Why Blake Bortles’ Season Isn’t as Good as You Think It Is
Fantasy football has changed the way we watch NFL games. There’s no denying that.
Last Sunday, surrounded by three generations of family, I watched as my hometown Eagles did the unthinkable, upsetting the New England Patriots in Foxboro. The game was full of exciting, high-five-worthy moments. In what’s become a rarity this year, we had a blast watching Eagles football.
But, at the same time, I was silently furious watching Danny Amendola drop a would-be touchdown in the second half. It would have been his second score of the day, and would have vaulted my fantasy team to victory.
Instead, I lost by five points.
The Eagles had won and my fantasy squad had lost. The emotions were mixed.
This is the life we’ve chosen.
In another way, fantasy football skews the way we view a player’s performance. In many cases, an excellent fantasy game coincides with an excellent on-field performance. But this is not always the case, especially with quarterbacks.
Fantasy stats only tell a small part of the story. But sometimes, it’s the only thing we care about.
Enter Blake Bortles, fantasy football’s seventh ranked quarterback this year.
Coming off his best game of the year, the sophomore Jaguars quarterback is having a great fantasy season. But is he having a great season in real football as well?
Analyzing Bortles’ Season
When we decide to start a fantasy quarterback, we really only care about two things: touchdowns and passing yards. On that front, Bortles has delivered mightily, ranking third in touchdowns (27) and seventh in passing yards (3,274) through 13 weeks.
Considering there was little to no draft investment in Bortles this year, we’ll take that every week. But when we look past those two stats, a different picture comes into focus.
For example, among 31 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs, Bortles is tied for second in interceptions (13), ranks 23rd in quarterback rating (86.8), and 22nd in yards per attempt (7.0).
He’s also taken the third most sacks in the league (36) and is a pedestrian 16th in first down percentage (34.6%).
So is Bortles having a good season, or not? For that answer, we can look at advanced analytics, specifically, Net Expected Points (NEP).
Net Expected Points is our main metric here at numberFire. Using NFL data dating back to 2000, we're able to analyze the outcome of every single play and measure a player’s output versus expectation. The higher a player’s Total NEP, the more he's contributing to his team’s ability to score points. To learn more about NEP, check out our glossary.
Take a look at where Bortles ranks among the 31 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs:
|Passing NEP per play||0.08||23rd|
Not overly good. To exemplify the point, ESPN has Bortles ranked as their 23rd quarterback, according to Total QBR (54.9).
If you put the touchdowns and yards aside, just for a moment, Blake Bortles is having a season worse than Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins. This isn’t to say Bortles doesn’t belong in the NFL -- he definitely does. But let’s pump the brakes on the “next great quarterback” narrative.
Pass, Pass, Pass
So why are some numbers telling one story and analytics are telling another?
The main reason is volume. Bortles has attempted 471 passes this year, fourth most in the league. He’s only completed 57.7% of those passes, however, "good" for 29th in the league.
Jacksonville’s pass-to-run ratio is 1.84, sixth highest in the league. Our schedule-adjusted metrics rank Jacksonville’s defense as second worst, and they’ve surrendered 341 points, third worst in the NFL this year.
All of this added together creates a team that bleeds points defensively, passes first offensively, and is constantly trying to keep pace within the game. With all those attempts, any NFL quarterback will be able to find some success within cumulative statistics. Thus the impressive touchdown and yards totals.
Further, Bortles is fortunate enough to be playing with one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league. Both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns rank within the top 15 in all of numberFire’s receiving metrics.
Bortles obviously knows this, because he targets his top two playmakers relentlessly: 43.5% of the time, to be exact.
When you have two studs making plays on the outside, it helps to mask some mistakes from the quarterback, resulting in hollow fantasy numbers. Brian Hoyer knows a thing or two about that.
The Fourth Quarter
Many people may point to Bortles’ fourth quarter performances and claim he’s “clutch”, or that he’s simply the beneficiary of garbage time.
In reality, neither narrative is true.
Yes, Bortles leads the league with 12 fourth quarter touchdowns. Yes, he’s scored six touchdowns when trailing with less than four minutes to go. But, per Pro Football Reference, Bortles’ fourth quarter quarterback rating is 85.2, 20th among qualifying passers. His fourth quarter completion percentage of 52.9% ranks only 27th.
While garbage time may be an easy answer for some, six of Jacksonville’s eight losses have been decided by seven points or less. Their only true blowout was a 51-17 Week 3 loss to the Patriots in New England.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Jags rank first in 4th quarter pass attempts, and 31st in fourth quarter rushing attempts. This pass-to-run ratio is similar to their offensive approach throughout the entire game. Regardless of the game clock or score, Gus Bradley and company don’t trust their running game. At all. It makes sense, considering numberFire ranks Jacksonville as the worst rushing team in the league. This, by default, puts the burden on Bortles and the passing game. This offensive approach is simply magnified in the fourth quarter.
The sum of all these parts is a Jaguars team that is 4-8, ranks 32nd in nERD, and only has a 0.4% chance to make the playoffs, according to our projections.
Fantasy owners may scoff as this, but there’s no denying it: Though he's improved a lot over last year, Blake Bortles isn't having a great season.