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Blake Bortles Should Be Your Starting Quarterback


Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was seen as a huge bust through the first three and a half years of his career. But he seems to have turned things around over the last 10 or so regular season games. Bortles helped the Jags to their first playoff appearance since 2007 last year.

Jacksonville selected the former UCF star with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft ahead of several prominent players such as Khalil Mack, Mike Evans, Anthony Barr, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald and C.J. Mosley. Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were the other quarterbacks selected in the opening round that year, while three-time Pro Bowl selection Derek Carr wasn't taken until early in the second round.

Bortles finished among the worst passers in his first three years in the league. He ranked 23rd or lower in QBR and Passer Rating in each of those seasons -- finishing last in both categories (2014) and among the bottom four (2015). The 26-year-old, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his rookie season, averaged more than one pick and completed less than 60% of his throws through the first three years. So, what has changed?

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Reasons to Believe

More Accurate and Efficient

Bortles started the 2017 season slowly. The fifth-year pro was limited to 125 passing yards in the season opener as he completed just 11-of-21 passes with one touchdown. Overall, he completed 58.1% of his passes for an average of 208.4 yards a game along with 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions through the first 10 games of the season. Since then, Bortles has completed 208-of-358 (63.6%) passes for 2,698 yards to go with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

After completing more than 60% of his passes just four times through the first 10 weeks of last season, Bortles has accomplished the feat in seven of his last 10 games. He has completed over 70% of his passes in three of the seven contests, which includes last week's game against the New York Jets where he was 29-of-38 for 388 yards.

Not only has the 26-year-old been more accurate recently, he has been more efficient. Over his last 10 games, Bortles has a touchdown rate of 4.4% which is a touch better than the 3.8% rate that he had through the first 10 games of 2017. He also has topped the 300-yard mark in five of his last 10 games. Which is a considerable accomplishment considering he has put up more than 300 yards 18 total times in his career.

His current passer rating (93.6) and QBR score (62.9) are the best in his career. He has surpassed both of those marks in five of his last 10 games. Bortles has posted those numbers eight times since the beginning of last season.

Better Supporting Cast

A big reason for Bortles' increase in production has a lot to do with the development of his supporting cast. The current supporting cast consists of running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon as well as wide receivers Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, and Donte Moncrief along with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Fournette, Cole and Westbrook are just in their second seasons in the league while Moncrief and Seferian-Jenkins are in their first seasons with the team.

11 different players have already caught a pass from Bortles this season. In comparison, 18 different players caught passes in 2016 and 20017. Westbrook leads the way, this year, as he has hauled in 21-of-28 targets -- for a 75% catch rate, which ranks 11th in the NFL -- for 293 yards and one touchdown. Cole, who ranks 24th in the league with a 71% reception rate, has caught 17-of-24 targets for 225 yards along with a score.

More importantly, Bortles is receiving better protection from his offensive line. The quarterback has been sacked 30 times and hit 96 times since the beginning of the 2017 season -- both of which are among the fewest in the NFL.  The Jags ranked fifth in pass protection by Football Outsiders in 2o17 and are currently 11th in 2018. According to Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars O-Line -- ranked 15th overall by the analytics website -- had allowed just one of the four sacks that Bortles suffered through the first three weeks of the current season. Bortles was sacked 85 times combined in 2015 and 2016.

Going Deep

One of the best ways of being efficient and putting points on the board for quarterbacks is making big-time plays, especially ones of 20 yards or longer. Bortles ranks 14th with 14 completions of 20 or more yards and is 11th with two completions of at least 40 yards. He has connected on passes of over 20 yards in three of his four games this year, including two games of hitting on five or more big plays. Bortles completed seven passes of 20 or more yards against the New York Giants in Week 1, then connected on five passes of at least 20 versus the New England Patriots (Week 2).

Bortles has hooked up with Westbrook for 20 or more yards on six occasions. Cole has four such receptions while Moncrief, Yeldon and Seferian-Jenkins have at least one catch of 20 or more yards. Bortles ranks below average in passer ratings on throws over 20 yards in both the middle and right quadrants according to NFL NextGen stats. However, his rating of 95.8 on bombs to the left is well above the league average.

Bortles has four touchdown passes longer than 20 yards this season.

Mobility

Bortles is one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league. He is fourth among quarterbacks with 33.0 rushing yards a game as he has totaled at least 27 yards on the ground in each of the first four games of the season. Last year, he produced 20.0 yards a contest.

 

Bortles Is A Solid Fantasy Option

Bortles has been a borderline QB1 option over the last two years. Among quarterbacks, he finished 13th in fantasy points (15.6) last season and currently sits 12th (19.8) in 2018. Bortles is averaging 19.5 points a game over his last 10 contests with a medium score of 22.06. Both of which are very solid, especially when the median fantasy score this season is around 16.0 a game this season and 15.0 per game last season for quarterbacks.

The real question for fantasy owners is should Bortles be the only quarterback on your roster, thus going with a streaming option the rest of the way? This means that you would trade away your mid-level fantasy starting quarterbacks even if it is Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. All three quarterbacks are behind Bortles in fantasy points at this point in the season.

This is a really tough question as consistency has been an issue for Bortles even through this recent stretch. He has produced two real dud games during this period, tallying 3.2 points in Week 16 (2017) and 8.9 points in Week 3. On the other hand, he has six games of 20 or more points with a max of 32 points.

However, only four quarterbacks have accumulated 15 or more points through the first four weeks of the season. So, you could do absolutely do worse than having Bortles on your roster.

Personally, I would not trade away Brady or Rodgers as both of their teams rely heavily on them. New England finally had most of their weapons available in Week 5 against Indianapolis and the Patriots hung 38 points on their opponent for a second consecutive week. Brady completed 77% of his passes for 341 yards along with three touchdowns and two interceptions versus the Colts. He also had a rushing touchdown. Brady now has three different three-touchdown games this season.

Rodgers is still working his way back after suffering a knee injury in the season opener. He has three quality receivers and a solid tight end at his disposal. With the return of running back Aaron Jones from suspension, the Packers once again have a formidable ground game. Rodgers has attempted more than 40 passes in each of his last three games. He's simply too good to give up on despite some injuries at the WR position.

Wilson is almost as inconsistent as Bortles. The difference this year is that the Seahawks lack impact skill position players this year and their offensive line is shaky. If there is one stud QB you can consider trading or even benching for Bortles, he would be the one.

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