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Buying Bortles?

Blake Bortles

What if there was a way you could win your fantasy league, or at least your draft, by taking one player? That sounds great! And what if I told you all you currently had to spend was the 177th pick in a standard draft? I’m serious, Voice of Reason inside my head. That’s too good to be true. What if I said he finished in the top 10 at his position two years in a row, has yet to miss a game due to injury, and plays with two of the top 15 WRs from 2015? Alright, I’m convinced. Now, what if I said his name was Blake Bortles?

Boo! Groan. Eye roll. I know, Voice of Reason. I get it, but hear me out. Bortles was a top ten fantasy quarterback in 2016 and the No. 4 QB in 2015. Yes, it’s true that Bortles does not come anywhere near those kinds of rankings in terms of actual on field play, but he consistently puts up plenty of fantasy points, despite his team suffering in the wins column. My point is very simple: regardless of how good he is in the NFL, why should we have any doubt that Bortles will continue Bortling his way to fantasy success?

Reasons For Decline

There are several reasons quarterbacks depress in fantasy value from season to season, but these are the common killers:

  1. Injuries – Since being named the starter in 2014, Blake Bortles has missed exactly zero games.
  2. An age cliff (see Peyton Manning 2015) – Last time I checked, quarterbacks tend to fall apart physically around the 39-40 turn, in terms of being able to play. Of course there are exceptions, but Bortles is still 25, so there’s virtually no chance of that happening to him this year.
  3. An exodus of weapons (see Andy Dalton 2016) – Sometimes this refers to skill position players, and sometimes offensive linemen. Only 115 targets have left the Jags offense this offseason, and the additions of WR Dede Westbrook, TE Mychal Rivera, and RB Leonard Fournette to the passing game should be at least a push in that regard. Second round OT Cam Robinson, and Branden Albert, the former Dolphin, should be an upgrade over the likes of Luke Joeckel and Kelvin Beachum. You could argue the Jags actually improved in both areas this offseason.
  4. Learning a new offense (see Matt Ryan 2015 vs. 2016) – When new offenses are installed, it can often take a full season before the QB and the offensive coordinator are truly in sync from play call, to snap, to throw. Though the Jacksonville quarterback will technically be in a new offense this year, it should bring about a positive influence sooner rather than later. After Nathaniel Hackett took over for Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson, Bortles actually improved his play. Post-Olson, he averaged 244 passing yards per game, a 3-1 TD to INT ratio (career 1.35-1), and 6.79 yards per attempt against teams not from Houston or Denver. When Doug Marrone took over as head coach of the Jaguars late in 2016, Bortles actually had his best two game stretch of the year in terms of QBR, Y/A, and Cmp %. This head start on the offense and early success with it will help Bortles with his learning curve.

So, Blake Bortles doesn’t fall into any of these typical QB pitfalls. What is wrong with him then? Why is he going behind players like Cooper Kupp and the Pittsburgh D/ST? Exactly. Two words: Garbage. Time. Owners are afraid that all of his statistical success is dependent on the theory that Bortles puts up huge numbers when the opposing defense lets their collective foot off of the gas pedal because the score is out of hand, and the game is almost over. This line of thinking naturally presents two questions. How much of Bortles production really does come in “Garbage time?” And is this sustainable?

Garbage Time

To begin, I decided to define a “Garbage Time” parameter, GT. In this case, any time in the fourth quarter of a game, where the player was down by two scores (nine points) or more. A more specific set of data might be drawn from in the future, but for now, let’s go with this. In compiling this list of data points for the top 24 fantasy QBs from 2016, I found these figures in terms of GT passing yards, GT touchdowns, and GT fantasy points (four point per passing TDs, -2 per turnover). These numbers represent the percent of a player’s total season that can be attributed to GT. For example, Aaron Rodgers had six GT passing TDs in 2016, 15% of his 40 TD total. Okay, but how does this pertain to Bortles?

Garbage Time

Two things jump out immediately: the somewhat surprising fact that a third of Alex Smith’s passing TDs in 2016 were GT, and that Blake Bortles is clearly different from the other QBs in the top 24. How so? His GT passing yards, TDs, and fantasy points were 20.1% (most), 30.4% (second-most), and 27.6% (most). Drew Brees had the next highest in yards with just 13.9%. Sam Bradford had the third-most in TDs with only 20%. And Alex Smith had the next highest in fantasy points with a mere 16.8%. Bortles is by far the largest benefactor of GT. Over his career, Bortles’ GT numbers are pretty consistent with 23.4% of his yards, 29% of his TDs, and 24% of his fantasy points being GT. If you removed half of Bortles GT fantasy points in 2016, it puts him at 13.8%, still well above the 9.7% average. More importantly, that would drop him to the QB21, far below QB10 his finish. We can conclude for now, that Bortles owes a lot more of his fantasy success to GT than just about every other successful QB, but is this sustainable?

In a word, yes. Thirty-three of Bortles’ 51 interceptions occurred on his team’s side of the field. Those types of turnovers can put your team behind early. In 2014, the Jaguars defense finished 22nd in passing yards, 26th in total yards, and 23rd in yards per play. In 2015, it was 29th, 24th, and 15th respectively. But by 2016, it had improved to fifth, sixth, and fourth. Why was so much of Bortles’ production still in GT in 2016? Try as they might, the Jaguars failed to improve their defense in the most important area. They have allowed the seventh, second and eighth most points each of the last three years, despite improving steadily in most other categories. But the defense got much better this offseason, right? The additions of Calais Campbell, Barry Church, and AJ Bouye could be enough to get this defense over the hump, but Voice of Reason, that sounds a lot like what we heard last year with the additions of Jalen Ramsey, Malik Jackson, and Tashaun Gipson in 2016. So forgive me if I’m taking the wait-and-see approach for 2017. If the Jaguars do not allow significantly less points this year than they have in the past, Bortles will continue to have his GT production and to continue to have fantasy success.

So I Should Draft Bortles?

If the Jaguars cannot limit opposing scoring and keep their offense in manageable game scripts, Blake Bortles could be a looking at another top ten finish in fantasy. The best part is you can pick him up with the 14th pick of your redraft leagues, just before you take your kicker and your defense. So, you should all wait to draft him so you can spend your first 13 picks building the rest of your roster. Okay, fine. You’ve convinced me. All of that being said… I’ve come to the opposite conclusion.

Wait, but you said all this stuff about sustainable GT and debunked the reasons Bortles could decline. Why don’t you want to draft him at his bargain ADP? Well, Voice of Reason, it’s very simple. It wouldn’t be fun. Fun? But I thought fantasy football is about having enough points to win and hoisting your championship trophy by season’s end? While it’s true, drafting Bortles could vastly benefit your redraft team in terms of value, it would be no fun, because Bortles is bad at football. This is not anything new or controversial. Just watch a few of his games and it will become very clear.

What may be controversial is I refuse to use a player that’s no fun to use because he doesn’t earn a quarter to a third of his points. It’s the equivalent of camping in first-person shooter games, or counting cards in poker. Does it give you an advantage that helps you win more often? Yes, but it’s far less fun to play that way. Suffice it to say, I will only be drafting players that are good at football as well as fantasy football this year. I hope you’ll join me.

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