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Young Jaguars Could Power Next Great Offense

The Broncos, Bengals, Falcons, and Packers won in week 5 to get to 5-0, while New England blew out Dallas to reach a 4-0 mark. So why, today, would I write about a Jaguars team that is now 1-4?

Because while Jacksonville is again in the NFL cellar, it’s anything but business as usual. I’m not quite sure how long it is going to take, but it feels like the next great NFL offense could be germinating in northern Florida. That’s because a young trio that has emerged this year while the team generally flies under the radar.

Blake Bortles has thrown for 1,299 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, against just 4 interceptions. As a rookie, Bortles threw for over 270 yards just twice; he’s done it three times in five games this year. As a rookie, Bortles had multiple touchdown passes in a game twice; he’s also done that three times in five games in 2015 so far, including a career high four on Sunday. Bortles is on pace to complete 346 passes for 605 yards (57.1%) for 4,157 yards, with a 6.87 Y/A average and an impressive 12.03 yards per completion rate. He’s also on pace for 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, along with 45 sacks (but for only 198 yards). He’s averaging 6.19 ANY/A — that’s right around league average, a pretty big jump from his 3.81 ANY/A average as a rookie.

But that’s only half the equation: the other half is the pair of young Allens on the receiving end of Bortles’ throws. Both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have already hit 400 receiving yards this year; in fact, they are one of just two pairs of teammates (Denver’s wide receivers being the other) to hit that mark so far this year. That puts them both on pace to finish with around 1300 receiving yards this year, which is kind of insane.

Why is that kind of insane?

Bortles doesn’t turn 24 years old until December 16th. Hurns won’t be 24 until November. And Robinson just turned 22 in August. That gives the Jaguars a pretty incredible trio of young, productive players. How incredible? I ran a search for all teams with a quarterback who threw for at least 3,000 yards and two players who gained at least 800 yards receiving. Do you know many teams had three of those players where all three were under 25?

Just one. Now, that one isn’t going to make Jaguars fans scream for joy — that trio was Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow on the 2007 Browns. If we change the age limit to 25 or younger, we get seven more combos:

OK, somewhat of a mixed bag there, too. But there’s a good chance Bortles and the Allens will blow past the 3000/750 barriers; in fact, of this group, only the ’07 Browns and ’84 Dolphins had both receivers hit the 1000-yard mark.   Obviously, having a young quarterback and two young receiver excel is enough to generate some excitement for a fanbase, but there are quite a few more reasons for optimism:

  • Running back T.J. Yeldon turned 22 just ten days ago. The rookie has 364 yards from scrimmage through five games.
  • Marqise Lee, Rashad Greene, and Denard Robinson have been banged up this year, but they are 24, 23, and 25 years old, respectively.
  • Julius Thomas, at 27, is the old member of the group.  And while he may not be part of the youth movement, he should provide a safety net for Bortles over the next few years.  Thomas has missed most of the season following surgery on his finger, but caught two passes for 20 yards against Tampa Bay in his first game of the year.  Considering the numbers Bortles has put up without him, that’s got to be encouraging for the Jaguars.

So yeah, the Jaguars are 1-4, and haven’t exactly looked great getting there. But Jacksonville was by far the youngest offense in the NFL last year, and should run away with that title again in 2015.  But the 2014 Jaguars ranked last in points, and 31st in both total yards and passing yards. In 2015, Jacksonville should at least approach league average in those yardage categories, and at least have a respectable offense overall.  Which means 2016 could be the breakout year for the offense.  If that’s the case, Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay will go down as one of the first signs we had that the potential was there for it all to come together.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Jags look improved for sure, but I do place value on winning by a young QB. There’s not much defensive talent on JAX, but I would be interested to know if Bortles had some opportunities early in these losses, and just couldn’t make some plays which could have changed the outcome of those games. The special young QBs seem to have those impact wins, which often indicate future greatness

    • sacramento gold miners

      A great example of what I’m talking about was the 1980 comeback win by Joe Montana over New Orleans. Years later, that regular season win was recalled as terms of a signature win by the young Montana.

      • Richie

        Bortles has 2 Game Winning Drives, including 1 4th Quarter Comeback in 18 starts. (The Jaguars had a 12% chance of winning that game at the start of the 4th quarter.)

        Montana didn’t have his 2nd Game Winning drive until the 17th start of his career.

        So it’s not like Montana was racking up comebacks faster than Bortles to start his career. Montana’s one comeback was more impressive.

        Bortles has 4 wins through his first 18 starts. Aikman only had 3 wins through 18 starts.

        I’m not saying Bortles is going to the HOF, but some HOFers take a little while to warm up – especially if they start out on teams depleted of talent.

  • PatrioticJag

    The Jaguars bumbled one away to the Panthers, got toasted by the Patriots, gave one away to the Colts and stumbled against the Bucs. Some better play, especially defensively and they could be 4-1 and the talk of the NFL. But they aren’t, they are the doormats because wins matter, not stats.

  • Quinton

    A few days late getting to this but after the last few losses, which were especially tough, it is nice to see some optimistic coverage, both this article and the one that showed the Jaguars losing to the Colts largely as a function of poor special teams play. Jaguar’s fan are tired of waiting for wins but the most important question this season was how much, if at all, would Bortles improve. QBs have a range of rookie experiences but there are essentially no examples of guys who played poorly, didn’t improve their second season as a starter, and then went on to have elite level careers (which is what you want when you draft a guy 3rd overall). The fact that Bortles ANY/A has increased, provided it stays there, is the best possible outcome this season. It’s much more important than winning a few extra games with a guy who made 50% of the improvement Bortles has shown.

    The truly encouraging thing is that the ceiling for Bortles appears to be quite high. If he can eliminate games such as he had against New England, with an AY/A of 2.83 (couldn’t find ANY/A and too lazy to calculate), then he could really climb up the ranks. I’d be interested if that’s realistic, a la for elite QBs what did the distribution of their games, especially early in their career look like