The Jacksonville Jaguars are a team on the rise. Despite being the laughing stock of the league for the past decade, thanks to the patience of owner Shahid Khan in keeping Gus Bradley, the team has had continuity that not many franchises experience in the current “win-now or else” NFL. With young weapons, solid additions in free agency, and a very exciting draft, this team is poised to take the next step and begin competing in the AFC South. No matter how much the rest of the team has improved there is one player who must tie it all together, third year starting quarterback Blake Bortles.
Bortles, 24, has made steady progress in his first two seasons under center for the Jaguars. He improved in yards passing (2,908 to 4,428), touchdowns (11 to 38), as well as passer rating (69.5 to 88.2). However in order for Jacksonville to take the next step and for Gus Bradley to keep his job he must improve on perhaps the most difficult trait, consistency. Too often Bortles would make the wrong decisions leading to poor throws or turnovers, he finished the 2015 season with 18 interceptions and 8 fumbles. These numbers are far too high and must be minimized moving forward. Not only was he careless with the ball but he was inaccurate. He finished 31st in completion percentage with 58.6% of his passes being caught. With weapons like Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas these numbers are unacceptable.
One of the aspects holding Bortles back in his development has been a lack of a running game. Jacksonville has tried multiple avenues by signing Toby Gerhart, converting Denard Robinson to running back from his college position as a quarterback, and the drafting of T.J. Yeldon. Although Yeldon showed promise last season he was not productive enough to take pressure off of Bortles. When a young quarterback is developing it is important that the game is slowed down for him. Having a reliable running game that forces an opposing defense to play both facets of an offense allows for easier decision making and less pressure on second and third downs. However, the lack of production from this position group has forced the Jaguars to ask of Bortles more than they should have this early in his career. However GM David Caldwell might have found an answer for that as they signed former Jets running back Chris Ivory. The presence of a power runner will undoubtedly take some pressure off Bortles and allow the Jags to open up the playbook more to create opportunities for their young playmakers on the outside.
They say a player’s biggest leap comes from year one to year two, but in order for Jacksonville to take that next step they need another big leap from Bortles. He must take command of his offense and become more of a facilitator to minimize mistakes. With an improved running game and some solid additions on the defensive side of the ball Bortles may lead Jacksonville somewhere they haven’t been in nearly a decade, the playoffs.