The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Blake Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft back in 2014. Depending on your perspective, Bortles' performance has either progressed in fits and starts, or not really progressed at all.
Bortles has completed only 58.8 percent of his passes through three seasons, and has averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt. Among the 35 quarterbacks that have attempted at least 500 passes since Bortles entered the league, he ranks 32nd in completion percentage, 31st in yards per attempt, 24th in touchdown rate, 31st in interception rate, 30th in passer rating, and 34th in winning percentage. This is all despite Bortles having had a true star receiver in Allen Robinson and a worthy No. 2 in Allen Hurns (and/or Marquise Lee, depending on availability) to throw to for the entirety of his career, as well as a quality tight end in Julius Thomas for two-thirds of his starts as well.
The Jaguars brought in some new blood to run the organization this offseason, and they don't have the kind of loyalty to Bortles that the previous regime does. New team president Tom Coughlin wasn't in Jacksonville when the team drafted Bortles, and new coach Doug Marrone, despite spending the last two seasons with the Jags, was in Buffalo when Bortles was selected.
The team isn't expected to pick up Bortles' fifth-year option, but they do still have one more year left to evaluate him before making a decision on his future with the franchise next offseason. With this year's draft, they've made it clear there's no more excuse for him to not raise the level of his play.
The Jaguars took LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the No. 4 overall pick. He's the kind of player that can be the foundation of your offense, a running back of the caliber the Jags have not had during Bortles' tenure. With the run the focus of the game plan now, there will be less pressure than ever for Bortles to carry the offense. Not only that, but with opposing defenses likely focused on stopping Fournette first and foremost, Bortles should have the opportunity to throw with fewer defensive backs clogging his passing lanes, and should be afforded wider windows when the teams works its play-action game.
Jacksonville's second pick was Alabama offensive lineman Cam Robinson, who should slide in right away at either tackle or guard, depending on where the Jags decide to use him. The Jaguars have made massive upgrades to the line that nearly got Bortles decapitated as a rookie, and last year he was sacked on a career-low 5.2 percent of his dropbacks -- half the rate at which he was sacked during his first season. That rate, as well as the rate at which he's pressured, should drop again in 2017.
Bortles, like every other passer in the league, is much better when throwing from a clean pocket than when he's pressured, and better protection should give him every opportunity to succeed.
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The Jags spent their third pick on Oklahoma wideout Dede Westbrook, a talented if mercurial player that comes with reported off-field issues. Westbrook won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wideout in 2016, catching 80 passes for 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns at OU. He has great speed and body control and should be a home-run threat on the outside -- a good fit with Bortles' strong arm. Again, with this pick, the Jaguars are trying to remove every possible excuse for Bortles' poor play.
(Westbrook doesn't come without his concerns. He has been accused -- twice -- of domestic violence by the mother of his children and was reportedly kicked out of one of his 15-minute NFL combine interviews. Though he has not been arrested for any of the accusations, he was reportedly "guarded and untruthful" when asked about them at the combine.)
NFLDraftScout.com's Spencer Hall gives the Jaguars an A- for picking Westbrook, calling him "an explosive player with tremendous production scoring 17 TDs in 2016. Good addition for Bortles to help stretch defenses downfield."
The Jags now have a foundational running back that should be the focus of the offense. The have a much-improved offensive line. And they have a cadre of weapons for Bortles to throw to. If he doesn't succeed this year, it's just never going to happen for him in Jacksonville, and it's a near-guarantee that they'll have cast him aside by the time the 2018 draft rolls around.