Blake Bortles is entering his fifth season in the NFL, and folks in Jacksonville are feeling good about it. The Jags went 10-6 in 2017, the first year in which Bortles had a winning record and a completion percentage above 60 (60.2).
There were some signs Bortles was becoming the player the Jaguars hoped for when they took him third overall in 2014, but it wasn’t the first time. Bortles’ best passing season remains 2015, when he threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns, then regressed in 2016.
This offseason, we got a pretty good explanation for that, as is detailed in this piece about a wrist injury Bortles has been dealing with for two full years. Every time he threw a pass, he got a little reminder from his wrist that something was wrong with it, and now that the repair has been made, and the Jags have a good team around him, there is every reason to assume Bortles will have the best season of his career in 2018.
The pain wasn’t excruciating or debilitating. It was just there for nearly two full years, and the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback dealt with it without complaint. Since getting the problem fixed in January, Bortles has had the best offseason and start to training camp of his career.
It’s not a coincidence.
“When you do not have to worry about going to rehab or going to get treatment, you have to make sure you warm it up the right way, you have to take anti-inflammatory [medication] and do all of that stuff. … It is just a lot of process to be able to go out there and do what you should be able to do without any pain,” Bortles said. “To be able to do that now finally is pretty awesome.”
Playing through injuries is as much a part of football as the football itself, which is why we didn’t hear anything from Bortles about this until after the fact. But this injury almost certainly affected his performance, and casts his 2015 season — his last healthy one — in a new light.
The yards (4,400) and touchdowns (35) got people excited about what was then a second-year quarterback. And even though the completion percentage (58.6) and interceptions (18) left something to be desired, you could see a good quarterback forming on the horizon, and the Jags went 5-11.
When Bortles’ numbers dropped and the Jags went 3-13 in 2016, I figured that meant Bortles was exactly what he appeared to be — a 59 percent passer who turned it over a lot and would be a backup in no time.
Now I’m not so sure. The wrist is, as you know, fairly important for a quarterback. If it’s been painful or numbed up for all of Bortles third and fourth seasons — the seasons in which we’d have expected to see Bortles come into his own, whatever that may look like — then it’s entirely possible Bortles is better than any of us have ever seen.
He went from being sacked 55 times to 51 times to 34 times to 24 times, and his completion percentage is slowly rising while his interception percentage is slowly dropping. He was 11th in the NFL in passing yards last year, but 24th in completion percentage. If he could have completed 64 percent of his passes last year (instead of 60), he’d have thrown for right around 3,900 yards, which would have put him up there with Kirk Cousins and Matt Stafford in those two categories. Cut the interceptions to eight or 10 and now we’re talking about a really good player.
We’ll find out soon if that’s asking too much, but there’s a chance Bortles is secretly good, and if so, the Jags may finally be getting it together.