The Jacksonville Jaguars Hope The Third Pick Is The Charm
By Troy Graham
The Jacksonville Jaguars have drafted two quarterbacks in the top 10 of the NFL draft in the past four years. There are two major problems with this: The quarterback position is the most influential factor in a team's success, and if you are picking high in the draft on a consistent basis, then you are most likely a bottomfeeder in the league's standings.
But to be a Jaguars fan is to be an optimist, and there are a few reasons to believe Blake Bortles will not be the bust Blaine Gabbert came to be in Jacksonville. The first factor to believe there will not be a repeat of the Gabbert era is the dedication to the plan of Bortles' development. When Gabbert was a rookie, barely two weeks into the season he was thrown in the line of fire. The team had cut the previous year's starter in David Garrard during the offseason and by the second game of the season they finally realized the newly acquired free agent Luke McCown would not suffice as a stop-gate starter. Since then, the team never won more than five games in a season and Gabbert has averaged a 66.4 quarterback rating over the course of three seasons.
Part of it is on the quaterback, but the bulk is on the planning of the organization. The quarterback never improved and seemed to regress instead. Fault starts at the top with former general manager Gene Smith letting go Garrard and preventing any competition or opportunity for a mentor. A major difference with Bortles is the presence of Chad Henne. He's a veteran who has spent a year in the system whom Bortles can learn from, and Henne is the clear-cut starter for the team until Bortles' performance can prove he is ready to take over.
The second factor was impacted by management and coaching. The Gabbert era left two coaches as casualties and every preseason became part of a learning curve to learn a new offense. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has shown signs of life to a dormant offense. Once he can fully revive and create an explosive offense for this team, Bortles will benefit from stability, and will not have to start from scratch trying to obtain a new system like Gabbert did during the beginning of each season. If this holds true, Fisch would be up for a head coaching job.
The third factor pertains to the weapons and supporting cast, or the lack thereof, around Gabbert. Justin Blackmon was a threat offensively at receiver, but he has literally been more trouble than what he is worth with consecutive suspensions leading him to be prohibited from the league indefinitely until further notice. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew ran wild for a rushing title in 2011, but never truly made a dent past the line of scrimmage since then.
Flipping towards Bortles side of the coin, he has two rookie second-round receivers from his draft class who could have easily been first-rounds picks in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. In addition to them, Toby Gerhart has expectations of a 1,000-yard rushing season. More important is the arsenal protecting Bortles up front. Luke Joeckel is ready for his first full season, they acquired former Pro Bowl Denver Broncos OG Zane Beadles, and they drafted OG Brandon Linder in the third round of this year's draft. The new offensive line is still unproven, but on paper all the moves show cause for optimism for the future post-Gabbert.
The last and the major factor that demonstrates the difference between Gabbert and Bortles is the scouting report coming into the NFL. The knock on Gabbert was him coming from a spread offense with mainly shotgun formations only requiring him to make short, quick throws and his lack of success throwing under pressure. All were proven true, as he could never threaten the defense with down-the-field throws and folded the moment rushers came screaming at him.
The questions revolving around Bortles are experience and mechanics, but the intangibles he has are not coachable and were common areas that Gabbert lacked. Bortles is a vocal leader, who has escape skills reminisicent of Ben Roethlisberger that can make plays last longer. Not to mention, he won the Fiesta Bowl while at the University of Central Florida (UCF).
Looking at the Jaguars current reputation, you can say they are equal to UCF before last season started. If Bortles could bring similar success that he did just two hours north of Jacksonville, the third overall pick might be the charm.