JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles just had the best season of his career in his fourth year in the NFL. He made marked improvement in his first full season under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, completing more than 60 percent of his passes for the first time and cutting down his turnovers.
Was it a turning point for the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, a sign that he is poised to make significant strides in 2018 in his fifth season with the Jaguars (or elsewhere)? Or was it a fluctuation in what has been an up-and-down career for Bortles?
That’s what Jaguars football czar Tom Coughlin, general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone must decide in the next several weeks. If they believe it’s the latter, then it would be time to move on and find another quarterback -- whether that means pursuing Kirk Cousins or other options, such as Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater.
Bortles has completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 14,928 yards and 90 touchdowns with 64 interceptions and an 80.8 passer rating in 62 career games. If the Jaguars want proof that a quarterback can improve significantly after his first four seasons, they need only to look at some of the game’s current quarterbacks and consider their numbers through their first 62 games.
Alex Smith, who will be traded to Washington when the 2018 league year begins, is the player to whom Hackett has compared Bortles the most. Smith completed 57.9 percent of his passes, threw 61 touchdown passes and 55 interceptions and had a 75.2 rating in his first 62 games.
Bortles has more passing yards and touchdown passes and a better quarterback rating than Smith did at this point in his career.
In his 89 games after that, however, Smith has thrown 122 touchdown passes with only 41 interceptions and completed more than 60 percent of his passes in each season. He was the NFL’s top-rated passer in 2017, and his career passer rating is now 87.4.
Part of that is due to the fact that Smith was on some much better teams later in his career than he was at the beginning. After having four offensive coordinators in his first four seasons, Smith flourished under head coach Andy Reid in Kansas City and benefited from a stout run game and a good defense.
In other words, the team’s entire success did not rely on Smith alone. Few quarterbacks can handle that kind of pressure. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are pretty much it, but Bortles’ numbers surprisingly compare favorably to those four players through the first 62 games of their careers, as well.
Bortles has more passing yards than Brady (13,687), Brees (13,062) and Roethlisberger (12,620) did, and their touchdown numbers are comparable: Brady had 95, followed by Roethlisberger (91), Bortles (90) and Brees (83).
Rodgers, however, is the standard-bearer. There are 20 current starting quarterbacks who have played more than 62 games, and Rodgers leads the list in completion percentage and passer rating through their first 62 games, and is second in touchdown passes and has the fewest interceptions.
This doesn’t mean Bortles automatically will become one of the league’s top quarterbacks. But, as the numbers show, his production through his first 62 games compares favorably with some of the league’s top QBs. With some stability -- if he stays, he’ll have the same offensive coordinator for a second season for just the second time in his career -- and the acquisition of more weapons at receiver and tight end, he is set up to make strides as he did in 2017.
That’s what the Jaguars need: an upgrade.