarterback hunters. When these young quarterbacks run and bounce and escape, they also become targets as much as escape artists.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Luck's athleticism allows him to extend plays. But that same ability is what caused him to take a big shot against the Broncos that led to a lacerated kidney and abdominal injury. Bridgewater scrambling against St. Louis, using that talent to make a play, ended with Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner cheap-shotting him in the head.

Taylor was hurt on a horse-collar tackle, but four plays later he was running a pass route on a designed wide receiver throw. It was the Bills trying to use Taylor's versatility, but doing that might have further hurt Taylor after he was tackled awkwardly.

It's no coincidence that the six quarterbacks who have been pressured the highest percentage of the time this season are all under 27, according to Pro Football Focus, including Bortles, Luck and Bridgewater.

Some of this is poor offensive line play, but it's also young quarterbacks holding onto the football a tad too long.

These quarterbacks should take a page from Aaron Rodgers. The way he plays is instructive. He will also take risks, but they are highly calculated ones. You rarely see Rodgers take vicious shots (I didn't say never—I said rarely), because he's learned to throw the football away or scramble to throw the ball instead of scrambling to run.

What makes these young players so good is their daring and sense of wanting to make a play. Mariota was also cheap-shotted. He held onto the football for maybe a second too long before the Dolphins' Olivier Vernon crashed into the back of his knee.

James Kenney/Associated Press

The biggest challenge for these young players is finding that balance. Everyone gets hurt. Veterans do. Ben Roethlisberger is a walking ICU. But we're seeing these young throwers push it because they have the talent to do it. Like Luck. There isn't a more naturally gifted quarterback among the young greats, but those abilities have led Luck to try to make desperate plays, which often put him at the most risk of taking punishing hits.

Make plays or save your body? That's the dilemma.

As for Bortles specifically, I asked him at what point he started to think he could make it in the NFL. Ironically, he said it happened at one of his lowest points during his sophomore year at the University of Central Florida. He had three interceptions against Ohio State.

On the plane ride home, he figured out how to fix the mistakes he made. After that, his career took off to where it is now, becoming one of the best young throwers in football.

He made it. Now he needs to figure out how to stay here.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.