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Blake Bortles: Why It’s Time To Move On

Rob Foldy / Getty Images

Blake Bortles entered the NFL as a quarterback of the future, a player to be developed. He hasn’t.

While, the 2014 draft cycle featured a number of controversial (in both conventional and non-conventional fashions) quarterbacking prospects, ultimately there was a generally agreed-upon “top four” grouping of prospects consisting of Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel in the weeks leading up to the draft. 

As the draft approached, however, Bridgewater was dogged by confounding and unsubstantiated claims that knocked everything from his physical abilities to his performance in his pro day. Carr was attempting to emerge from the shadow of his older brother David, who had busted due to the truly unfortunate situation of being drafted by the expansion-team Houston Texans and being pummeled into the turf. Bortles was a late riser in draft circles that was generally agreed to have overtaken Jimmy Garoppolo as the fourth-best quarterback in the draft, but was extremely raw. And Manziel was a mess, both on and off the field.

With Bridgewater’s status falling as the draft approached, tihe Jaguars, who owned the #3 pick in the 2014 draft, decided to take a major risk and take Bortles as their newest quarterback of the future. For those who weren’t major draftniks, Bortles’ selection came out of left field for the Jags, and he was seen as an unlikely pick to be the franchise’s savior at quarterback.

Bortles entered the draft after three seasons at the University of Central Florida. He played in just 10 games his freshman season, but his showing in the passing game was enough for him to start 13 and 14 games his next two seasons in college.

YearCompletionsAttemptsCompletion %YardsY/AAY/ATDINTRating
2011 (FR)7511068.29588.78.663153.9
2012 (SO)25139962.930597.78.1257144.5
2013 (JR)25938267.835819.49.6259163.4

Bortles entered the draft with a number of pros and cons to his name. One of his biggest favorables? His size. Mike Mayock of NFL Network said of Bortles, “He reminds me a bit of a young Ben Roethlisberger.” Roethlisberger was and remains about 15-20 pounds heavier than Bortles, but the two quarterbacks are the same height and are comparable in most other body size comparisons.

Other pluses in his column were UCF’s victories over Louisville and Penn State on the road and beating up on Baylor in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. Bortles also entered the draft as a quarterback able to make things happen with his legs when necessary, as he rushed 195 times for 561 yards (2.88 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns.

His cons, however, have been the issue with Bortles, and the draft scouts, despite saying things along the lines of “elements of Bortles’ skill set compare to some of the best in the game today” and “he’s everything the NFL loves in a quarterback,” were careful to qualify their analysis of Bortles. Quotes of “teams rolling the dice,” “hangups that make me hesitant to take him early” and “compares to Jake Locker” dogged Bortles as the draft approach.

The flaw most noticeable in Bortles’ college play was footwork, as described by Bleacher Report’s Dan Hope:

Though the UCF quarterback can truly launch the ball deep when he steps up into his throw, he doesn’t consistently drive his deep balls to their targets. Footwork issues are the biggest reason for his deep-ball inconsistency.

A throw highlighted by Hope in his article regarding Bortles' footwork, which has been suspect at best in college.All in all, the quarterback has inconsistent and sloppy footwork. While he typically does a good job squaring his shoulders and upper body to his target, his footwork is not always aligned as well, which can make a big difference when trying to fit throws between tight windows, as Bortles will be expected to do against NFL defenses.

While his footwork issues could be fixed by coaching, it will be easier said than done for Bortles to break his habits, especially when throwing under pressure.

Despite his flaws and inconsistencies as a college passer, not to mention a college level of competition that scouts called concerning (Walterfootball.com), the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to make Bortles the first quarterback taken in the 2014 draft when they selected him #3 overall.

The decision has been an unmitigated disaster.

Bortles was expected to sit behind quarterback Chad Henne during the 2014 season, but was forced into action after Henne struggled mightily in the third game of the season.

Bortles finished out the 2014 season with 13 consecutive starts, going 3-10. His 2014 stat line read as such: 280/475 (58.9 completion percentage), 2,908 yards, 11 TDs, 17 interceptions, 6.1 yards per attempt, 5.0 adjusted yards per attempt, 4.84 net yards per attempt, 3.81 adjusted net yards per attempt and was sacked an NFL-leading 55 times.

Image titleDespite the positive result (a 63-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Allen Hurns), this highlight from Bortles’ first game played in the NFL, a 17-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, actually does a fair job of showing Bortles’ issues with mechanics early in his career. When he hits the top of his drop, he goes entirely flat-footed, which meant the pass to Hurns was entirely based on arm strength. Now, Bortles does have relatively good arm strength, but it can’t and shouldn’t be able to compensate for shoddy mechanics. This throw, because it’s based on arm strength, is behind Hurns, and because he has to make a body adjustment to catch it, he stumbles while running after making the catch, and only quality footwork and body control allow Hurns to stay on his feet and break the two arm tackles by Colts defenders.

Cliche as it might be, but “no place to go but up” was a good way to describe Bortles’ rookie season. And, as it would happen, he did manage to improve slightly in 2015, throwing for over 4,400 yards, tossing 35 touchdowns, and bumping his yards per attempt (y/a), adjusted yards per attempt (ay/a), net yards per attempt (ny/a), and adjusted net yards per attempt (any/a) anywhere from 1.2 to 2.28 yards. One of the few noticeable regressions for Bortles in 2015 was a return to his junior-year issues in ball control. Bortles fumbled nine times in his final season with UCF, and 2015 saw him lead the league in fumbles with 14, though he did manage to recover five.

Image titleThe tape of Bortles, however, shows a different story, one of a quarterback still fighting to improve his footwork. In the clip to the left, Bortles is making a throw deep in the fourth quarter of Jacksonville’s 17-51 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 3. Bortles’ dropback is just fine, he reads the defense well, but it’s his motion to throw the ball that is problematic. You can almost see how deliberate he’s being in making his throw and in his weight transfer from front to back foot. It very much looks like he’s putting a great deal of thought into how his mechanics are being performed, and the slow deliberateness of his transfer contributes to the wobbliness of the throw.

The above gif is from a highlights package of Bortles put together by the NFL itself, and it’s noticeable that this is the only highlight from the 10 plays mentioned in the video where Bortles is not having to scramble out of the pocket or run the ball himself. Jacksonville’s offensive line was truly horrific during Bortles’ two seasons, and he led the NFL in sacks taken in both of those years. Despite all that, as mentioned above, Bortles did actually manage to improve on his stats, and the offense built for him by Gus Bradley and Greg Olsen did seen to be giving him some opportunity to succeed.

2016 was Bortles’ chance to turn opinions of him from being the quarterback that did really well in garbage time (whether or not that’s an earned reputation is discussed in other articles) to being a quarterback capable of directing, maybe not a playoff team, but a far more respectable unit than the Jaguars had been putting on the field over the last decade. He failed. He was named by ESPN’s John Clayton as his most disappointing player of 2016, and was apparently dealing with a separated shoulder as well as tendonitis in his wrist. His play was also likely one of the culminating factors in head coach Gus Bradley being fired with just two games remaining in the season.

With all the talking I have done about Bortles’ shoddy-to-bad mechanics, it should be mentioned that mechanics were not the only thing Bortles had issues with when in college. One of the more technical issues (if it’s possible, considering quarterbacking mechanics are one of the most technical issues of the sport of football) that Bortles in particular of the 2014 quarterbacking class had some issues with in college was anticipating throwing windows.

Image titleThis play by Bortles against the Chargers in 2016 illustrates multiple reasons why he noticeably regressed. On a positive note, his pocket movement on this play is pretty good, and he does a nice job of sensing when he needs to step up in the pocket to give himself enough time to make a play. That’s about where his good play ends. 

It’s a little difficult to see in this gif, but the wide receiver (Marqise Lee) Bortles is throwing to is not Bortles’ first read, which is a positive, because making multiple reads has been another issue for Bortles. Unfortunately, in this case, it becomes a negative, because when Bortles moves on to Lee as his next target, he stays locked on.

Casey Hayward (#26 of the Chargers) makes a fantastic play on the ball to force the interception, but Bortles absolutely telegraphed where he’d be going with the ball, letting Hayward, who was trailing Lee by a step, know he needed to accelerate and get his hand into the passing lane.

Another failing of Bortles in this clip is that he failed to throw Lee open. Lee had a full second or two where he was a step clear of Hayward’s coverage, and if Bortles had managed to hit him with the pass in that instant, he would have likely been able to make the catch. Instead, Bortles makes another shuffle forward before making his pass, which, combined with his locking his eyes on Lee, allowed Hayward to make his move and cause the interception.

Unfortunately, these have all been common problems for Bortles, and his numbers show it painfully well.

YearComp./Att. (Comp. %)YardsTDINTY/AAY/ANY/AANY/ASacks
2014280/475 (58.9 percent)290811176.15.04.843.8155
2015355/606 (58.6 percent)442835187.37.16.256.0951
2016368/625 (58.9 percent)390523166.25.85.635.2334

The chart above shows Bortles’ three years in the NFL. He’s been one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the NFL since he entered the league (among starting quarterbacks, only Cam Newton, with a completion percentage of 57%, has a lower combined completion percentage than Bortles over the last three seasons). And, the significant step back from 2015 to 2016 after making a fairly large step forward after his rookie season shows why the Jaguars aren’t enamored or excited by the prospect of him being their starter.

Bortles apparently spent his offseason, much like he has spent the last four offseasons he has been an NFL quarterback, working on his mechanics and trying to recover the form he had lost since 2015. The result? Last Thursday night’s debacle of a game against the Buccaneers.

Every one of Bortles’ biggest issues were on display. Bortles being a one-read quarterback? Check. Bortles not checking to see whether the defense would be able to make a play on a ball? Check. Sketchy footwork? You bet. Being too deliberate on a deep ball which caused the ball to lose momentum on its way to a target? Absolutely. Most flaws that would torpedo a late-round quarterback’s career in his first preseason have all swarmed back for Bortles, and at exactly the wrong time.

Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko gave readers an idea of exactly how poorly Bortles has been playing in recent weeks:

Before Bortles’ dismal performance in a preseason game against Tampa over the weekend, he was struggling similarly against their defense without the threat of a true pass rush. He missed reads, he missed throws, and it hurt the confidence of numerous players who have otherwise applauded the direction of the football team.
[…]
He’s performed abysmally this preseason, generating three points over six drives. Nathaniel Hackett, the former quarterbacks coach who is in his first full season as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator, has taken a back-to-basics theme
[…]“I think we’ve paid more attention to figuring out what we’re good at,” says veteran wide receiver Arrelious Benn. “Instead of doing so many things, just figuring out the 10-15 plays we’re good at.”

This is pretty basic stuff for a quarterback entering his fourth season.

The Jaguars have actually managed to put together a semi-competent football team for the first time in a while. Their defense has gotten an influx of talent from the draft and free agency. Their offensive line isn’t quite as putrid as the one that allowed Bortles to be sacked a combined 106 times in his first two seasons. All they need to have a shot at even a wild card in the AFC is a quarterback, and with how Bortles is playing this preseason, it looks like they will need to wait another season for that quarterback.

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

SQuiz
Blake Bortles is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 11 pick-sixes in his first three years. What current starting NFL QB will Bortles tie with his next thrown pick-six?
Created 8/18/17
  1. Philip Rivers
  2. Tom Brady
  3. Ben Roethlisberger
  4. Aaron Rodgers

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