JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Derek Carr are early in their third NFL seasons. They’re certainly not finished products, and it will be at least another year before it’s fair to make a final evaluation on whether they have a chance to become the elite players their franchises drafted them to be.
But they have played enough games to start to get a feel, and right now it’s clear that Oakland’s Carr has out-performed Jacksonville’s Bortles. He’s thrown more touchdown passes, fewer interceptions, and has won more games.
But which of those quarterbacks will be better in 2019? 2025? If you were an NFL general manager or head coach, which one would you rather have going forward? Around which one would you prefer to build your franchise?
That question was posed to nine national NFL media members/analysts, including a former NFL quarterback that played 17 seasons with four teams, and eight picked Carr.
"It’s not even close," said ESPN’s Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for more than 36,000 yards and 212 touchdowns with 153 interceptions from 1999-2015 with Green Bay, Seattle, Tennessee and Indianapolis. "Carr is a star in the making."
He arguably already is a star. Carr has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 8,865 yards and 65 touchdowns with only 28 interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015 after throwing for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions.
Carr led the NFL in TD passes of 25 or more yards in 2015 (13), and his 53 touchdown passes in 2014-25 are the second-most in NFL history by a player in his first two seasons, trailing only Dan Marino (68). In addition, Carr has led the Oakland Raiders to a 14-24 record, including 7-9 last season and a 4-2 mark heading into Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.
"The evaluation process for quarterbacks begins with decision-making and accuracy," said ESPN’s Field Yates. "The types of throws a quarterback is asked to make within the context of his offense can impact completion percentage, but Bortles has struggled with overall accuracy during the two-plus seasons of his career, while Carr has made noted improvements in that category this season. And when it comes to decision-making, Bortles has been more turnover prone than Carr.
"Both players have promise, but Carr has a higher ceiling and is further along in his career at this point."
Bortles’ completion percentage (59.1) and yardage (8,657) are similar, but he’s thrown fewer touchdown passes (54) and significantly more interceptions (42). Bortles had a breakout year in 2015, setting franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and passing TDs (35), but he is only 10-24 as a starter.
He seems to have regressed this season. He visited throwing coach Tom House after his rookie season and revamped his mechanics, shortening his windup, lengthening his delivery, and fixing some footwork issues. He looked much cleaner as a quarterback in 2015.
This season, however, it appears his mechanics have slipped. His completion percentage is over 60 for the first time in his career, but he’s still missing wide open receivers. He’s used a longer windup at times and he’s carrying the ball low instead of at his shoulder when moving in the pocket. That’s already cost him one fumble, and he’s turned the ball over nine times (seven interceptions) in five games.
"[Carr] has better leadership skills and seems to be a much smarter player," Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard said. "And his mechanics are largely solid while Bortles' are still a mess, like they were coming out of college."
ESPN’s Britt McHenry, who said Carr is playing like a more experienced veteran and his intangibles reminds her of a young Drew Brees, told a story about standing next to a Raiders assistant coach and watching a bit of the Jaguars-Colts game on the video board at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 2. That was Bortles' best game of the season and he completed 19-of-33 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown and ran for 36 yards and another TD.
"I’m glad we got our guy," the assistant coach said, and then watched Carr complete 25-of-35 passes for 199 yards and four touchdowns.
There’s an interesting stat that also sets Carr and Bortles apart. Both have thrown for more than 300 yards nine times in their career. Carr’s record in those games is 6-3. Bortles' is 0-9.
"Bortles has improved some from his rookie season, when he played as far below NFL level as we’ve seen a quarterback play for an extended period," ESPN’s Kevin Seifert said. "But Carr already has proved himself a difference-maker in games."
The lone dissenter on the Carr-Bortles debate is Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole, who is in his 24th season covering the NFL. Though he said the talent around the Carr and Bortles is pretty similar and Carr has the edge statistically, especially in terms of interceptions, he believes Bortles (6-feet-5, 245 pounds) is better physically equipped than Carr (6-3, 215) in the long term.
"The difference is that you have to project what are they going to be over the course of their careers," Cole said. "Bortles is a bigger, stronger man. I have seen both of them up close and Bortles is a bear of a man compared to Carr. Bortles is a better bet to survive long-term. The Jaguars better learn to protect Bortles, because he has already been sacked almost twice as much as Carr [120 to 62].
"As for interceptions, Bortles throws them at a much higher rate than Carr so far, but I think QBs can learn over time to avoid throwing them. That doesn't scare me."