The Reinvention of Blake Bortles
Few quarterbacks were more disappointing in 2016 than the man I refer to as ‘GT’ Bortles (‘Garbage Time’ Bortles). It was a banner year in 2015 for the former third-overall pick. He became the first Jacksonville Jaguar EVER — in the history of their pathetic franchise — to throw 25 touchdown passes in a season. I’m not making that up. That’s an actual thing. Mark Brunell, Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Chad Henne, and even the great Blaine Gabbert all failed to accomplish the historic achievement that Peyton Manning routinely accomplished in like two-thirds of a season.
Blake Bortles was a fantasy juggernaut during his 2015 campaign as he set the new Jaguar standard with 35 touchdown passes to go along with 4,428 passing yards, 18 interceptions, and two rushing touchdowns despite leading his team to only five wins. A lot of that production came in the ‘GT,’ but it all counts the same. In standard leagues, Bortles finished the season as a top-five quarterback with nearly 20 points per game, and there was a whole bunch of hype entering 2016.
Of course, Bortles fell flat last season — the ‘GT’ just wasn’t what it used to be — and he was either on benches or waiver wires by mid-season. Bortles did throw for 3,905 yards, but only managed 23 touchdowns (hey, that’s still pretty good for a Jaguar!) and averaged only 17 points per game. Bortles did actually finish as a top-10 quarterback with about 270 points despite the substantial regression, but that mainly had to do with an extremely poor year overall for quarterbacks and late-season injuries to breakouts such as Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr (as well as Tom Brady’s four-game suspension). In addition, two of his best games came in the final two weeks of the season, and I doubt he was in too many championship lineups. The end-of-season results may indicate otherwise, but Bortles was not a top-10 quarterback in any way shape or form last season. Those 270 points wouldn’t have even been good enough for a top-15 finish in 2015.
So what went wrong? Well, the touchdowns fell from 35 to 23, so that’s no good. The yards dropped even though he attempted 19 more passes due to Bortles’ yards per attempt regressing from 7.3 to 6.2. He consistently threw into tight coverage and had the lowest deep-ball passer rating in the NFL. His confidence seemed to be shot, and the Jaguars were just a complete mess overall finishing with only three wins. It wasn’t all bad, though. He actually threw two less interceptions with 16, had an ever-so-slightly higher completion percentage of 58.9%, and was sacked 17 less times. His final two games with Doug Marrone as interim head coach saw him surpass 300 yards in both games, and he was throwing the ball downfield with more accuracy than he had all season.
Bortles is a prime “post-hype sleeper” in fantasy drafts this season, and I’m boldly anticipating a return to top-five status for GTB. Doug Marrone has now become the actual head coach of the Jaguars, and there is some concern regarding Bortles’ value that the Jags are going with a more “run-first approach” as they selected Leonard Fournette in the first round. The coaching staff has even reportedly issued a “public guarantee” of their “run-first approach” according to Evan Silva of Rotoworld. The big issue, though, is that the Jaguars haven’t been able to run the football since the days of Maurice Jones-Drew, and they hardly did anything to improve that with the addition of notoriously terrible run-blocker Branden Albert at left tackle. After all, Marrone is the same guy who promised to “feed C.J. Spiller to death” while in Buffalo only to not do that at all. Bortles has surpassed 600+ passing attempts in each of the last two seasons — Drew Brees is the only other quarterback to have done so the last two seasons — so expect him to keep chucking it in 2017 for a team with an over/under of only six.
Bortles has also reportedly been working with quarterback gurus Tom House and Adam Dedeaux to revamp his mechanics this offseason. That might not sound like such a big deal, but these guys have a pretty good track record. After 2015, the duo worked with none other than Matt Ryan to improve his throws of 20+ yards in particular. I think it may have worked.
More good news for Bortles is that the Jaguars have the easiest strength of schedule in the league according to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analytics. That strength of schedule doesn’t translate to the run game, though, as the Jaguars actually had the easiest SOS against the run in 2016 and now have the eighth hardest SOS against the run. Any concerns about the Jaguars not needing to rely on Bortles and his ‘garbage time’ arm will be quelled when the Jags continue to struggle running the ball even with Fournette.
A repeat of his 35-touchdown season shouldn’t be expected, but 30 isn’t out of the question for the ‘GT Cruiser’ while the yards should creep over 4,000 again. Touchdowns tend to be the most inconsistent stat in fantasy football from year-to-year. While guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees make it look really easy to throw 30+ touchdowns every season, it’s actually hard to do so in back-to-back seasons.
For as late as he’s going in drafts — and possibly undrafted in some leagues — Bortles will provide great value.