Should the Jacksonville Jaguars Draft Another Quarterback in 2017?
The Jacksonville Jaguars looked like a championship caliber squad in Week 16, posting a 21-point victory over their division rivals.
Quarterback Blake Bortles dazzled with more than 300 yards passing and a touchdown, tossing no interceptions. It seems that all the slumping Jaguars had to do was fire head coach Gus Bradley in order to unleash their hidden offensive awesomeness. Or, perhaps last week’s performance by Bortles was a major fluke, considering he’s been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league.
Hint: it’s the latter.
The Jaguars' win last weekend was just one bright spot within another atrocious season, but Bortles has been one of the biggest disappointments of all. After a "breakout" 2015 saw Bortles toss 4,428 passing yards and 36 touchdowns, he’s regressed to a pace of just 3,844 yards and 24 touchdowns through Week 16.
With a new coaching staff coming into place for the 2017 season, Bortles’ spot as the team's starter isn’t guaranteed for next year or beyond. Should the Jaguars be looking for a replacement so soon, or is it possible to salvage Bortles’ future?
Let’s start with the evidence of Bortles’ career itself.
The third overall selection of the 2014 NFL Draft has been an abject failure in every way -- except for the fantasy football world -- since arriving in the pros from Central Florida.
The table below shows Bortles’ production according to our analytics here at numberFire, particularly Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is an analytic which describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to the team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to standard box score information, we can see just how much each play -- and each player as a whole -- influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
We measure quarterbacks using Passing NEP, and we do so on a per-drop-back basis (the passing value they generate on the average of all passing plays) and by using Passing Success Rate (the percentage of passing plays in which they generate positive NEP). The table below shows Bortles’ production in these analytics, as well as his annual ranks among quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 drop backs.
|Year||Drop Backs||Passing NEP/P||Rank||Passing Success Rate||Rank|
|2014||530||-0.18||42nd (of 43)||38.30%||42nd|
|2015||657||0.07||27th (of 46)||45.66%||28th|
|2016||617||-0.04||32nd (of 38)||42.39%||30th|
Barring a tremendously successful or catastrophically bad Week 17, Bortles will end this season firmly in the lower quarter of passers in quarterback value rates once again.
Now, this isn’t completely damning for his future by any means, but it’s certainly not encouraging to see him slump in Year 3 of his career. We did a study in the 2015 offseason about the career arcs of NFL quarterbacks, and the average arc of a quarterback’s value production sees a steady progression until around Year 6 or 7, which is when they begin to decline.
Bortles' regression this year is something we should’ve seen coming. Our own JJ Zachariason did a study on the predictive nature of quarterbacks’ rookie seasons back in 2014, concluding that the bottom 25 percent -- whose Passing NEP totals ranged from -64.39 to -128.24 -- were part of the “I have no business starting in the NFL” tier.
To quote JJ directly: “The only player to win a playoff game out of this group was Mark Sanchez, and, well, we know that story. ... Though someone like Bruce Gradkowski wasn’t exactly highly touted out of school, half of these players were drafted in the first or second round of the NFL Draft. In other words, these guys weren’t just bums who stayed bums.”
Bortles’ rookie Passing NEP was -97.97, ahead of only Kyle Orton, Chris Weinke, and David Carr. He was going to have to buck the odds -- like his 2014 NFL Draft brethren Derek Carr has done -- to have a good career.
We Believe In Defeat
Still, like Sanchez or David Carr, we can’t necessarily lay all of Bortles’ developmental failures squarely on his shoulders. Bortles entered the league with less-than-ideal throwing mechanics and they have clearly gotten worse over his time in the pros.
Consider the comparison of these two throws, emblematic of the points in his career. The former is from the 2013 season at UCF, while the latter was during the 2015 season with the Jaguars. Note that the huge looping arm movement has gotten much worse, with Bortles bringing the ball all the way down to his hip before throwing. The hitch at the top of his motion is more pronounced, and his footwork decreased exponentially.
Considering the lack of development -- or coaching up -- in these crucial quarterback traits, Bortles has had to make magic out of mud. He hasn't been able to do so.
When we look at the 20 quarterbacks since 2000 who have attempted at least 1,000 passes in their first three years after being taken in the first round of the draft, the only players to have worse career rates in completion percentage, interception rate, and yards per attempt are Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, and Joey Harrington.
Bortles' one redeeming factor has been his ability to throw touchdowns, posting a 4.08 percent career touchdown rate, but even that loses its luster when we consider how much the Jaguars have played from behind since 2014. There’s a reason why Bortles has attempted 1,667 passes, the second-most attempts for a quarterback in their first three years since 2000: the Jaguars have been bad.
If we refer back to our Net Expected Points metric, but this time look at Total NEP (which accounts for rushing value, as well), we can see how Bortles relates to other first-round passers in terms of value.
Bortles is perhaps the best of the bad first-round passers in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean the Jaguars should continue to hitch their hopes to him. The Baltimore Ravens stuck it out with Boller for six years, the Houston Texans continued with Carr for five, and Grossman inexplicably found work year after year for nearly a decade. Look at how those franchises fared when settling for mediocrity at quarterback.
Now, with all of that said, it’s easy to point out a problem, but much more difficult to find the solution. Still, with the ineffectiveness Bortles has displayed for the Jaguars, they should not feel compelled to pick up his fifth-year option for 2018.
But where do you go from there?
The Jaguars are a near-lock to select in the top-five of the 2017 NFL Draft, which means they should have a chance at one of this class’s top signal-callers at both picks 4 and 36. The top quarterback options in the draft are expected to be two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson from Clemson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb out of Cal, or one of the yet-undecided Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina, Pat Mahomes from Texas Tech, or Washington State's Luke Falk.
Next season feels like a turning point for the Jaguars organization. Jacksonville has an up-and-coming defense, one that's played better as the year has progressed, and they have good talent at wide receiver and running back. They cannot afford to have their quarterback drag them down.
The Jags could go after a free-agent quarterback or even pursue a trade to acquire Tony Romo. They have options. However Jacksonville decides to play it, it’s only a matter of time before the Bortles debacle is over barring a massive, unforeseen improvement in 2017.
In a league where you either have a franchise quarterback or you're desperately seeking one, it may be better for Jacksonville to cut the cord sooner rather than later. Bortles isn't the answer.