Coming into the preseason, I was pretty indifferent on Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. I knew he was obviously better than Chad Henne, but I didn't really get caught up in the mass pandemonium surrounding him. To me, he was who he was: a quarterback who was kind of good and kind of bad.
After Bortles set the preseason on fire (and after suffering through Chad Henne for 10 quarters of uninspiring play) I was fully behind him. I tweeted #FreeBlake countless times. I was at the Colts game when they finally gave him the nod, and the crowd's reaction to him stepping onto the field for the first time is a moment I will never forget.
But after the excitement of a brand new quarterback wore off and the trek that is a 17-week NFL season sunk in, I realized what Bortles really was: a quarterback who was kind of good and kind of bad.
The Best Case Scenario for Blake Bortles' Rookie Season
"The best case for Bortles' rookie season is for him to firmly establish himself as the starter over Henne in the preseason."
In hindsight, this was a pretty mediocre take. We're not going to know if Blake not sitting was the correct call or not for quite awhile.
"Personally, I think he should play early because that is the best way to fix his issues."
WHEW. I whiffed on this one. I figured Bortles getting increased live action reps would lead to him cleaning up his mechanics, but the opposite happened. During the preseason he looked like a new and improved quarterback, but his mechanics steadily worsened as the year went on.
The Worst Case Scenario for Blake Bortles' Rookie Season
"The worst case for Bortles' rookie season is that he does not show sufficient improvement in his mechanics, rendering his development and putting the Jaguars offense back some in terms of development."
This proved to be the most accurate description of Bortles' rookie year, for better or worse. To say his development was rendered is a bit too strong, but it is hard to make an argument that he is where you want him to be right now. He didn't personally hold back the development of the entire offense, but fact of the matter is the team will all learn a new offense next year (though I think this a good thing.) most importantly, as I touched on, he showed regression, not progression, with the finer points of the position, leading to inaccuracy, interceptions, and leaving yards and points on the field.
Overall, the biggest miss I had when trying to predict Bortles' rookie season was misinterpreting the fit with Jedd Fisch and not taking the youth of the rest of the offense account.
I thought Fisch would be very good for Bortles because of his tendencies to move quarterbacks outside the pocket and test defenses vertically, both major strengths of Bortles. Alas, the now ousted Fisch was under scrutiny throughout the year, most of it fair, for his lack of ability to structure the offense around the teams strengths.
When discussing Bortles' rookie year, it is impossible to not bring up his supporting cast as well. He had two rookies starting on the offensive line, a second-year player (playing his first full season) at left tackle, a second-year player at RB, and three rookies heavily contributing at WR. There was really only four veterans (Cecil Shorts III, Marcedes Lewis, Zane Beadles, and Toby Gerhart) and nobody would call any of them more than above average.
Bortles had to command an offense with talent that was either simply average, or learning the up and downs of the NFL in the same way he was. I'm confident in saying there is a limited amount of quarterbacks, and likely zero rookies, that would find success with the 2014 Jaguars offense.
Bortles' best game of his rookie year could come down to a few choices. In first start against the San Diego Chargers, he went toe-to-toe with Philip Rivers for the better part of the first half. Against the Tennessee Titans, he threw for 336 yards. Against the New York Giants, he administered his first comeback drive, and then against the Baltimore Ravens he had his biggest number of throws that made you go, "Oh."
Ultimately, I think Bortles' best game was against the San Diego Chargers in Week 4. This was before his mechanics took a nosedive, and for the first half of the game the Offense looked like the offense we expected all offseason. He didn't look like a rookie, taking deep shots and matching Phillip Rivers as much as he could, but eventually the Chargers won by simply being the more talented team.
Considering this was Bortles first start, it was an impressive outing as he went 29-for-37 for 254 yards and one touchdown.
Looking ahead, I think Bortles' playing this year was ultimately extremely important. Not right or wrong, but important. The team now has a full years of tape on him and knows where he needs to improve, what he does best, and how he can lead the offense. Bortles' rookie season raised quite a few questions, but it answered many as well.
Bortles' rookie year came under a lot of scrutiny, and for good reason. In the middle stretch of the year, he had some games that worried a lot of people, including myself. Thankfully, he settled down in the last four or five games of the season. The team even noted the game was coming easier to him, and he finished the year on a stronger note than most anticipated during the season.
He flashed a lot of the talent that made him the No. 3 overall pick, and his development has just started. Bortles' development between Year 1 and Year 2 is vital, and heres to hoping he builds off the improvements he made at the end of 2014.