Ask a Brit to name their favourite US state and there’s a strong chance the answer you’ll get back is Florida. And what’s not to love? You’ve got sun, sand, theme parks, an international space station, a world famous Nascar track and everything that makes it an incredible holiday destination.
Oh, it is also a football hotbed – FSU, Miami and the Gators are storied college teams producing some of the most high-profile talent we’ve seen in the NFL over the last few decades.
There’s also three NFL teams sitting cosily in the sunshine state. The Jaguars, Dolphins and Buccaneers split the state nicely into thirds, and they all have one thing in common, mediocrity.
Ok, maybe I’m being harsh on last year’s Jags, but the point I’m making here is that it seems incredible that these three teams and especially Miami as a global brand, have constantly wallowed in average play and the odd playoff game over the last decade.
So that brings me to what I want to look at below, the most pivotal position in the NFL and what some would argue is holding back all three Florida teams from reaching the next level, the Quarterbacks.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
A year ago, as we geared up for the 2017 season – if you’d told anyone that Blake Bortles was set to be a few minutes away from a Super Bowl appearance and would pass for the most yards out of any of Florida’s NFL QBs, they’d have probably given you a funny look.
But here we are, Bortles played his part, along with a fantastic defence as the Jags rolled to the AFC Championship game and a narrow defeat at the hands of the Patriots. The man that many doubted before the season, became Mr Steady, who Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin trusted to get the job done against the Steelers and the Titans in the Play Offs.
So what changed? For one, the addition and emergence of Leonard Fournette. The LSU RB completely revamped the Jags approach on the attacking side of the ball as they utilised his power and speed to beat teams into submission.
This took the attention somewhat away from Bortles who was able to make the most of short, quick slant routes and play action a lot more on his way to a passer rating of 84.7, the second highest of his career.
The question is, can he sustain this error free, reliable play in 2018?
The signs look positive, the Jags added Andrew Norwell (perhaps the best free agent available in the off-season), who will further solidify an O-Line which gave up just 24 sacks last season, nearly half the number Bortles took in his first season in 2014. The addition of D.J Chark at receiver also gives the former Central Florida prodigy a nice target to aim at as well.
My concern lies with the fact that teams were wise to Fournette by the end of the season, up 10 points in the AFC title game the Jags decided to run the ball with every play. The Patriots stacked the box and pulled off another of their classic come backs. If this continues at the start of this season, we could see Bortles taking back more of the work load –and that might mean a return to the interception/sack taking machine we’ve seen in previous years.
Nevertheless, I think Bortles, with that improved O-Line, has the best chance of reaching a Super Bowl or having a strong play-off run out of the three QBs we’re looking at for this piece, I’ll let you decide if that is because of his play or because of a D with four pro-bowlers in it.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
I’ll come clean – I’m a believer in Ryan Tannehill and the reasoning behind that is solely based on his 2016 campaign. That year the Texas A&M alumni looked at the peak of his game, a passer rating of 93.5 was accompanied by an average 230 yards a game and 67.1% completion rate.
A knee injury put pay to that promising campaign, as the Dolphins reached the Play Offs, before returning at the start of training camp last year to rule Tannehill out of the 2017 season.
This year, however – the 7th year signal caller looks ready to go. Adam Gase resolutely stuck by him in the off-season, when many speculated the Fins would trade up to take a shot at one of the big-four QBs in this year’s draft. That’s got to have meant a lot to Tannehill, who by all accounts is determined to get back to where he was as the highest rated QB in weeks 10 and 12 of the 2016 campaign.
The Dolphins front office have also done all they can to provide Tannehill with weapons, despite losing target-hog Jarvis Landry and face of #NFLUK, Jay Ajayi. Danny Amendola was a big-name addition from New England and Albert Wilson looks set to line up across the field as the tricky speedster option that Landry offered so often in his South Beach career.
However, it is a rookie that could be the most exciting new target for Tannehill this year, Mike Gesicki arrives from Penn State with a determination and red zone threat that Miami have lacked a Tight End for a number of seasons now.
The O-Line has also received a significant boost with the addition of Josh Sitton from Chicago, the four-time pro-bowler and Super Bowl XLV champion should add a degree of stability that Jay Cutler never seemed to enjoy last year.
All this equates to good news for Tannehill and if (and it is a big if) he can stay healthy then the Fins could be in with a chance to shock the rest of the league and be playing football in January 2019.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The former number one overall pick has probably the highest upside of any of the three QBs on this list, but – as Bucs fans will tell you, his tenure in Tampa has been full of ups and downs. In 2016 Winston finally led Tampa to a winning season, and the hype for 2017 began.
Winston has a skill set that made him the envy of the football world as he came into the league following FSU’s National Championship title in 2013. His arm strength and mobility in the pocket drew plaudits from coaches, scouts and GMs alike and, despite the Bucs going 2-14, his 4000+ yard season showed that the potential to be a top five QB was there.
So, following a successful 2016 season, which didn’t quite yield a Play Off appearance, everyone was expecting Jameis to take the next step last season. To help, the Bucs added DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and OJ Howard to their armoury, a depth chart that already included one of the best WRs in the league in Mike Evans.
Sadly, it never really clicked last year for Winston or the Bucs, early promise (including a resounding QB performance against the Giants 332 yards & 3 TDs) gave way to five straight defeats as a shoulder injury hampered the Alabama native. On his return to the side at the end of the season, Winston did turn in some promising performances but couldn’t stop the Bucs crashing to 5-11.
This off-season has been chaotic for Winston, a historic allegation of sexual assault came back to haunt him and he’ll sit out the first three games of the 2018 season. This, accompanied by often inconsistent play, has led to the murmurs of discontent developing into the mainstream, with some wondering if Winston will replace Ryan Fitzpatrick upon his return from suspension.
Either way, this is a make or break season for Winston, and what is clear is that, despite having the highest upside of the three QBs playing their trade in Florida, he is the one that has the most to prove.
By Andy Moore – @AJMoore21
*THE FANTASY FOOTBALLERS ULTIMATE DRAFT KIT* is now available and guess what? We here at Across The Fantasy Pond are proud to be one of their affiliates. That means we can get you DISCOUNT!!! and use the coupon code POND to receive 10% off your purchase. All you have to do is follow this link >> https://www.thefantasyfootballers.com/fantasy-football-draft-kit/?udk=robgrimwood&campaign=ATFP and use the coupon code POND to receive 10% off your purchase