Welcome to the Blake Bortles conundrum, Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now, go lock him in the film room and only let him out to hit the practice field, and don’t even think about putting him into a game until the 2015 regular season—at the earliest.
As I wrote two months ago after studying Bortles’ game film from Central Florida, he’s a unique player who presents a unique situation for an NFL team. All his immense physical skills and intangibles scream that he’ll be a franchise quarterback. But he’s not yet close to being ready. His mechanics, from his footwork to his arm, are too often a mess to be trusted against NFL competition. Bortles needs good, intense coaching, and he needs a lot of it.
That’s why it was a bit of a surprise to see the Jaguars take Bortles with the third overall pick, rather than draft the more game-ready Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater—especially considering that Jacksonville’s current starter is Chad Henne. It’s not like Bortles will be sitting behind Brett Favre as Aaron Rodgers did for three years, learning to change from a rigid passer with the ball always by his ear to the athletic playmaker you see today. No, Bortles will have to watch Henne, who is decent but is destined to have spells when the Jaguars faithful will pine for their new quarterback.
That’s the issue. You can, in theory, take a future franchise quarterback with the third overall pick if you have the conviction to do what’s required and not play him right away. But will the Jaguars do what’s required? The good news is that general manager Dave Caldwell is currently saying the right things.
“This is not a quick journey and a race to the end. This is something we want to build for a long term,” Caldwell said. “Johnny [Manziel] is a heck of a player, but I felt like Johnny’s game wasn’t going to change a lot from year one to year two. We felt like Blake has some development from year one to year two, and this first year is going to be critical for him to develop. With Johnny, he is always going to be Johnny. He’s always going to be electric, he’s going to be dynamic and he’s a great player. But for our system and what we want to do offensively, we felt Blake was the best fit.
“We have a plan going forward. We talked at length with our coaching staff. Not only during the season but out of the season and how he’s going to take some extra reps after practice, get extra coaching, extra seven-on-seven and team reps and stuff like that to really have him develop. …We’re all on the same page. Our owner, Shad Khan, our president, Mark Lamping, myself, Gus Bradley, the coaching staff, this is the plan we set in place. It’s not something we’re just springing on our coaches now, and then the Thursday before the opening game I’m not going to say he’s got to play. That’s not going to happen. We are all on the same page from ownership all the way down.”
So much attention is lavished on the draft that it feeds unreal expectations of fans, who want to see an immediate return on any investment. Sometimes that works, but most often it doesn’t. The dirty secret of the NFL draft is that it doesn’t really matter how talented a player like Bortles is when he enters the league. What’s most important is how he develops once he’s on a team. Play a player too quickly or out of position, and he could be gone in an instant. Formulate and execute a specific plan of success for each player, and you could have a perennial Pro Bowler.
The Jaguars drafted a player third overall whom they know needs a lot of work. They bought into the Bortles conundrum. Now it’s on them to make it work.
Around the League’s War Rooms
Houston Texans: General manager Rick Smith had to do it. Jadeveon Clowney is such an athletic freak that taking him with the first overall pick supersedes any doubts about his desire to be great. Plus, with linebackers coach Mike Vrabel and new teammates J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing around to dictate the terms of being a professional in that locker room, it’s a good situation. Here’s the big thing with this pick: All the pressure is now on defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. A lot has been said, both by the Texans and by analysts, about Crennel’s creativity, and while he has employed different versions of his previous defenses, Crennel’s scheme is very vanilla and doesn’t always use the strengths of all its players. Just look at how Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Dontari Poe all took off this past season with the Chiefs once Bob Sutton, who is creative, entered after Crennel and his staff were fired. Clowney’s strength, especially as a rookie, will solely be in moving forward. Crennel’s scheme calls for the outside linebackers to read and react. Something’s going to have to give for Clowney to have a big-time impact as a rookie.
St. Louis Rams: When I talked with Rams general manager Les Snead last month, we had an interesting dialogue about trading picks or needing to get impactful players entering Year 3 of the Snead-Jeff Fisher regime. After staying put at No. 2 and getting a potential franchise tackle in Greg Robinson, plus a Geno Atkins three-technique clone in Aaron Donald at No. 13, it was very clear the Rams are playing for the present in a very tough division. Two great picks by St. Louis.
Cleveland Browns: Not sure Ray Farmer’s draft is going to match that of Ozzie Newsome’s first one with the Ravens in 1996 (Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis)—like Newsome’s, Farmer’s started with the No. 4 and No. 26 picks—but Farmer now has a top corner (Justin Gilbert) to pair with Joe Haden, an underrated quarterback (Johnny Manziel) and an extra first-round pick next year, and he still has the third pick in the second round of this year’s draft. Cover corners are so important to Mike Pettine’s scheme. The sun seems to be shining in Cleveland for the first time in a while. But seems is the operative word.
Buffalo Bills: I’m excited about the Sammy Watkins pick because it will answer, one way or the other, what I asked in my analysis of Watkins: Is he a No. 1, elite receiver as his draft slot suggests, or is he really just a good receiver who lacks elite size and jumping ability? Will Watkins break the mold of franchise WR? Buffalo doesn’t have another receiver this good, so Watkins is the guy. Peter King has the full story on general manager Doug Whaley trading up to get Watkins.
Oakland Raiders: Love the game of Khalil Mack, who gives the Raiders a much-needed playmaker at strong-side linebacker. (It’s a bit of a strange scheme match; I thought Mack’s best spot would be a 3-4 OLB, but he has scheme versatility). But it will all come down to QB Matt Schaub. If he struggles, GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen won’t be around to see anyone’s future.
Atlanta Falcons: It must have been a struggle for GM Thomas Dimitroff to keep from jumping up a few spots to get his guy—it probably helped to have good friend Scott Pioli around for counsel—but it still likely played out exactly how Dimitroff wanted at No. 6, knowing either Khalil Mack or Jake Matthews would be available. Atlanta ended up with the latter, an excellent addition to the offensive line protecting Matt Ryan.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not a huge fan of pairing two similar receivers, Vincent Jackson and now seventh overall pick Mike Evans, but we should keep something in mind. Jackson’s contract is pay-as-you-go, just like Darrelle Revis’s was. If the Bucs don’t like it the first season, they can move on from Jackson. Maybe it works and they keep both.
Minnesota Vikings: Tale of two picks. I’m not a fan of the pick at No. 9, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, because I don’t think he fits Mike Zimmer’s scheme well. Barr would be better as a 3-4 outside linebacker. It felt as if GM Rick Spielman panicked after Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack were gone, and he grabbed the last athletic pass rusher. But I loved the trading up to get quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the last pick in the first round, although I wouldn’t have chosen the NFC North (weather) as his preferred destination. Spielman has whiffed twice on quarterback moves before (A.J. Feeley in Miami; Christian Ponder with the Vikings three years ago), so the third time has to be the charm, right?
Detroit Lions: Are the Lions aware that pass defense, especially in the NFC North, is still played in the NFL—and that it’s kind of important? Another weapon for Matthew Stafford—North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron—instead of secondary help? Didn’t like it.
Tennessee Titans: LT Michael Roos isn’t going to play at a high level forever, but between the signing of LG Andy Levitre last off season, picking Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke in ’13, signing Michael Oher this year and now drafting OT Taylor Lewan 10th overall, well, that’s a lot of resources in an offensive line. It’d just be great if Tennessee had one of those, what do you call them? Oh yeah. Quarterbacks.
New York Giants: Fans will be comparing the career of LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham to other possible picks—DT Aaron Donald, OT Zack Martin and ILB C.J. Mosley—for years to come.
Chicago Bears: They had a big Help Wanted sign for anywhere in the secondary. The versatile Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) can’t hurt the situation.
Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Ryan Shazier’s terrific speed will certainly be used by coordinator Dick LeBeau, but this was a luxury pick when Pittsburgh needs help in other areas (corner, receiver, both lines).
Dallas Cowboys: I love Jerry Jones’ taking Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, who can play anywhere and brings needed help on the offensive line. (No, I wasn’t hacked.)
Baltimore Ravens: Perfect Raven at a perfect spot (No. 17). They better hope Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley isn’t a long-term health risk.
New York Jets: Antonio Allen, the 2012 seventh-round pick, came on at the end of the season, and now they have a terrific physical safety to pair with him in Calvin Pryor. Rex Ryan has two young safeties to mold and key his scheme. He can probably kiss GM John Idzik right now.
Miami Dolphins: The nearly complete overhaul of the Dolphins’ offensive line, with the drafting of RT Ja’Waun James, is now finished. James isn’t a big name, but he’s got a lot of experience and is a sure-fire upgrade over Miami’s mess at right tackle last season.
New Orleans Saints: They just upgraded in age, speed and explosiveness by getting Brandin Cooks to play the Swiss Army knife position that was held by Darren Sproles. Big win for GM Mickey Loomis. Sean Payton is going to have a lot of fun finding ways to get Cooks the ball.
Green Bay Packers: For the first time since Nick Collins suffered an unfortunate neck injury early in the 2011 season, the Packers have a legitimate safety. Can’t overemphasize how important that position is to Dom Capers’ scheme, and it had been patched together—badly, as if with actual duct tape—since then.
Kansas City Chiefs: I don’t understand the pick of OLB Dee Ford. Their cornerbacks got a bit exposed during the second half of last season, and there were still receivers on the board to fulfill another need. Yet the Chiefs took an edge pass rusher despite having Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who are both terrific players? Don’t get it.
Cincinnati Bengals: I’ve already praised Jerry Jones, and now I love Mike Brown’s selection of corner Darqueze Dennard. (This can’t be a good sign.)
San Diego Chargers: Their cornerbacks are Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall and Steve Williams. Yes, I’d say drafting TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, a terrific competitor at slot with the potential for more, was a smart move. Jason, go lock yourself in a room with Wes Welker tape.
Philadelphia Eagles: A bit early for Louisville OLB Marcus Smith, at No. 26, but he’s a good player. Looks like the end is near for Trent Cole. That’s too bad. He’s a terrific football player.
Arizona Cardinals: The drafting of SS Deone Bucannon should give the Cardinals even more freedom to use DB Tyrann Mathieu all over the field, which is never a bad thing. Bucannon is basically, two years later, the replacement for Adrian Wilson. Same type of leader and physical player.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton was flashing that million-dollar smile when FSU WR Kelvin Benjamin was picked. A 6-5 redzone target after Steve Smith, Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell all left in free agency? Yes, please.
New England Patriots: Previous Gators selected by Bill Belichick before taking DT Dominique Easley with the 29th pick? Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Chad Jackson and Guss Scott. Not exactly a sterling group. And even though Easley is a little undersized for the scheme and has a bad injury history, he can beat the man in front of him and rush the passer. Patriots can use all those kind of guys they can find.
San Francisco 49ers: Despite six picks in the top 100 to manipulate the draft, GM Trent Baalke stayed put and took safety Jimmie Ward, after picking Eric Reid in the first round last year and signing Antoine Bethea this offseason. Curious move, but Bethea turns 30 in June and isn’t a spring chicken.
Denver Broncos: CB Chris Harris is coming back from a serious knee injury, so Bradley Roby was a smart depth pick.
Seattle Seahawks: The champs don’t have any glaring needs, so the trade for a second- and fourth-round pick (which allowed the Vikings to get Teddy Bridgewater) was a smart one. With the eighth pick in the second round, they could get UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo, Nevada OT Joel Bitonio or Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt to help the competition on both lines.
Washington: GM Bruce Allen needs a lot of help on the offensive line and in the secondary, so he can take his time figuring out which direction to go with the second pick in the second round. A trade down might not be a bad thing.
Indianapolis Colts: Thanks to the Trent Richardson trade, the Colts have to wait until the 27th pick of the second round to get on the draft board this year. They could use some help in the secondary, but this draft will be slim pickings in that category by then. Don’t be surprised if they go with a young receiver to groom behind Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks.