The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Mark Brunell left the team in 2003. They have gotten by with an assortment of starters that included Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Chad Henne, Blaine Gabbert and Luke McCown. Although, none of these aforementioned players have performed quite as well as current Jaguars quarterback, Blake Bortles.
Bortles is one of only three quarterbacks the Jaguars have taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. They selected Leftwich with the 7th pick in 2003 and Gabbert with the 10th pick in 2011. Sadly, ineffective play and injuries hampered both, and their careers in Jacksonville were cut short.
If last season was any indication, it seems as if Bortles is going to out preform his first round predecessors. The team made huge strides on the offensive side of the ball in 2015. A lot of their success is due to Bortles maturation, not only as a player, but a leader as well.
To really see the growth in Bortles you have to go back to a subpar rookie season. He threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns, and ranked 31st amongst all starting NFL quarterbacks with a 3.6 interception rate. But it wasn’t all bad for Bortles during his rookie career. He ranked 17th in the NFL in passing attempts with 475, and was one of the league’s most accurate passers with a 58.9 completion percentage.
These stats indicated he might have the chops to be a legitimate NFL starter, and he certainly showed that during his sophomore season. Bortles displayed that gunslinger mentality he showcased during his 2014 rookie year. In 2015, Bortles ranked 6th in the NFL with 606 passing attempts, throwing for 4,428 yards. That placed him 7th amongst all starting quarterbacks. In addition, he threw for 35 touchdowns, tying him for second in the NFL.
Not only did Bortles improve as a player over the course of two seasons in Jacksonville, he also became a leader. At the onset of training camp last season, Bortles spoke to Jacksonville.com on how he must prepare himself as the team’s starting quarterback.
“As a quarterback, [leadership is] part of the job title,” Bortles said. “I think continuing to grow with the guys and create relationships this offseason was big for me. Develop a system on how to do certain things, how to take care of your body, continue to watch film, how to learn and do all of that. The more time you spend with guys, the better a leader you’re going to become.”
Bortles is going to need to up his game even more in the coming seasons, as the Jaguars organization have established the foundation of a winning football team. The team is in a win-now mode, and it’s most of the team’s success will hinge on Bortles improving even more from his breakthrough second season.
We’re only two seasons into his career, but it’s already easy to see the star potential he has. It might be premature to call Bortles an elite quarterback at this time, but it may be a whole different conversation a year from now.
Follow Daniel James Gentile on Twitter @dgentleman9288