Blake Bortles, Tom Coughlin and A Bold Strategy, Cotton

Blake Bortles threw five interceptions on the first day of training camp. It’s training camp, it doesn’t actually mean anything. It can’t have been a pleasant experience for Tom Coughlin though. Coughlin became the executive vice president of the Jaguars this offseason and he, along with GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone decided to stick with Bortles.

That was at best a questionable decision.

Over the past three seasons Bortles has thrown 51 interceptions. Only Philip Rivers (52) has thrown more over that time and only Ryan Fitzpatrick has a higher interception percentage. Fitzpatrick has thrown an interception on 3.13 percent of his attempts while Bortles has thrown an interception on 2.99 of his. He’s consistently turned the ball over while failing to ever complete more than 59 percent of his passes. Not to mention he has averaged 6.3 yards or fewer in two of his first three seasons in the league.

Nothing about traditional numbers suggest that there is any potential for Bortles to get better. Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue charting doesn’t say any different.

5.28 percent of Bortles’ passes last year were considered interceptable, 26 quarterbacks took care of the ball better. Bortles ranked 28th in overall accuracy but 29th in the 1-5 yard range, 32nd in the 11-15 yard range, 33rd int he 16-20 yard range and 29th on throws that travelled further than 20 yards downfield. Furthermore, Bortles ranked 27th in avoidable sack percentage. He was responsible for more than three of every 10 sacks he took.

Finding any reason to still believe in Bortles is almost impossible. Finding any rational reason is impossible.

The one thing the Jaguars will likely point to is his 35 touchdown season back in 2015. Even then he was still throwing a huge number of interceptions, a huge number of interceptable passes and had awful accuracy. Bortles relied on Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns to make difficult adjustments to the ball in the air for those touchdowns. Furthermore an overwhelming number of those touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when the game had already been decided.

Instead of moving on from the obvious mistake by bringing in a new quarterback during the offseason, the Jaguars decided the best way to move forward was to try and alleviate the pressure on Bortles to play well.

Philosophically that is not crazy. If you have a mediocre quarterback it can be hard to find an upgrade so improving the supporting cast around him to elevate his production can be a smart route to go. The problem is Bortles isn’t mediocre. He’s awful. Even if he is 100 percent healthy this year and fixes his major mechanical flaws to come away with acceptable accuracy, he still misses too many reads and makes too many bad decisions to be a viable starter.

But that is the direction the Jaguars have decided to go. Bringing in Leonard Fournette to spark the running game and adding A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell to elevate the defense. Bouye and Campbell should be good additions, Campbell in particular is still one of the best defensive players in the league. He makes everyone around him better. The Jaguars defense has the potential to be one of the better units in the league so that part of the plan should work out well.

Incorporating Fournette into the offense is going to be a challenge.

According to this year’s Football Outsiders Almanac, the Jaguars used shotgun on 75 percent of their snaps last season. That was the sixth-highest rate in the league. Fournette isn’t a shotgun runner. He’s not a pass protector and he isn’t a refined route runner or proven catcher of the ball. He’s a rather rigid athlete who is built to make one cut and get upfield in a hurry.

Playing at LSU, Fournette didn’t show off much nuance in his footwork nor did he show off an ability to manipulate defenders to create running lanes. When he was given space in front of him he accelerated through it quickly and could then make defenders miss on the second level.

Selecting that type of back in today’s NFL is tough to argue for. Selecting that type of back in the top 10 of a draft seems crazy. Fournette to the Jaguars isn’t like Ezekiel Elliott to the Cowboys. They aren’t getting a diverse skill set and superstar talent who can have his impact maximized by his situation.

The theory of hiding Bortles by relying on Fournette only works if Bortles primarily plays under center.

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Jaguars ran on first down only 44 percent of the time last year. 23 teams ran on first down more often. Drafting Fournette should guarantee that changes. Bortles’ best trait is his athleticism. He should rely on that athleticism to executed extended hand-offs that allow for hard play fakes and outside-zone runs on early downs before using read-option play designs in short yardage situations.

Bortles can be a very effective scrambler and designed running plays will help them extend drives. With simple passing concepts working against coverages that are distorted by hard play fakes, it should be easier for the offense to keep Bortles turnover total down.

His whole career suggests that Bortles will still find a way to turn the ball over.

For this transition to a completely new offensive philosophy, the Jaguars needed to alter their offensive line. They attempted to do that by swapping Julius Thomas for Branden Albert and by drafting Cam Robinson in the second round. Albert’s athleticism has been completely sapped at this stage of his career. He might slightly improve the Jaguars pass protection at the left tackle spot but won’t make a big impact as a run blocker.

Lance Zierlein is the best offensive line evaluators currently covering the NFL draft. Zierlein writes the prospect profiles for NFL.com. His description of Cam Robinson fits perfectly with the projected offense in Jacksonville, “road grader with impressive power at the point of attack and enough athleticism to function in diverse run schemes…a player with the traits and physical ability to be a good NFL tackle, but his balance issues and inconsistencies as a pass protector are a concern.”

Assuming Robinson starts as a rookie, the Jaguars spent their two highest picks on players who will force them to make running the ball the foundation of their offense.

Spreading the field with three and four receivers will be something the Jaguars do out of necessity next season. To set Fournette up for success the Jaguars will likely turn to a fullback or extra tight end. That will offer them more options running with Bortles under center. While that makes sense to somehow prevent Bortles from hitting defenders in the chest every other drive, it moves the offense away from its greatest strength.

The Jaguars go three deep at receiver as well as any other team in the league. Marqise Lee had somewhat of a breakout season last year after Hurns and Robinson established themselves as one of the best starting tandems in the league during the previous year. Had the Jaguars concentrated their efforts on replacing Bortles, they could have brought in a quarterback to get the most out of those receivers and maximize their impact on the team’s results.

Best-case scenario for the Jaguars this year is the offense offers limited upside but more consistency while the defense wins low-scoring games. That’s a brave approach at a time when the league is purposely trying to outlaw low-scoring games.

In a rational world the team’s primary focus would have been to get a new quarterback this offseason. In a rational world the team wouldn’t purposely be building an offense that handicaps the coaching staff’s play calling. They wouldn’t actively invest in making their offense less expansive and narrow the focus to the point that they will be predictable.

In a rational world the Jaguars would never be in this situation.

 

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