John Raoux/Associated Press
The question from an NFC scout was a simple one.
“Why don’t you guys write more that Blake Bortles is a bust?”
The query came from an honest place and was asked without malice. The scout and some others across the NFL believe Bortles is benefiting from a form of NFL and media protectionism. That for a variety of reasons Bortles isn’t labeled a bust when he should be.
Damn, the scout is right.
“He is a really good guy,” the scout added. “I’ve met him and talked to him. I know he tries. He’s not lazy. He’s just overwhelmed. You can see it on film. He gets confused pretty easily by (defensive) looks that aren’t all that complicated. That’s why his mechanics are a problem. He gets panicked by defenses and the rush and falls back on bad habits.”
Blunt as that assessment is, none of this is meant to trash Bortles. It’s meant to understand how he honestly fits into the larger NFL quarterback picture.
And the truth of it is, teams are so desperate for a quarterback, they will keep any semblance of one on a roster, or pursue one, at any cost. (Unless his name rhymes with Wollin Waepernick.) They will draft busts in the first round such as JaMarcus Russell or risks like Johnny Manziel or hold on to quarterbacks too long. Or be blinded by hope.
No position inspires more hope, and all of the accoutrements that come with it, than quarterback.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Bortles is a perfect example of this. Each season there has been an expectation he would improve; each season he has not. He’s thrown 69 touchdowns, but also 51 interceptions—in three years. Throwing 17 picks his rookie season was understandable. He was a rookie. Even throwing 18 his second season wasn’t too alarming. He was still learning.
Last year he threw 16.
It’s not incorrect to think Bortles is holding the Jaguars back. The team has some talent. Not a lot, but enough that if it got consistent quarterback play, it could compete in a terrible AFC South.
That was apparent Thursday night in the Jags’ preseason opener against the Patriots. There are receiving threats such as Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. There’s fresh blood at running back in Leonard Fournette.
Maybe this season will be different, and Bortles will flower into something different. Maybe all Bortles has to do is not screw up and let some of the talent around him do the popping. Far stranger stuff has happened in this league.
But not making mental errors isn’t easy for him. And he looks the same now as he did last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. Indeed, against the Pats, Bortles didn’t do anything to make or damage his case. He was the same.
This is who Bortles is. He’s a nice man who is error-prone and mechanically flawed.
So, as the scout asked, why aren’t more people speaking of Bortles as a bust?
Usually, if a quarterback is consistently flawed after three straight years, he’s called a bust.
The answer is complicated and centers on how Bortles fits the mold of what many in the NFL, and the media covering the sport, believe a quarterback should be. Bortles is 6’5″. That, to some, fits the mold of a real quarterback.
Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press
This was the scout’s point. Too many go by what we think a quarterback should look like, and not enough go by what a quarterback actually does. This may be why some still don’t see Russell Wilson as great, because his 5’11” height is a blind spot.
People want Bortles to succeed because they like him, and having once been drafted third overall, he carries the promise of hope. I want Bortles to succeed because if he does, Jacksonville will win again. The Jaguars are not quite Brownsian, but the franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and hasn’t won more than five games since 2010.
This is a proud franchise that deserves better.
But it doesn’t look it’ll get better with Bortles.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.