The gaudy numbers Blake Bortles put up through the air last season were always supposed to come. The quarterback was No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Central Florida. The Jaguars always believed he would become a franchise quarterback, even if the pick was roundly derided when it was made.
The first 14 games of his career seemed to prove the skepticism worthy. He only threw for more than 300 yards in a game once and only even hit 250 one other time during his first season in the NFL, and more often caused flashbacks to Blaine Gabbert than Mark Brunell.
So his 2015-16 breakthrough was improbable, yet there the numbers were: 4,428 yards, sixth in the NFL; 35 touchdowns, tied for second; 7.31 yards per attempt, 15th in the league. The second-year production was more a leap than just a step. The only question: Did the numbers actually paint a true picture?
Pro Football Focus (PFF), the preeminent football analytics site, pointed specifically to Bortles' 250-yard game in the Jaguars' 51-point outburst against the Colts last December. This was, to many, the day when Bortles' numerical success finally seemed to become real. He had dismantled the division rival which had most commonly been predicted to win the AFC South.
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But PFF wasn't buying it. While Bortles was singlehandedly winning fantasy matchups, PFF graded him as having a below average game. He had been helped by good fortune and an elite group of wide receivers.
The good news for Jacksonville is Bortles still has all those great receivers, so he doesn't have to truly be one of the five or so best quarterbacks in the league to put up numbers to reflect this assertion, and if he gets just a little better the Jaguars could become a surprise playoff contender.
DB to Watch
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is expected to start immediately and make as big an impact as any defensive rookie in the league. The defensive back is slotted as a starting cornerback for the Jaguars, but could slide all over the secondary for Jacksonville as the Jaguars try to build a cohesive defense around the Florida State product.
Prince Amukamara, RB
Amukamara's career has been marked by inconsistency, so the Jaguars were able to land the cornerback on a one-year deal, which he'll use to prove himself. The former first-round pick seemed, at times, like a foundational piece for the Giants defense. It may not be too late for the 27-year-old.
At a glance
Herald’s forecast: 7-9
The Jaguars took strides offensively with monster seasons from quarterback Blake Bortles, and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. With the addition of running back Chris Ivory, that side of the ball should continue to progress. Jacksonville should flirt with .500 and could become a surprise playoff contender if the defense can match its offense.
Head coach: Gus Bradley, fourth year with the Jaguars, 12-36 career record
Deep at: Wide receiver
It’s tough to celebrate Blake Bortles’ success at quarterback from the play of his wide receivers. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns each went over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in 2015-16, and Robinson finished sixth in the league with 1,400 yards through the air.
Thin at: Offensive line
The Jaguar’s offensive line struggles start with Luke Joeckel. Three years ago, the tackle was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He’s now fighting for a starting spot and is firmly entrenched as one of the biggest bust of recent years. Jacksonville’s offense has a chance to be really good, but the line could hold it back.
All games at 1 p.m. unless noted
* AFC South division game | # in London
@ San Diego, 4:25 P.M.
Indianapolis*#, 9:30 A.M.
@ Kansas City
Carolina L, 20-9
Miami W, 23-20
At New England L, 51-17
At Indianapolis L, 16-13 (OT)
At Tampa Bay L, 38-31
Houston L, 31-20
Buffalo W, 34-31
At N.Y. Jets L, 28-23
At Baltimore W, 22-20
Tennessee L, 19-13
San Diego L, 31-25
At Tennessee L, 42-39
Indianapolis W, 51-16
Atlanta L, 23-17
At New Orleans L, 38-27
At Houston L, 30-6