What Can We Expect from Blake Bortles?

It’s summer. The days are hot and long, and fantasy football players have too much idle time. We use it to pause, reflect and dream of what might be. It’s also a time to take stock of potential assets and what their value might be.

Today I turn my gaze down to Jacksonville and quarterback Blake Bortles. Try to contain your enthusiasm. Bortles has never been a football fan’s dream (just ask people in Jacksonville), but at one time he was a dream fantasy football asset.

At this time last year, people were planning where they’d take Bortles. He was an attractive prospect as a fantasy starter. But something happened along the way. Now, his fantasy value is starting to mirror his NFL value, and that’s not a good thing.

But hope springs eternal in the summer, so is there reason for optimism for Bortles?

Bortles was taken with the third pick in the 2014 draft and became a hope for the future of the Jaguars franchise. That first season he began on the bench as Chad Henne took the starters role. That ended in the Jags third game, as Bortles came in to relieve Henne, and started the remaining 13 games that season. He went 3–10 in those 13 starts, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,908 yards, 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His 419 rushing yards helped goose his fantasy value.
But heading into 2015, his first full season as a starter, not many were high on Bortles as a value. While his team went just 5–11 that season, he became a fantasy MVP, finishing as the No. 4 scoring passer in fantasy. It’s not that Bortles was good, he just became the king of garbage time points.

In his first full season as a starter, Bortles attempted 606 passes, completing 58.6 percent for 4,425 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also tossed 18 interceptions and added 310 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But it was the 35 passing touchdowns that caught people’s attention, with much of it going to Allen Robinson and Alan Hurns in the fourth quarter of games. His garbage time output masked his mediocre real-life play, and led many fantasy players to draft Bortles as their starter in 2016.

That turned out to be a disappointment. Rumors of Bortles’ collapse were greatly exaggerated, but he wasn’t the player that came out of no where to save fantasy seasons. He finished as QB8 in 2016, but most remember the rough way he began the season. There was no garbage time magic. Bortles attempted more passes in 2016 (625) and had a 58.9 percent completion percentage, but he did less with those tosses. He mustered just 3,905 yards and 23 TDs opposite 16 interceptions. He did add 359 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. But it was undoubtedly a fall off from the previous year.

The question is, what’s his real value in 2017?

Fantasy owners weren’t the only ones killed by Bortles in 2016. His coach, Gus Bradley, got the axe after week 15. The final two weeks of the season, Doug Marrone took over the coaching duties and play calling. And based on that effort, and his work as coach in Buffalo in 2013–2014, he got the gig for 2017. And that might be reason for some optimism.
wo games is a very small sample size, but if you look at the Jags final two games with Marrone as head coach, Bortles looks a lot different. In those two games he completed 51-of-77 passes, 66 percent, for 626 yards (300-plus both games) and two touchdowns. You’d like more touchdowns, but it’s a marked increase in yardage and completion percentage in those games. And, most importantly, Bortles didn’t toss an interception in either game. In fact, after tossing six interceptions in his first three games, Bortles threw just six interceptions in his final eight games of the 2016 season.

It’s a small sample size, but it could indicate some growth for Bortles, especially with Marrone as the man in charge.

Marrone is a coach that had some success. He compiled a 15–17 record in two years with the Buffalo Bills, including a 9–7 finish in 2014. That left him as an intriguing candidate when he took an assistant role with the Jaguars in 2015. During that 2014 season in Buffalo he took two quarterbacks (EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton) and going 3,614 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. Again, that might not light the world on fire, but it could be a case of steady production.

It’s also been said that a quarterback’s best friend is a good running game. In addition to Marrone, the Jags hired Tom Coughlin to help turn around the front office. And his first pick, No. 4 in the 2016 draft, was to grab Leonard Fournette, the bruising running back from LSU. There’s a strong possibility that the Jags will have an improved presence on the ground, and a possibly stronger defense, that could make things easier for Bortles.

While the jury is still out on Bortles as a good NFL quarterback, he’s been a decent fantasy asset. Again, despite the perception of collapse, he was QB8 in 2016. That didn’t win you your league, but it didn’t kill you either if you played him all season. My suspicion is after a rough start to the season, Bortles found the bench by the time he righted the ship.

Heading into 2017, he has a modest projection. For 2017, Mike Clay has Bortles as QB21 with 3,655 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 354 rushing yards and another two touchdowns. That would mark a decline from his 2016 output, possibly accounting for an increased rushing presence. But let’s look at the two games Marrone served as head coach in 2016.

Again, it’s a small sample size, but while Bortles was throwing for 300 yards a game, the Jags were running it, too. In Week 16, the Jags rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown. Then in week 17, the Jags rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns. So it is possible the running game could improve and Bortles could improve as well. It all depends on how much you believe this offense can improve under Marrone, and whether those two games were a sign of things to come or an outlier to end the season. I believe in the former, especially since they came against the Titans (week 16) and Colts (week 17), two teams fighting for playoff spots at the time.

And the best part about Bortles is the hype train has derailed. His average rank is QB20 but his average ADP is currently QB22. That means he’s available at the end of every draft.

This series is all about value and what can help you win. Which probably leads you to wonder why I’m writing about Bortles at all. And that’s fair. If you were in a single quarterback league, I wouldn’t draft Bortles. Despite the recent finishes, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as my primary starter all season, and there’s a good chance you could find him on the waiver wires.

But if you’re in a 2QB or Superflex league, which is becoming more common, Bortles is worth a flier in later rounds. His ADP has him sitting as QB22, which provides decent value for someone who has finished as a top 10 QB the past two seasons and may be getting it together.

It’s a small sample size, but looking at the numbers from Bortles and the rushing numbers of the final two games, there’s a chance for improved offensive efficiency all around. The fact those two games came against division rivals, and every team in the AFC South has improved, means that as much as the Jags want to establish the run, they’ll have to throw it, too. Bortles still has Robinson, Hurns and Marquise Lee as his targets, which means he can still put up fantasy points.

Waiting for a second quarterback gives you a chance to go for draft steals at other positions. And a player like Bortles, taken near the back end of the draft, could be another steal that leaves you at or near the top of the heap in December.


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