Listen, I don’t need to introduce this as a new theory, as it has been covered over and over again, but Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been heavily scrutinized throughout the offseason.
And honestly, after his pitiful performance last season, the criticism was deserved. Bortles even said as much himself.
I’m not ready to chase Bortles out of town with a pitchfork just yet. I was even against drafting a quarterback in the first round this year (which I took a lot of flack for on Twitter, by the way).
But, I’m not going to have a lot of patience. If he’s not producing after the first quarter of the season, the team needs to bench him. That way, the Jags may have a better chance of competing and the franchise doesn’t have to worry about his fully-guaranteed injury clause on his fifth-year option.
So, I’ve been racking my brain a bit and came up with five reasons why it is OK to be cautiously optimistic about Bortles’ play and efficiency in 2017.
Inevitably, someone will want to argue with me, but here they are (in no particular order):
1. More emphasis on the running game
Some interesting statistics: Bortles’ 63 turnovers the past three seasons are the most in the NFL. His 51 interceptions are the second most. His success this year greatly depends upon if the Jaguars are able to form any semblance of a running game. The less the ball is in his hands, the less opportunity for bad decisions or turnovers.
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette is expected to be the bell cow back. Many believe this will also help Chris Ivory become a more effective runner. Hell, if it was up to head coach Doug Marrone, the Jaguars would run the ball every play. A strong rushing attack opens up the passing game. If Jacksonville can accomplish this goal, with what we expect to be more of a power scheme, the passing game should prosper. Unless Bortles is unable to make the correct audible calls at line of scrimmage or forgets which way to hand the ball off, there should be less of a chance for disaster.
2. Jacksonville’s wide receivers are still among the league’s best
Yes, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns both had a down season in 2016. However, that did not stop former wide receiver great Reggie Wayne from naming them a top-five wide receiver duo headed into the 2017 season. They may also benefit from an improved running game and find more opportunities to get open. The Allen Brothers are a perfect complement to each other: one is a supreme athlete with crazy leaping ability and good ball skills; the other, a possession receiver who consistently comes up in the clutch for his team.
The emergence of Marqise Lee in 2016 is also exciting. The Jaguars have a three-headed monster of young, and highly capable wide outs. Add in the speed of rookie fourth-round draft pick Dede Westbrook and I think the play at this position should dramatically ascend from last year. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but this is one of the roster’s most talented groups.
3. Offseason work with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux
Bortles went back to the drawing board this offseason, as he returned to California to train at the 3DQB facility with quarterback gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux. The last time he did this was 2015, where he then went on to throw for 35 touchdowns and 4,428 yards — both of which are single season records for Jacksonville. To be completely honest, yes Bortles flashed a lot of potential in 2015 and put up eye-popping numbers, but I don’t always like to refer to that season as “great” because he was still a turnover machine (18 interceptions, five fumbles).
But the 2015 season is a good baseline for what Bortles is capable of accomplishing. From my understanding, Dedeaux, Motion Mechanics Instructor, and House, Motion Performance Expert, taught Bortles how to improve his flawed throwing motion, timing, upper-body strength, flexibility, endurance and (of course) his complete mechanics.
4. A more confident Blake Bortles in 2017?
Tom Coughlin and Marrone have not exactly praised Bortles this offseason, often making backhanded remarks about their faith in him.
(Stephen A. Smith voice) However, perhaps their actions have.
The Jaguars brought in zero competition at the quarterback position this offseason. The team elected not to draft a rookie, and also passed on signing a veteran in free agency. Bortles already knows the starting job is his with his greatest threat being either Chad Henne or Brandon Allen.
Additionally, the team elected to pick up Bortles’ aforementioned fifth-year option. Coughlin called the move a “smart business decision.” If Bortles fails miserably again this year, the team can sever ties with him and cut him next offseason. But still, many of us did not foresee the club making the move at all. Couple all of this with Bortles’ offseason work with House and Dedeaux, and I think we may be seeing a more confident signal-caller, and better decision-maker, for the Jaguars in 2017.
5. Bortles ended the 2016 season on a high note
Once Marrone took over as interim head coach for the last two games of the 2016 season, Bortles was a much more efficient player. He completed more than 66 percent of his passes, he had two 300-yard games (325 and 301, respectively), he threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions and had a combined rating of 99.9. He did still have some fumbling issues, but we can’t expect all good things.
Over the last four games of 2016, Bortles threw only one pick, after throwing 15 in the first 12 contests. He also averaged 244 passing yards per game during that stretch, with an outlier of only 92 yards against the Houston Texans in Week 15. As a team, the Jaguars were a lot more competitive, winning one game and relinquishing a late lead in the other for a close loss. Guys, there is a glimmer of hope here.
In short, Bortles can improve. There are reasons for optimism, but to prevent more heartbreak for this fan base, the idea needs to be approached cautiously and expectations should not be lofty — there are far too many question marks in his game otherwise.
In 2017, Blake Bortles will...
This poll is closed
Significantly improve his game overall
Decline even further
Play at the same poor level as the 2016 season
None of the above