Jacksonville Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley said he is comfortable sitting quarterback Blake Bortles during his rookie season.
“We do feel good about where Blake’s at, but we feel like this time that he has under Chad [Henne], a year to develop, will be really good for him in the end result,” Bradley said. “So our plan is to stay really strong with this.”
It makes sense for the franchise to be cautious. The Jaguars had no intention of starting Blaine Gabbert as a rookie and paid the price when they did: 65.4 passer rating, 12-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 40 sacks for a league-leading loss of 293 yards.
Henne started 13 games for Jacksonville last season, threw for 3,241 yards and 13 touchdowns but had 14 interceptions. Does it make sense to hold Bortles back for a quarterback with the seventh-worst passer rating?
I took a look at the quarterbacks drafted with one of the top five picks in the first round over the past 20 years. Then, based on how many games they started in the rookie season, I looked at some metrics over years two through five. I chose this time frame based on rookie contracts now lasting four years with a team option for a fifth year.
Those who started 13 or more games during their rookie season had better metrics overall than those who didn’t, illustrating that the “keep him on the sidelines to develop for a year” doesn’t always mean better performance.
However, for Bortles’s specific situation, it may make sense to keep him on the sideline for one reason: Jacksonville didn’t protect the quarterback last season. According to data from ProFootballFocus, the Jags’ offensive line had the fourth-highest percentage of sacks and hits on their quarterback per passing play (11.2 percent). And only the Miami Dolphins (58) gave up more sacks over the course of the season than Jacksonville (50).
But the Jaguars’ offensive line in 2014 will look much different than the group from last season, so if the organization has any faith in the retooling it makes sense to get Bortles in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.