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Can Blake Bortles Save Jacksonville From Fantasy Irrelevance?

Blake Bortles will immediately elevate multiple Jaguars’ skill position players to fantasy relevance in 2014.

Blake Bortles

A rising tide lifts all boats.
-John F. Kennedy explaining how improvements in the general economy benefit all participants.

Just as a toxic real estate market contributes to economic hardship across many sectors, rising home prices can improve many industry outlooks. This principle also applies to fantasy football. For example, great quarterback play can propel a wide receiver to WR1 status just as bad quarterback play can banish him to the WR3 doldrums.

Look at this Reggie Wayne three-year stretch:

2010 (QB: Peyton Manning): 16 games, 173 targets, 111 receptions, 1,355 yards
2011 (QBs: Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky): 16 games, 131 targets, 75 receptions, 960 yards
2012 (QB: Andrew Luck): 16 games, 194 targets, 106 receptions, 1355 yards

Wide receivers benefit from productive quarterback play in two specific ways:

1. Target Accuracy: accurate passes lead to a higher catch rate, more receiving yards, and more fantasy points per target. This was particularly evident in 2010 when Reggie Wayne enjoyed a 64.2% catch rate when receiving passes from Peyton Manning at the peak of Manning’s accuracy powers.

2. Improved Game Flow: quarterbacks can sustain drives with both passing and running ability. Longer drives lead to more team plays, yards, and touchdowns, and all offensive players ultimately benefit. This was the case for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 with Andrew Luck at quarterback. Wayne’s sheer volume allowed him to revisit the 1,355-yard mark despite the underwhelming accuracy of a rookie quarterback.

Reggie Wayne’s full season production was significantly impacted by the high and low tides created by the Colts’ quarterback play. This principle may also be applied during this fantasy football season. What if I told you that a particular NFL team, that has lived in a fantasy mud hole for many years, is one personnel move away from a franchise renaissance and team-wide return to fantasy relevance?

Blake Bortles is coming.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will be free, and the change will come sooner rather than later. Jacksonville is currently 0-2, and Chad Henne has posted a 19.0 QBR through two games. Meanwhile, the Jaguars know that Blake Bortles offers the following:

Size: 6′ 5″
Roethlisberger-esque Athleticism: 101.4 Athleticism Score (66th percentile) via PlayerProfiler.com
Uber college productivity: 77.7 QBR at UCF
Valuable draft stock: 3rd overall pick
Preseason NFL efficiency: 32-51 for 521 yards, 10.2 yards per attempt, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions

Quarterback evaluations, more than other positions, require a confluence of advanced metrics and game-tape analysis. Here is an excerpt from Bortles’ scouting report from NFL.com:

Strengths
Bortles stands tall and delivers the ball in the face of heavy pressure. Keeps his eyes downfield while climbing the pocket, can avoid the first wave and make plays with his feet — deceptively quick and plays faster than timed speed. Good field vision and release point. Is efficient throwing on the run and excels on bootlegs and play-action passing. Good zip and accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws — can fit the ball into tight windows. Fine touch to drop the ball in the bucket — delivers a catchable ball with good anticipation.

Weaknesses
Ball handling/security could stand to improve. Struggles to throw receivers open vs. better competition and will require time to adjust to the closing speed of NFL defensive backs. Footwork could use some polishing — deteriorates under duress and does not look natural on deep drops.

One trait stands out above the scout-speak: Bortles stands tall and delivers the ball in the face of heavy pressure and keeps his eyes downfield while climbing the pocket. He is the anti-Blaine Gabbert. Jacksonville fans are nodding while crying.

Pressure inside and outside the Jaguars organization is already mounting to anoint Bortles the team’s starting quarterback. When, not if, Bortles becomes the starter this season, he will immediately elevate multiple Jaguars’ skill position players to fantasy relevance. Monitor the following players closely.

Toby Gerhart

Toby Gerhart is one of only a handful of every-down running backs in the NFL. After Gerhart signed his three-year, $10.5 million contract, which includes $4.5 million guaranteed, Jacksonville General Manager Dave Caldwell said this: “I think he can be a really good fit for us on first and second down, in pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield.” Interestingly, Caldwell was a member of Atlanta’s player personnel team when the Falcons signed Michael Turner, a similar talent who also happened to be parked behind a future Hall of Famer in San Diego (LaDanian Tomlinson). Turner was immediately installed as the team’s bell cow back and exceeded 300 carries three times during his time in Atlanta.

Toby Gerhart’s workout measurables on PlayerProfiler demonstrate Michael Turner-like size and speed:

40-time: 4.50 (70th percentile)
Speed Score: 112.7 (92nd percentile)
Burst Score: 123.6 (74th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.19 (63rd percentile)

Click here to see measurables definitions.

While Gerhart has been labeled a plodder by game tape aficionados at various points during his time with the Minnesota Vikings, he and “The Burner” have equivalent straight-line speed, and Gerhart’s burst and agility far exceeds Turner’s. Gerhart is actually one of the most under-the-radar elite athletes in the NFL.

The Jaguars clearly know what they have in Gerhart. Through two weeks, the team has deployed him as the Falcons utilized Turner. Gerhart has received the lion’s share of the team’s early-down work, passing game touches, and short-yardage carries. In fact, he was the only Jaguars running back to receive a carry in week 2 and his RB Opportunity Share is NFL top-10 this season. Unfortunately, his high opportunity share has yet to translate into fantasy points. The Jaguars have rarely entered the red zone, and according to Football Outsiders, Jacksonville ranks at or near the bottom in all key run blocking metrics: Power Success (0.00%), Stuffed Rate (29%), and 2nd Level Yards (0.55).

While a great offensive line certainly boosts a running back’s productivity, opportunity is the primary driver of fantasy production. In 2013, for example, Le’Veon Bell finished the season as a top-10 fantasy running back despite playing in less than 16 games and running behind one of the worst run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. His 3.5 yards per carry were No. 64, yet his 23.9 touches per game were near the the top of the league. Opportunity is indeed king.

The Jaguars’ offense will also be more productive once Blake Bortles arrives. An effective quarterback sustains drives leading to more total carries as well as red zone scoring opportunities. Bortles’ mobility will also keep opposing linebackers from over-committing to Gerhart’s running lanes.

If Henne struggles again in week 3, Blake Bortles will likely be named the week 4 starter. The time to trade for Toby Gerhart is now.

Cecil Shorts

Cecil Shorts‘ hamstring woes have pushed his current value down to a three-year low. He and Blake Bortles may start their 2014 NFL seasons on the same week. If healthy, Cecil Shorts is a strong buy with Bortles waiting in the wings.

Look at Cecil Shorts on PlayerProfiler and his 10.57 Agility Score (98th percentile) jumps out as being faster than any starting NFL wide receiver 6′ 0″ or taller. Fast Agility Scores indicate efficient footwork and short-area quickness. In practice, elite agility enables otherwise common athletes such as Jerricho Cotchery (who suffered through Jets’ quarterback woes throughout the prime of his career) and Julian Edelman (whose 151 short and intermediate targets from Tom Brady propelled him into WR2 status in 2013) to sustain productive careers as NFL possession receivers.

Those in 12-14 team fantasy leagues starting 3-plus wide receivers should snatch and stash Cecil Shorts or look to acquire him as part of a 2-for-1 trade throw-in.

All The Allens

With Marqise Lee currently OUT with a hamstring injury, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson become intriguing deep league pickups.

Hurns’ workout metrics may underwhelm, but he has repeatedly demonstrated a knack for playing the wide receiver position. He was the first WR since since Stephen Hill to register 20-plus fantasy points in his first professional game. Hurns, not Andre Johnson, and not Reggie Wayne, holds the University of Miami (FL) record for receiving yards in a season. He is tentatively expected to start this Sunday, will likely be productive over the next couple weeks, and his value will only increase once Bortles takes the helm.

Allen Robinson may not be a starter yet, but his prospect metrics on PlayerProfiler.com indicate he compares favorably to Dez Bryant and is a fantasy WR1 in the making.

College Dominator: 37.9% (69th percentile)
Breakout Age: 19.0 (86th percentile)
40-time: 4.55* (40th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score (HaSS): 104.1 (76th percentile)
Burst Score: 129.8 (85th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.00 (67th percentile)

Click here to see measurables definitions.

Allen Robinson, a second round pick, missed a significant portion of training camp and preseason action with a hamstring injury. Then, Robinson suddenly received a 60 percent snap share in week 2 and led the team in targets, receptions, and yards. As the season progresses, he will continue to expand his route tree and get more comfortable with the offense. Given his uber profile, Allen could overtake the undrafted Hurns and become a sneaky WR3 playing the full-time X-receiver role opposite either Shorts or Lee later in the season.

It is always darkest before the dawn. It’s 5:00 AM in Jacksonville, and Blake Bortles is wide awake.

Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.

*Allen Robinson’s 40-time is a blend of his NFL Scouting Combine and Penn State Pro Day times because of the significant disparity between the two values.

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