Jacksonville Shakes up the Draft by Taking Blake Bortles: Was it Smart?
Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger comparisons roll in aplenty for this 6’4”, 230-pound signal-caller out of Central Florida. Yet, for such a highly regarded prospect in this draft, he has only been considered as such for a few months or so due to playing in the American (formerly C-USA). He has the physical profile to be considered a prototypical NFL quarterback, but like Luck and Roethlisberger, he also is mobile enough both inside and out of the pocket to extend or salvage plays. In his two years as a starter at UCF, Bortles has achieved 3,000 passing yards both seasons, to go with a completion percentage north of 63% for both years, and a 50:16 touchdown-to-interception ratio, to go with 14 rushing touchdowns.
Despite prototypical size, Bortles shockingly has less-than-prototypical arm strength. Better suited to a system that allows him to roll out and find crossing receivers than fire shots deep downfield like his veteran comparisons, Bortles will have to increase his ability to drive the ball and really become an elite passer in the league. Another major concern about his game is decision-making. While he wasn’t punished often by costly interceptions, Bortles made some risky decisions in his collegiate playing career on placement of targets, as well as knowing when to extend a play and when to give it up.
Bortles is the kind of quarterback who has more a “dream on him” feeling than a “polished product” vibe. With subpar footwork, questionable decisions that could catch up to him, and merely a projection in arm strength, it would be preferable for him to find a team to learn from a stop-gap starter and develop before he gets thrown into the fire right away. He would also fit best with a team that has a few reliable, sure-handed passing weapons for him to grow comfortable with. Maybe he will surprise us, learn quicker than we imagine, and become great someday.
Bortles in Jacksonville
In Jacksonville, Bortles will have to do a lot of the work himself, and that does worry me. He has natural playmaking gifts, but I noted before that there are major concerns about his decision-making abilities and arm strength. He has two very good years under his belt from UCF, but not much experience. Fortunately, he can sit behind Chad Henne for a season and develop into a better passer.
Bortles will greatly help the Jaguars' offense, as the quarterback position in 2013 brought in a combined -93.57 Total Net Expected Points. A pair of very gifted receivers await him in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. The two of them last year weren't very efficient in Reception NEP pertTarget (due to poor quarterback play), but accumulated 62.43 and 34.42 Reception NEP in 2013, good for 41st and 84th (shortened to suspension) in the NFL among all wideouts.
Bortles should provide a much better solution to the quarterback position in Jacksonville than Blaine Gabbert ever did. I still have major concerns, especially when so much will rest on his shoulders, but he has immense projectability if fostered properly.