Perception vs Reality: Blake Bortles and NFL Fandom

Despite his early career struggles, is Blake Bortles career savable? (Getty Images)

Despite his early career struggles, is Blake Bortles career savable? (Getty Images)

– bill annechino

Nine.  That’s the number of games Blake Bortles has played in which he did not throw an interception.  Six.  That’s the number of games in which Bortles was sacked six or more times.  One.  That’s the number of games Bortles has played in which he did not get sacked.  By this point, a lot of people feel that the book has been written on Bortles, and that he is not a viable NFL quarterback.  The truth is that the Jaguars are probably stuck with him for at least one more year before it becomes financially viable to cut ties with Bortles.  Obviously, the most important question to answer is:  How much is Blake Bortles to blame for the Jaguars’ struggles?  

Let’s start with the fact that the Jaguars have allowed him to get absolutely massacred.  Over his first two seasons, Bortles was sacked 55 and 51 times, respectively.  This season, he is on pace to go down 37 times.  ProFootballFocus’s ratings tell a horror story of offensive line play.  Besides center Brandon Linder, who ranks fourth at his position, no Jaguars offensive lineman grades out as better than the 30th ranked player at their position.  This number craters with left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who is rated as the 53rd ranked tackle in the NFL.  If you recall, the year before the Jaguars drafted Bortles, they drafted Luke Joeckel second-overall.  Joeckel was projected to be the team’s franchise left tackle, the kind of lynchpin that can anchor a line for ten years.  When last we saw Joeckel, he had been moved inside to guard before going on injured reserve with knee surgery.  To staff the position the Jaguars thought they had drafted a franchise player at, they signed former Steelers’ tackle Beachum this offseason, and the results have been disastrous.  So, like, is Blake Bortles fixable, man?  It’s certainly possible.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that we’ve seen it before:  

Stats through first 39 games

Blake Bortles Eli Manning
Touchdowns 62 54
Interceptions 46 44
TD % 4.2 4.2
INT % 3.1 3.4
Comp. % 59.1 54.1
Y/C 11.3 11.7
Attempts 1461 1276
Passer Rating 80.2 73.2
Win-Loss Record 10-28 20-19

After looking at the chart, I think you would agree with me when I say that Blake Bortles and Eli Manning were very similar players through their first 39 career games in the NFL.  The biggest difference is that Eli played for a better team, and had won twice as many games at that point in his career.  There’s a million different analogies and clichés about winning fixing everything and how winning is the best disinfectant and all that, but what does that really mean?  If you gathered ten NFL fans and asked them who was better between Bortles and Manning over this period, I would think most would say Manning.  In reality, there’s almost no difference between the two of them beyond their record, and I believe that there’s a point to be made here:  Your average NFL fan is stupid.  

If I may digress, I spend a decent amount of time on the NFL sub-Reddit, various NFL Facebook groups and Twitter.  It always makes my head hurt reading some of the discourse that NFL fans get into.  Forget your run-of-the-mill, thinly-veiled gay slurs (calling the Vikings the Viqueens, the Cowboys the Cowgirls, and I’ll let you figure out for yourself what gets said about the Packers); the average NFL fan’s knowledge of the sport is far lower than any other fan base.  Every major sports league has its cringe-worthy fans:  the MLB has the guys who refuse to embrace sabermetrics and still judge pitchers based on wins and hitters based on RBIs.  The NHL has the people who still call Sidney Crosby soft, as if that’s some kind of intelligent debate.  The NBA even has those people who refuse to pick a team and instead call themselves fans of certain players, the worst being the “LeBron Fan”.  None of this really compares to what I see from NFL fans, though.  Consider that I was on Facebook today, scrolling through a fairly large NFL group.  In this group, I saw a meme that someone had posted, implying that the Cowboys haven’t played a tough schedule, and that somehow they have control over their schedule.  In reality, most of an NFL team’s schedule is known years in advance:  They play six divisional games, each division plays two other divisions and the two remaining games are dictated by the place the team finished the year before.  That means that the whole “last place schedule” trope is almost completely wrong, since it only influences two of a team’s 16 games.  NFL fans aren’t exactly going to let the facts get in the way of a good narrative, though.  

Which brings us back to Blake Bortles.  The numbers say that Bortles’ early career isn’t far off from another quarterback who I believe will make the Hall of Fame.  To completely write him off at this stage of the game would be to have put too much faith in team wins and losses while evaluating a quarterback.  I do feel that there are certain flaws that Bortles needs to address, most notably a mechanical hitch in his throwing motion where Bortles sometimes brings the ball below his waist.  We know that a short, compact throwing motion is infinitely valuable for a quarterback because tenths of seconds count when it comes to getting the ball out and stopping a pass rush.  Indeed, Bortles slow delivery may be partially to blame for his high sack numbers.  It’s not the only factor at play.  

I think that Gus Bradley’s days are numbered in Jacksonville; I say he makes it through the season but is replaced in the offseason.  I think the Jags would be smart to go with a guy who has some kind of track record with quarterback development.  Is Bortles having his private quarterback coach fly to their road games to work with Bortles, after the Jaguars promoted their quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, the stupidest thing you’ve seen this season?  If you saw that Josh Huff was released by the Eagles after being arrested for having a gun and then asking “What professional athlete doesn’t have a gun?” (the answer, by the way, is Josh Huff because he’s no longer a professional athlete), then the answer is no, the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator snafu is not the stupidest thing you’ve seen this season.  So, where do you stand on Blake Bortles?  Is he to blame for what’s been going on in Jacksonville?  How much do you blame a quarterback for poor statistics when he’s playing behind a terrible offensive line?  Can Bortles be fixed?  If a quarterback can be held accountable for his team’s wins and losses, don’t you also need to admit when his teammates and coaches are letting him down or not putting him in a position to succeed?  Your answers to these questions will determine not just how you feel about Blake Bortles, but also what kind of football fan you are.  

Bill Annechino– Bill Annechino (Twitter)

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