Blake Bortles' Rookie Campaign: One to Forget?
During the 2014 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars shocked a lot of smart people by using their number-three overall pick on quarterback from UCF, Blake Bortles. The general feel around the city - and in some parts of the media - was that the team would probably draft a quarterback or the Jags’ would take Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
However, if the team did go quarterback, most were thinking along the lines of Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel. Dave Caldwell, the Jaguars GM, clearly had other plans. Now, after Blake Bortles’ first seven games and having to “sit and learn” behind Chad Henne for the first two weeks of the season, how has he played this season?
Welcome to the NFL, Rookie
Let me preface this by saying that the Jaguars are not a very good football team. They are young, they lack talent on both sides of the ball, and they don't have any veterans to lean on thanks in large part to the previous GM, Gene Smith. The Jaguars are basically an expansion franchise. Management wants to build around young talent and hopefully their young quarterback, Blake Bortles. But the start of Bortles’ young career hasn’t gone so well at times.
Below are Bortles’ Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) numbers this season. For those of you who are new to numberFire, NEP quantifies a player's contribution to his team’s scoring output based on how he performs on each play versus what is expected. Our metrics confirm what we have seen on the field.
|Name||Att.||Comp. %||Yards||TDs||INTs||AY/A||Pass NEP||Per Drop Back|
Among quarterbacks who have thrown 60 or more passes this season, Bortles’ Passing NEP of -38.26 is dead last in the NFL. Bortles has thrown 53 more passes than Geno Smith on the season, but Smith’s -0.09 Pass NEP per drop back is better than Bortles’ -0.13. That's not good.
The Jags’ have one of the NFL’s youngest roster, and are dead last in Adjusted NEP (-67.82), which measures the total number of points a team has performed at versus what another team in a similar situation would have. Basically, the Jaguars are performing 67.82 points below expectation. The Raiders are second to last with a -36.23 score. That's not the type of environment you want your young quarterback to attempt to grow in.
The Jags offensive line isn’t the best in the world, that’s for sure. Since Bortles has been starting instead of Chad Henne, the offensive line has played better. But as most rookie quarterbacks do, Blake Bortles has really struggled under pressure this season.
Bortles has been under pressure on 100 of his 313 drop backs this season and has thrown zero touchdowns and five interceptions in such situations. His 42% completion percentage ranks 24th out of 29 eligible quarterbacks. The NFL average is 47%.
Performance under pressure is actually one area where Blake has shown flashes of exceptional ability to maneuver in the pocket and sense pressure. But, like any rookie quarterback, Bortles holds on to the ball too long at times or makes poor decisions and that surely can be fixed with time and more experience.
The Other Rookie Quarterbacks
I thought it may be interesting to see how Bortles stacks up against the other two rookie quarterbacks who have made five or more starts, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr.
|Name||Att.||Comp. %||Yards||TDs||INTs||AY/A||Pass NEP||Pass NEP/P|
Carr, numbers-wise, has been the best of the group so far. His NEP numbers are low, but like Bortles, he finds himself in a less than stellar situation in Oakland. Bridgewater has fared decently in his first five starts as evidenced by his best 4.05 Passing NEP, which is the best among the group.
There's still a lot of season left to be played, but relatively speaking, Bortles has been the worst rookie quarterback so far. He’s thrown far too many bad interceptions laced with poor decision-making and brutal inaccuracy in the middle of the field.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
The Jaguars aren't without talent on the offensive side of the ball. The team drafted two rookies, phenom Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, and found a undrafted free agent gem in Allen Hurns. The lone veteran of the group, Cecil Shorts, has performed well and the Jags may have found a starting running back in Denard Robinson. Jacksonville is actually set up to be competitive on offense in the future if the team grows together.
Sure, the script is not even close to being written for Bortles. He still has a long career ahead of him and hopefully he will start making improvements when the Jaguars come out of their Week 11 bye to face the Colts. There are signs for optimism this year for Bortles though - it isn’t all interceptions and bad decisions.
Bortles’ 63.3 completion percentage is the highest among rookie quarterbacks, and he's shown the ability to throw the ball, with accuracy, downfield. Bortles is also mobile in the pocket and, at times, shows good instincts for feeling and evading pressure.
He just has to cut-down on the poor decisions and needs to learn to place the ball in better positions on his intermediate throws - the ones 5-15 yards down the field. Bortles has the ability to be a good starting quarterback in the NFL, the tools are there and he flashes signs of studliness. The Jaguars and their fans just better hope Blake starts working towards a second-year leap.