Things change quickly in the NFL.
After finishing top-five in both passing touchdowns and fantasy points in 2015, dynasty owners of Blake Bortles were ecstatic with the return on their investment.
Entering the 2016 season, Bortles’ 2QB ADP was at the highest we’ve ever seen in his career:
He entered the 2016 season with an ADP of QB9. Regression was to be expected after throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 passing touchdowns, but the manner in which Bortles played has created some dark clouds gathering in uncertainty about his future in the league.
I’m by no means a “film grinder”, but it doesn’t take a particularly well-trained eye to spot the negatives in Bortles’ play in 2016. We often saw Bortles struggle with decision making, forcing passes into tight windows that often resulted in turnovers. At times, he’d blatantly miss seeing defenders in zone coverage. His progressions were slow and his reads often left you scratching your head, questioning if he had already predetermined his throw before the snap.
Over the past 50 years, Bortles ranks top-15 in interceptions (51) and is tied with David Carr for most sacks (140) through a quarterback’s first three seasons. Neither of these statistics invoke confidence as Bortles enters an offseason that’s paramount to his future success in this league.
Perhaps part of the reason for his decline last year may have been injury:
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles told @ESPNdirocco that he played this season with two shoulder separatoins and wrist tendonitis.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 2, 2017
It could also be a flawed throwing motion that he needs help improving. Bortles already has plans to work with QB Specialist Adam Dedeaux on a more compact release and refining his lower-body mechanics.
Whatever the reason, we’ve seen Bortles post starkly contrasting performances over the past two seasons. Let’s dive into the numbers a bit more and see if there’s anything we can uncover that points to what the future holds for Bortles.
2015 vs 2016
Let’s start from a macro sense, looking at Jacksonville’s offense over the past two seasons and how things have changed:
|Year||Points Per Game||Pass Yds||Pass TDs||Pass Play %||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||Run Play %|
|2015||23.5 (14th)||4108 (10th)||35 (3rd)||65.02% (2nd)||1473 (27th)||5 (29th)||34.98% (31st)|
|2016||19.9 (25th)||3728 (20th)||24 (16th)||62.74% (7th)||1631 (22nd)||8 (29th)||37.26% (26th)|
The passing offense declined across the board and the run game didn’t get much better after bringing in Chris Ivory.
Given that the offense stayed relatively the same and didn’t have a major personnel overhaul, is it fair to put the onus on Bortles for Jacksonville’s shortcomings?
|Year||Completions||Attempts||Completion %||Pass Yds||Pass TDs||AY/A||Int %||Top-6 Weeks||Top-12 Weeks|
Bortles saw a significant decline in passing yards and passing touchdowns. His completion percentage remained well below the league average. His week-to-week consistency from 2015 downgraded him to a matchup-dependent fantasy quarterback in 2016.
By all measures, it was a down year for Bortles. Given such a small sample size of his playing career, is it something to expect moving forward? Perhaps we can learn a bit more about the player by the type of throws he was making in 2016.
Air Yards vs. Check Downs
If you haven’t been reading Josh Frisco’s work on Air Yards at RotoViz this past season you’ve been missing out. He recently highlighted the predictive nature of Air Yards and uncovered some wide receivers that may have hidden potential to exceed expectation in 2017.
Naturally, Air Yards can be reflected at the quarterback position as well. Bortles was an interesting case study to review over the past two seasons.
In his banner sophomore season, Bortles ranked third among all quarterbacks in Air Yards, often targeting Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns aggressively downfield. Bortles experienced a significant drop in 2016, finishing 18th among all quarterbacks in Air Yards. He struggled immensely when throwing the ball deep:
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) January 16, 2017
For those of you new to passer rating, single-digit passer rating is not ideal. It was evident that Bortles struggled with the deep pass connecting on downfield throws.
Subsequently, Bortles turned to underneath passing as a way to try and keep the chains moving. He targeted his running backs out of the backfield 17.3 percent of the time last year, up from 14.9 percent in 2015. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to mask his inefficiencies.
His slow decision making also contributed to him leaving yards on the table for his receivers. His receivers rarely had opportunities to gain yards after the catch. Hurns saw a 24 percent decrease in YAC from 2015 to 2016. Robinson saw a 31 percent decrease. Unable to pick up additional yards with much frequency, the Jaguars struggled on third downs, finishing bottom-five among all teams in third down conversion rate.
Volume and efficiency are often intertwined as a topic debated in fantasy circles. 4for4’s Chris Raybon concluded a fantastic study last offseason that found at the quarterback position we’d prefer to target efficiency over pass attempts.
Yes, Bortles’ volume is pretty remarkable after dropping back to pass over 600 times the last two seasons. But we want our quarterbacks to find efficiency while doing so.
While high-percentage passes like RB checkdowns can create a pretty stat line, that’s not the type of efficiency to target. Adjusted Yards per Attempt, Touchdown Percentage, and even traditional Passer Rating are all efficiency metrics we should prioritize over completion percentage. Bortles saw a sizeable dip in all of those last year and it’s fair to question if he can climb back to those lofty 2015 numbers.
Red Zone and Scoring Opportunities
Fortunately for Bortles, touchdowns can mask a lot of inefficiencies. In 2015, the Jaguars posted some ridiculous numbers in the red zone. They increased their red zone trips per game from 2.0 trips per game in 2014 up to 3.4 trips per game in 2015 — a top-10 rate in the league. They also led the league in pass attempts in the red zone (102) and ranked third in passing touchdowns (27).
Those numbers took a sizable step back in 2016. The Jaguars fell to 2.5 red zone trips per game (31st) and dropped down to 72 pass attempts in the red zone (24th), yet still managed to throw 20 passing touchdowns (8th). While the opportunities had decreased, Bortles was still able to find some success largely due to playcalling. Over the past two years, only the Green Bay Packers threw more often than Jacksonville’s 67.6 percent (league average over this time was 55.7 percent) in the red zone.
Despite the red zone playcalling bailout, there are just too many red flags surrounding Bortles to say with much confidence he’ll be Jacksonville’s starting quarterback beyond 2017.
Regression is one thing, but what we saw from Bortles in 2016 was a quarterback that struggled progressing through his reads, converting first downs, and connecting on deep throws for much of the season. While it’s reassuring that the coaching staff plans to use Bortles in the red zone, not being able to get the team there with regularity is a concern.
This 2017 offseason is a major one for Bortles. He’s already reported to be re-working on his mechanics and delivery, but entering his fourth year in the league, that’s a major red flag to me. If he becomes complacent or finds himself falling back into these old habits, we could see 2016 repeat itself right before our eyes.
The team just re-structured Chad Henne’s deal this week, and they still have a lot of work to do with developmental quarterback Brandon Allen before he sees significant snaps. Prior to free agency and the draft, it doesn’t seem like the Jacksonville front office is looking toward a new quarterback for 2017, but it wouldn’t be that surprising to see a developmental quarterback drafted late.
That being said, Bortles is still walking on thin ice. The uncertainty surrounding Bortles and his future breeds opportunity. I mentioned earlier this week that Bortles has a massive disproportion in dynasty value by owners. For those looking to sell Bortles, you may still be able to get a nice return. Believers in Bortles may be able to acquire him at a significant discount this offseason. Value is the name of the game when trying to determine how to project Bortles going forward, and it’d be hard to blame a Bortles owner from jumping ship to see what they can get in return.
Recent Superflex startup mocks have Bortles down at the QB17. He is entering his age-25 season and coming off QB4 and QB9 seasons the last two years. On the surface, those numbers, his youth, and name value could net you a positive return in a trade. Given what we’ve seen from Bortles and the fact he’s re-working on his mechanics, it might be smart to trade Bortles in your dynasty leagues and still net a handsome reward before it’s too late.