32 for 32: Blake Bortles is the Fantasy Hero You Didn’t Know You Deserve
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
This past season I heard some of the wisest words I’ve ever heard in my life. “Derek Bortles is a dumb name, Blake Bortles is a cool name”. Cool name indeed. Thank you, Jason Mendoza, from NBC’s The Good Place. Yet, despite his cool name and almost reaching the Super Bowl, only a few of us are willing to raise our bottles in toast to Bortles. This one is for you, Zach Wilkens, Gabe Geering, and all my fellow Blake Bortles enthusiasts.
Why does everyone else look upon Bortles like he’s Ant-Man? He has never finished lower than QB24 since his rookie season and has a top-five fantasy finish within his four-year career. He may not be Spiderman but can’t we all have the decency to say he’s at least the Doctor Strange of the fantasy football quarterback universe? Rather than keep the pop culture references going, it’s probably a good idea to get into some statistical evidence of Blake Bortles’ magical powers.
Career to Date
In my work at Dynasty League Football, I like to examine how players compare historically to other players who played their positions. Below is a list of quarterbacks who, through four seasons of their career, had 90 or more touchdowns since 1920:
You might notice Bortles is at the bottom of this list, but only eleven players have ever accomplished the feat. That’s pretty impressive. Different eras come into play, but does anyone need to be reminded football has become more of a passing league over time? You may as well remind us that Jimmy Graham played basketball in college.
It is fair to criticize Bortles for having the second-most attempts of the 11 listed while having the fewest touchdowns. But considering how often Bortles is knocked for throwing interceptions, it’s interesting how he has one of the lowest interception rates on the list.
Now let’s address what is surely on your mind. Garbage time. We all look at garbage time as if it doesn’t count, but get this — it does. Your quarterback doesn’t need to dominate like one Thomas Brady for your team to compete. You can get points by holding your nose and starting the king of the dump.
Here’s the thing though, I’m not sure Bortles deserves that king of the dump title anymore. This past season he attempted 102 fewer passes and still came close to his touchdown and yardage totals from the previous season. It’s almost as if the more time he’s spent in the league, the more efficient he gets. Weird.
You can argue he hasn’t always shown progression. In fact, he regressed in almost every way between his second and third season, enough so that there was talk the team might replace him. He still finished as the QB13 in fantasy. But with concerns about his throwing motion being voiced, you weren’t wrong to be worried about his starting role.
However, even in that down season, he continued a trend he’s shown every single season since entering the league — he decreased his interception percentage. Of passers who have attempted at least 500 passes over the past two seasons, Bortles is 23rd of 32 in interception rate, but that’s better than Cam Newton and Philip Rivers, both of whom have found ways to be fantasy relevant despite their interceptions. Showing improvements every season is a good way to keep a starting gig.
Bortles’ 2017 Season in Context
Speaking of starting for your team, did you know Bortles played the entire 2017 season with an injured throwing wrist? Last May, the Jaguars picked up his $19 million option for the 2018 season — an option guaranteed regardless of injury. Like it or not, Bortles is likely sticking around as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback for at least one more season.
Despite his injury, and despite losing his biggest weapon at the beginning of the year, Bortles had a solid season, finishing as the QB13 in total points and the QB17 in points per game. Do you know who the Jaguars’ most targeted receiver was this year? Marqise Lee. Don’t get me wrong, Lee is a fine player, but he’s not Allen Robinson. Allen Hurns was their third-most targeted receiver and he couldn’t even top 500 yards.
Blake Bortles Made the Playoffs. That Happened.
Let’s not forget about Bortles’ playoff heroics. Okay, maybe his game against Buffalo wasn’t heroic as much as “he won a playoff game with only 87 passing yards.” In the next two games combined, though, Bortles passed for 507 yards and two touchdowns. And he didn’t throw a single interception in the playoffs. Remember that Thomas Brady character from earlier? No one thought it was possible, but Bortles almost beat him in the AFC Championship.
In that game, Brady attempted three more passes than Bortles did, but had three fewer yards. Brady did have one more touchdown, however. Still, Bortles could have had more touchdowns than Brady if the Jaguars weren’t winning for most of the game. If only the Jags had learned from the 2016 Falcons, the dream of a Foles vs. Bortles Super Bowl would have come to fruition.
Looking Forward to 2018
Okay, so let’s bring this all back to this season. Bortles is coming off a solid high-end QB2 season. He is also coming off a wrist surgery, but he’s expected to be fine by the first kickoff of the season. The Jaguars might get Allen Robinson back, assuming they franchise or extend him. Even without Robinson, Jacksonville has excellent coaches and personnel, and they finally have a taste of winning.
It all seems like a recipe for success. Based on name value, I imagine Bortles will be drafted after quarterbacks like Matt Ryan, Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, and Jameis Winston. I’m not saying he will outperform those guys, but given his relative cost, Bortles is the hero your fantasy team needs and deserves.