Blake Bortles just got a three-year, $54 million deal. In the span of one season, Bortles went from a guy who looked like he was in danger of being benched before the season even began, to one that should now be the starter in Jacksonville for at least two more years. It’s a bridge contract, certainly not a high-end longterm deal, but does provide Bortles some security entering next season.
In doing so, the Jacksonville Jaguars are banking that Bortles will be the guy that showed flashes last season and flourished with a power running game and good defense.
So who is Blake Bortles? Well, he’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside someone who described himself as “not a natural thrower of the football.” Before 2017, he could rack up some garbage time yards and touchdowns while the Jaguars were (often) behind, but his poor play early in games was a big factor in trailing. He was, and still is, inconsistent.
But similar to what I did with the rookie quarterbacks, I decided to look at some statistical comps to see what historical seasons were most similar to what Bortles has done. This is the first in a series dealing with the young quarterbacks of 2017, from Carson Wentz to Dak Prescott to Jameis Winston.
But I’m also adding not only a season comparison, but also a comparison to career numbers after the same number of years into a career. And these comparisons, well, they show that the Jaguars’ move is a calculated gamble, and there is plenty to dislike (or like) depending on your view.
So let’s start with Bortles’ numbers through his career, where he has started 61 games over 4 years, averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, and thrown 90 touchdowns to 64 interceptions.
Here are the 10 most similar starts at the same age (within one year of age) after four seasons, league-adjusted for average yearly stats at the QB position:
Mark Sanchez, of course, was known for making two championship games with the Jets, but never panned out. His fourth season was his last as a starter, as the Jets, and he were moving in the opposite direction. Most of the top 5 is a bad look (and we don’t know if Andrew Luck will make it back) but the rest of the most similar 10 at least provides some hope.
But let’s turn to last year only.
Bortles, statistically, was better than you might have realized in 2017. He wasn’t a pro bowler or anything, but he put up pretty much near -league-average stats in all rate categories, and his sack rate has improved dramatically since the first two years. It’s also a reminder that plenty of highly drafted quarterbacks have been about average statistically at age 25 and had good careers. This is also a reminder that John Elway’s early career numbers were quite pedestrian. Elway–in a different era–averaged less than 7.0 yards per attempt from ages 24 to 26 and barely had more TD passes than interceptions.
I don’t know that Bortles will develop like some of those other quarterbacks, but 2017 was definitely a key year in his career, and one that provides some hope. All contracts are risky but this one seems to be a calculated gamble that could pay off if Bortles builds on last year as he enters his prime.