— Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon) May 9, 2014
That was my reaction when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected UCF Quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in last night’s first round of the NFL Draft.
Believe me, as a UCF fan, I want Bortles to succeed as much or more than anyone else out there, because it would be good for UCF, and also he’s a good kid who deserves it. But I think he’s going to get killed in Jacksonville, and here’s why:
1. The Jaguars have no running game to take the pressure off him. And that was before they lost Maurice Jones-Drew to the Raiders – the RAIDERS! – in free agency. As a team, Jacksonville was second-to-last in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging just 78.8 yards per game on the ground. And Jones-Drew, whose car was running in the parking lot from training camp on, accounted for 63.7% of the team’s rushing yards.
Stepping in to fill that void is Toby Gerhart, the ex-Viking who made a name for himself at Stanford, but has a grand total of 1,305 career rushing yards in five seasons (although, to be fair, he played behind Adrian Peterson). Head coach Gus Bradley has also said he plans to utilize ex-Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson as a running back this year. But if you’re an opposing defensive coordinator, are you staying up nights the offseason watching film and figuring out how to stop Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson?
Young quarterbacks need a solid running game to take the pressure off of them, shorten third downs, and keep the defense honest. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year.
2. They can’t protect him. The Jags’ offensive line was the second-worst in the league in 2013 (behind Miami). They gave up the second-most sacks, the sixth-most QB hits, and that resulted in Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne combining for the second-fewest TD passes and the third-lowest percentage of first downs by pass in the league.
On top of that, the Jags dealt arguably their best veteran offensive lineman, Eugene Monroe, to the Ravens mid-season, leaving the blind side in the unproven hands of Luke Joeckel, who is also coming off a broken ankle he suffered against the Rams last October.
True, Joeckel could return at full strength (or better), and the rest of the group could pull it together this off-season. But if they are going to at all, they’d better hurry up, because otherwise, Blake Bortles will spend much of his time either on his rear end or running for his life.
3. They don’t have enough weapons for him. Sure, it would have been nice to have Justin Blackmon to throw darts to. But thanks to his apparent disregard for the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Jags’ front office is openly saying they don’t expect to have the formerly-promising Oklahoma State standout around for 2014.
That leaves the capable-but-hardly-frightening Cecil Shorts (66 rec., 777 yards, 3 TDs in 2013) as Bortles’ best remaining downfield target, with role player Ace Sanders (51 rec., 484 yards, 1 TD) n the other side. Former Pro Bowl TE Marcedes Lewis can be a safety valve, but he’s coming off his lowest reception total since his rookie season back in 2006 (25 rec., 359 yards, 4 TDs).
So when things go awry in the pocket, who will bail him out and get open?
4. Who’s going to coach him? At UCF, Bortles came up under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, the former Maryland and CFL coach who injected some juice into George O’Leary’s offense, and made Bortles the prospect that he is.
For all the credit he deserves from last year’s late surge, Bortles’ new boss, Gus Bradley, is a defensive-minded coach. His offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch, who oversaw last year’s offensive fiasco, does have some promise (reportedly, the folks at the University of Miami were less than thrilled when he left for the Jags). QB coach Frank Scelfo came to Jacksonville last year after not being in football for two years following his stint at the University of Arizona, where he coached up current Eagles QB Nick Foles.
But if Bortles is going to make the adjustment from pro to college smoothly, these coaches will have to get behind him whole-hog. After all, their jobs now depend on it.
Late word out of Jacksonville today is that the Jags plan to hand Bortles a clipboard and let him watch and learn behind ex-Dolphin Chad Henne for a year before turning the keys over to Bortles in 2015. If true, this could be the best possible situation for Bortles: Give the offense a year to work out the kinks, learn the playbook, and adjust to professional-level speed smoothly.
But if circumstances change (Henne gets hurt, Henne stinks, or Gus Bradley gets anxious), and the Jags change those plans, what then? He is, after all, the third overall pick, with a third-overall pick’s contract. That’s a lot of money to spend on a guy holding a clipboard.
The Jaguars are eyeball-deep in a rebuilding phase that saw them become a laughing stock last year. And as we all already know the last time they drafted a QB quite this high, it didn’t go so well.
So yes, I want Blake Bortles to succeed in the NFL, and succeed in spectacular fashion. But given the circumstances surrounding him in Jacksonville, I’m just not all that optimistic.
I hope I’m wrong.
Gee, Jeff, thanks for that rosy outlook. Are you always this jolly?
Don’t be so glum. Yes, I will be your UCF Insider here at SportsTalk Florida starting this summer, when UCF starts summer practice. You’ll hear more from me then. In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter (@Jeff_Sharon) and let me know if there are any interesting UCF stories you’d like to see covered this coming year. Lord knows I’ve got plenty.