Believe it or not, Jacksonville's Blake Bortles is currently ranked inside the top 10 of PFF's QB grades.
There is a small caveat to that insofar as that is sorting by overall ranking only, and as a passer he does not quite hit the same highs, but even as a passer he ranks tied for 12th in our grades through Week 5.
But for a guy who ranked dead-last in our grades as a rookie in 2014, this is certainly an impressive improvement.
Bortles actually has the second-highest rushing grade of any quarterback in the NFL through five games. Tyrod Taylor is the only player ranked higher in that area. That’s not because we think Bortles is a more dangerous runner with the ball in his hands than Cam Newton or some other quarterbacks, but because Bortles has been incredibly efficient this season at making positive things happen when he has carried the football.
He has been forced to scramble seven times this season (eight if you include a play nullified by penalty). Those plays gained 88 yards (100 with the nullified play) and produced five first downs, three of them keeping the drive alive on third down.
That may not sound like a huge amount, but remember we are just five games into the season and Bortles has notched almost a third of the yardage that T.J. Yeldon (The Jaguars’ leading rusher) has from his 80 carries just from improvising when things break down and taking off running.
That is a hugely important part of his game, and something that has earned him a positive grade for its impact, but it shouldn’t overshadow the improvement we have seen in him as a passer.
Last season he was the worst-graded quarterback in the league. Bortles sat at number 39 of 39 qualifying quarterbacks with a PFF passing grade of -40.4. He still had a positive rushing grade, but his passing grade was close to twice as bad as the next-poorest quarterback, fellow rookie Derek Carr.
He only had three games all year that were not negative grades, and when pressured his passer rating dropped to a dismal 22.9 and he completed just 36.4 percent of his passes. On those pressured plays he failed to throw a single touchdown all season, but tossed eight interceptions and was sacked 60 times.
This season the improvement has been marked. Though he still struggles under pressure far more than when kept clean, he has increased his completion percentage to 43.9 percent, thrown one touchdown to two picks, and his passer rating is up to 58.7. None of those are spectacular figures, but that is a big improvement in just one year, and it is the worst element of his game. His yards per attempt on those plays has jumped by more than two yards as well, as he has figured out how to make some big plays as well as the bad ones.
What really stands out is the player Bortles is becoming when kept clean, however. His passer rating on those plays this season is 99.4 and he has thrown just two interceptions in 132 clean dropbacks.
We have graded some impressive performances from Bortles in both of his preseasons, and were a little reluctant to make too much of his performance in those games this year, but now that the games mean something it’s time to start getting excited if you are a Jacksonville fan. Bortles is a top-10 graded quarterback at PFF, and he is there on merit.