JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Derek Carr found a friend in Blake Bortles during the taxing, often invasive pre-NFL draft process. The pair were considered among 2014’s top college quarterbacks, with stats, size, smarts and arm strength to warrant a top selection.
The pair ended up visiting several of the same quarterback-needy teams leading up to the draft and national events like the NFL scouting combine.
They actually crossed paths in Jacksonville as both players were in to visit a Jaguars team in desperate need of a quarterback.
“We were in Jacksonville together, and then we were somewhere else together, I believe,” Bortles said. “I remember Jacksonville vividly because we went and got dinner together the night before.”
They exchanged numbers and texted each other during that spring. It started a friendship that continued on.
“We talk every now and then – I still have his number, still text him here and there,” Bortles said. “We’ll talk in the offseason and throughout the year, but he’s an unbelievable guy. He’s a guy that I definitely check and see how he’s doing throughout the year after every game and rooting for, and look forward to seeing him Sunday.”
Their paths cross again Sunday in Jacksonville, when the Raiders and Jaguars meet in a Week 7 clash important to both clubs. The 4-2 Raiders hope to surge ahead and erase a terrible home loss to Kansas City. The Jaguars want to expand on a two-game win streak.
These upstart clubs are dependent on big offense and steady play from quarterbacks selected two-plus years ago.
Jacksonville picked third, and had first crack at a 2014 quarterback class headlined by Teddy Bridgewater, Carr, Bortles and Johnny Manziel.
They took Bortles, with all his size, arm strength and Ben Roethlisberger comparisons. Cleveland made a colossal mistake and took Manziel, who flamed out after two hard-partying seasons with the Browns. Minnesota traded back into the first round and nabbed Bridgewater, a competent signal caller who suffered a major knee injury that stole his 2016 season at least.
The Raiders were patient, held on to their pick and still got their guy. They selected Carr No. 36 overall, paired him with No. 5 pick Khalil Mack and put the franchise on the right track.
Through two-plus seasons, Carr’s been the best of the bunch, and Bortles is solidly in second place. Carr’s been more productive, earned more wins and taken better care of the football. Both guys can be gunslingers, but Carr is a bit more measured.
Bortles exemplifies the term. He’s willing to take risks for great reward, a style the Raiders defense wants to exploit in this crucial meeting.
Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson knows Carr and Bortles extremely well. He was the Raiders offensive coordinator during Carr’s rookie year, and the quarterback credits Olson for getting his NFL career off on the right foot.
He has worked with Bortles over the last two years and has played a major part in his development.
Olson sees similarities between these two passing talents and their development from rookie starters into their third professional seasons.
“Both guys are great competitors,” Olson told reporters in Jacksonville. “They are individuals who were thrown into the league and had to play early as rookies. Both guys have gone through changes in coordinators, but they are tremendous competitors and the both prepare extremely well. They’re both intelligent guys.”