Why Blake Bortles is Undervalued
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The Jacksonville Jaguars have not been a very relevant team in terms of NFL success and fantasy football for some time. From 2011 to 2014, the Jaguars were never higher than 28th in points scored or 29th in yards gained. They have not had a winning record since 2007. Other than RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the NFL in rushing yards (1,606) in 2011, there just has not been much to cheer about on offense in Jacksonville the last five seasons.
However, that changed last year. The Jaguars went from the 32nd ranked scoring offense and 31st yardage offense in 2014 to the 14th ranked scoring offense and 18th ranked yardage offense in 2015. There are a number of reasons for this, but no player was more responsible for the turnaround in 2015 than QB Blake Bortles.
Bortles was the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he played his college career at Central Florida. He was out of his league in his rookie season, and it showed in his statistics. In 13 games, he had only 2,908 yards passing, 11 passing touchdowns and 17 interceptions. That made him the 24th ranked fantasy quarterback. The only thing that he was good at was being sacked. He led the league with 55 sacks, despite throwing the ball only 475 times.
However, he experienced a surge in production last year. He tallied 4,428 yards passing, 35 passing touchdowns and 18 interceptions. His statics improved in a number of areas, including yards per attempt (6.1 to 7.3) and QB rating (69.5 to 88.2).
There is still some cause for concern. Bortles still has a low completion percentage at 58.6 percent and even though he improved in his sack totals, going from 55 sacks to 51 sacks is a laughable improvement. However, Bortles was the fourth-ranked fantasy quarterback last year, and I believe people are selling this offense short this season. Bortles has an ECR (Expert Consensus Ranking) of 10 and an ADP (Average Draft Position) of 8. That means that people think he will slightly decline this year, not improve on his strong 2015 season.
Here are three reasons why I believe Bortles will be a top 5 fantasy quarterback in 2016, not at the bottom of the top 10.
1) Bortles Is Still Developing
Bortles is not some 10th-year player that suddenly had a career year out of nowhere. He was the third pick in the NFL Draft in 2014 and had a great season last year. This is why people thought he should be a top 5 pick back in 2014. The comparison was that he was a lot like Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. He has a big frame at 6′ 5″ and 232 pounds, and he can make all of the throws an elite quarterback needs to make at the NFL level.
I just do not see why he is going to regress this year. The only reports I have read about him this off-season have been positive. The Florida Times Union reported in June that Jaguars OC Greg Olson said the team plans to use more no-huddle this season. There were also reports by the Florida Times Union that Bortles sought advice from Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer about avoiding a slump this year. This seems like a player with a good attitude whose team is going to give him more responsibility in 2016, not a player that is going to regress this year.
2) The Jaguars Are Loaded with Young Skill Position Talent
This is one of the best young offenses in the NFL. WR Allen Robinson turns 23 years old this year and he had 80 receptions for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. WR Allen Hurns turns 25 years old this year; he had 64 receptions for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. TE Julius Thomas is 28 years old, he had a disappointing 46 receptions for 455 yards and five touchdowns, but he missed five starts due to a broken thumb. He should be poised for a rebound year. He has been healthy this offseason and had 24 touchdown receptions in 2013-2014.
The Jaguars also have some good young running backs. RB T.J. Yeldon had 1,019 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns last year. RB Denard Robinson turns 26 years old and can be a good receiving option out of the backfield. They also added RB Chris Ivory, who is 28 years old, but who has only 883 career carries and is coming off a season where he had 1,287 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns. He should add physicality to their running game and make their offense more balanced.
The only question mark on this team is the offensive line, and that is certainly a big question marked. They allowed 51 sacks last year and only averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt. However, there are so many young pieces that were only scratching the surface last year. This team figures to be an offense on the rise, not on the decline. These young players should continue to improve and put up big numbers in 2016.
3) The Defense Is Much Improved
There are fantasy quarterbacks that do well with bad defenses. New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees comes to mind, he seems to put up monster numbers with a bad defense every season. There are also quarterbacks that do poorly with great defenses. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning was an example of that last year. The defense improving does not always help a quarterback put up monster numbers. The quarterback is ultimately responsible for his own play.
However, the few statistical areas that Bortles struggled with last year would be helped by an improved defense. Bortles threw 431 passes when trailing in a game, he had only 119 passes with the score tied and only 59 passes with the lead. If he could ever play with a lead and the opposing defense did not know he was going to throw the ball, defenses would have to respect the run and not just pressure the quarterback.
The Jaguars added a lot of pieces on defense this year. DT Malik Jackson, LB Dante Fowler Jr., CB Jalen Ramsey, S Tashaun Gipson and LB Myles Jack all figure to be new starters this year for a defense that ranked 31st in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed. A defense that forces turnovers and keeps the game more manageable should greatly help Bortles’ fantasy stats. Even if they run the ball more with a lead, he only averaged 7.3 yards per attempt last year. There is room for him to be more efficient on less passing attempts and still put up top 5 fantasy numbers.
Improved point differential should help reduce the 51 sacks and 18 interceptions. The Jaguars were 23rd in point differential last year at -4.5 points per game. Bortles had 16 of his 18 interceptions when he was behind in the game and 41 of his 51 sacks were also when the Jaguars were behind. I am excited about the prospect of him playing with a defense that stops opposing offenses and forces turnovers to put the offense in favorable scoring position.
It is impossible to say if Bortles is going to be better than last year, but there is no reason that he should regress. All signs point to this being an offense on the rise. Even if they become more efficient without tallying more yards and points, Bortles should be a candidate to duplicate his 4,428 yards passing and 35 passing touchdowns. He had a slow start to last season, where he tallied no 300-yard passing games and had only six touchdowns and three picks in his first four games. There is plenty of room for him to improve. At 24 years old, he is just scratching the surface. At his current ADP, Bortles has an excellent chance to outperform his preseason ranking. He is an excellent value in fantasy leagues this year.