Is Blake Bortles Becoming a Good NFL Quarterback?
To say Blake Bortles struggled a bit last year is a bit of an understatement.
It's not uncommon to see a rookie quarterback come into the league and have growing pains. Up until recent years, it was considered the norm. As such, expectations were admittedly low for Bortles as he joined a Jacksonville Jaguars team that had not been to the playoffs since 2007.
However, the Jaguar faithful (is there such a thing?) may not have been prepared for the extent of the issues incurred during Bortles' rocky rookie season. Despite a few flashes of promise throughout his rookie year, Bortles managed to post the sixth worst season by a quarterback since 2000 -- in terms of our Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
For those unfamiliar with NEP, it is our signature metric and it allows us to help quantify the amount of points a player contributes to his team compared to how he would be expected to perform.
Finishing the season with a Passing NEP of -97.97, Bortles found himself on a list that included previous quarterback busts such as Akili Smith, David Carr and -- the poster-boy of all busts himself -- JaMarcus Russell.
Coming into this season with realtively little publicity and even fewer expectations, Bortles has shown signs that he may be able to turn his career around. But is he actually making strides or merely compiling fantasy statistics?
Breaking Down the Box Score
Looking at Bortles' raw statistical performance to date, one would imagine he has been tearing up the league, and statistically he has -- to a degree. The young quarterback sits third in touchdown passes thrown with 10 through Week 5. He has also racked up passing yards, totaling 1,299. That's good for eighth overall.
In addition to his impressive passing statistics, Bortles has provided additional production on the ground. His 112 rushing yards place him sixth among all quarterbacks through Week 5.
So what's the problem here? We have a sophomore quarterback putting up great numbers after a rough rookie season. It happens.
The concern with Bortles' production lies in a couple of stats you won't see emphasized in the box score: accuracy and sacks taken.
Bortles struggled with accuracy for much of last season, finishing 31st in completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts.
Despite reports of a renewed dedication to fixing his footwork and mechanics, the issue does not seem to have improved. Through Week 5, the Jaguar quarterback once again sits 31st in completion percentage (among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts).
As many rookies do, Bortles struggled with taking too many sacks last season, leading the league in sacks taken.
With additional game experience and time studying off the field, both of these issues should have been correctable. However, at this junction it would not appear as though Bortles has made great strides in either area. He is currently tied for third in most sacks taken this season.
What His Play Is Telling Us
We already know that Bortles posted one of the worst Passing NEPs in the last 15 years. So when comparing his horrendous Passing NEP of -97.97 to this season's Passing NEP of 17.87, it's obvious he's made positive strides.
Bortles' Passing NEP of 17.87 is good for 16th among the 36 quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs: certainly not elite, but a drastic improvement nonetheless.
The area of concern we have with Bortles is his Passing Success Rate, the percentage of drop backs that add to his team's NEP. He currently owns a Success Rate of 45.32%, which is only 24th among the 36 quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs. This suggests that his cumulative Passing NEP has been bolstered by some big plays rather than consistent gains.
Bortles' continued struggles with mechanics, making correct reads, and indecisiveness are resulting in many negative (or neutral) plays for the Jaguars. In years past, we may have been apt to give the young quarterback benefit of the doubt due to a lackluster supporting cast. However, that is not the case this year in Jacksonville.
Among 54 receivers with at least 25 targets this year, Allen Hurns (40.35) and Allen Robinson (36.74) rank 7th and 12th in Reception NEP. Hurns (1.12) is tops in the group in Reception NEP per target; Robinson (0.77) is 19th.
While Bortles has been able to take advantage of his top two weapons to compile fantasy stats, his overall inconsistency has contributed to the team's 1-4 record.
Bortles has especially struggled in key situations this season, ranking 20th in the league in converting third downs when passing and dead last in second half completion percentage. Failures in these key situations have directly led to close losses the past two weeks for this Jaguars team.
Does He Need to Be "Good" to Help Us in Fantasy?
Ideally, we want our fantasy quarterbacks to be good real life quarterbacks. However, that does not always need to be the case.
Bortles' Passing NEP per drop back is currently 0.09, which last year would have placed him near Eli Manning (0.10) and Ryan Tannehill (0.07). I bring up these two players, as they share much in common with Bortles.
Tannehill is a player who is capable of supplementing his passing statistics with his legs, very similar to Bortles, who finished third among all players in Rushing NEP last season. Tannehill used a high passing touchdown total and rushing yards to finish the season as the number-eight quarterback in fantasy.
As long as the Jaguars' defense continues to struggle -- they rank 28th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play -- Bortles will find himself in situations to have to throw the ball.
While he will be a high-variance play as turnover problems are a concern, it is reasonable to expect low-end QB1 numbers when the matchup is favorable. He's dealing with a shoulder injury, but the current thought is that he'll play. He should be on your radar as a possible streaming option or bye-week fill-in this week against Houston.