While it is virtually impossible to win your fantasy football league’s championship on draft day, you can certainly lose it during the glorious selection process. Fantasy owners subscribe to any number of beliefs but considering the surprising performances by the likes of Blake Bortles and Kirk Cousins in 2015 more fantasy owners may be inclined to pass up on the stalwarts like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees heading into the 2016 season. My advice. DON’T DO IT! Here’s why…
Blake Bortles – Jacksonville Jaguars
“It’s a trap.” — Admiral Ackbar
If you happened upon Blake Bortles on the waiver wire last season congratulations. It’s hard to imagine that 35 touchdowns went undrafted in most fantasy leagues. The Jacksonville fan base has to be excited considering that their young signal-caller only trailed Tom Brady (36) in terms of passing touchdowns in just his second season as a pro. The “good vibes” don’t stop there as the Jaguars used their considerable cap space during the 2016 offseason to add copious amounts of veteran talent (in their prime might I add) to both sides of the ball. But DUVAL didn’t stop there. The cherry on top was the impressive, talent-laden draft class the Jaguars’ front office reeled in bolstering their defense. I’m not here to throw cold water on it either. I think the Jaguars have a legitimate shot at a winning season if they stay healthy at key positions and their young core of players continue to develop. What’s not to like? Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are ascending talents at receiver. Julius Thomas is a mismatch nightmare (when healthy) at the tight end position and adding Chris Ivory to T.J. Yeldon takes pressure off of Bortles. Even the offensive line is expected to be better with Kelvin Beachum in the fold. As for the defense, it got a complete face-lift with free agent acquisitions and draft selections of: Malik Jackson, Prince Amukamara, Tashaun Gipson, Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and Sheldon Day. Let’s not forget they should get last year’s first round selection Dante Fowler back from injury. It’s for all those reasons and more, why “It’s a trap.”
Did I bury the lead? Perhaps… But I won’t buy into the Bortles hype. Not in 2016. Even in a passer friendly league, flushed with a talented supporting cast, and fresh off a 35 TD campaign; I refuse to hitch my fantasy football wagon to Blake Bortles. Here’s how I see it.
- Better team, less garbage time;
- Bortles isn’t that good, but he’s actually getting better; and
- Gus Bradley has a .250 winning percentage as the Jags’ head coach.
I firmly believe that the Jaguars will be significantly better in 2016 (5-11 in 2015). While that may not result in a winning record I do expect the Jags to be “in” more games. Which is part of the reason why I wouldn’t count on consistent fantasy productivity from Bortles on a weekly basis. Bortles’ 2015 statistical outburst was buoyed by eviscerating poor competition, an inordinate amount of pass attempts in the red-zone, and feasting during “garbage time.” Despite his statistical output I expect regression in pass attempts (606), passing touchdowns while trailing (29), and passing touchdowns when trailing by 10 points or more (15). Bortles led the league in the latter two categories by a significant margin. He also led the league in pass attempts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line. That doesn’t mean he’s “Captain Comeback” as evidenced by the 5-win record. Rather he cleaned up during mop up time. I anticipate regression due to the Jags’ improved roster. Where Toby Gerhart couldn’t punch in last season, Chris Ivory will. I also anticipate more rushing attempts in an effort to shorten games because of an improved Jaguars defense.
Additionally, Bortles is NOT without flaw. His accuracy is sporadic as evidenced by his inability to complete more than 60% of his passes; and while his fantasy and reality supporters alike laud him for his willingness to push the football down the field he has a propensity for turning the ball over, averaging more than an interception per game through his first 30 professional games. In fact, Bortles has never gone more than two games in a row without throwing an interception (once in 2014 and 2015 respectively). The NFL Network’s Kurt Warner broke Bortles down on the Sunday Gameday Show last season and pointed out that the young gunslinger “got away” with bad throws. Ill advised decisions, potential interceptions that happened to work out in favor of Bortles and his fantasy owners alike. For lack of a better term, Bortles was a bit lucky in 2015. Pro Football Focus’ middling grade of Bortles furthers this notion. The moral of the story is that the pigskin is shaped funny and can bounce in any number of ways so what resulted in a big gain, or scoring strike in 2015 may very well end up as an incompletion or in the hands of the opposition in 2016. Did I mention he excels against weak competition?
- In four games against opponents that finished with a winning record Bortles had a 8:10 TD/INT ratio;
- In 12 games against opponents that finished with a losing record Bortles had a 28:8 TD/INT ratio.
That suggests spot starter or match-up play to me not a fantasy plug and play guy from Week 1 thru Week 16-17. For what it’s worth Bortles has the Colts and Titans on slate for weeks 16 and 17.
For the staunch believers in the young man’s ability and progression I’d like to say that you aren’t wrong to believe. Bortles was a better quarterback in Year 2 than his rookie season. He threw for 26 more TDs and only one more interception on only 131 more pass attempts. Those are staggering totals. He was sacked less on more pass attempts and averaged well over a full yard more per throw from 2014 to 2015 as well. Consider another offseason working on his craft, working with his weapons, and film study and another leap in performance doesn’t seem too farfetched. However, improved play from Bortles (and team) could depress his fantasy value and make him a better quarterback in reality. Statistical production didn’t exactly equate to wins and Gus Bradley is on his last legs in Duval. The reality is the Jags (specifically Bradley) need Bortles to be better in REALITY. That can be accomplished in a number of ways including: reducing Bortles’ load, taking fewer chances, playing better defense, and running the football more. You don’t invest as heavily as the Jaguars did on defense this offseason to put the game on the throwing arm of your 3rd year QB every week. Jacksonville hasn’t had a winning record since 2007. That will likely have to change if Bradley hopes to keep his job.
So temper your expectations, there is more than meets the eye with respect to Blake Bortles. And while you’re at it adopt Washington’s “wait and see” approach (contract situation) with Kirk Cousins too. He like Bortles is surrounded by a bevy of weapons and enjoyed an incredible statistical run from the last week of October thru the end of the 2015 regular season. But, it also marked Cousins’ first extended stretch of consistent, effective and unsustainable play. I’m not suggesting avoiding him but buyer beware. Only three of his 2015 opponents had winning records by season’s end. He lost all three of those games and managed a 3:4 TD/INT ratio. Conversely, Cousins managed a 26:7 TD/INT ratio against everyone else. He gets a first place schedule in 2016. If you’re going to roll the dice on a young signal caller as your weekly QB1 (between 10-20) I recommend Derek Carr. While he doesn’t come with the same fanfare in terms of supporting casts as Bortles and Cousins he has more career TDs and fewer INTs than both of them. As a result Carr has experienced fewer peaks and valleys in his young career compared to Bortles and Cousins. This suggests consistency. A 32:13 TD/INT ratio in 2015 ain’t half bad either.