Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was, well, not very good in 2016. It’s easy to look at the high-level overview statistics and draw that conclusion: 3,905 yards, 58.9 completion percentage, 23 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, two fumbles, three wins and a quarterback rating of 78.8. According to NFL.com, his rating ranked 42nd in the league overall, and it also ranked 27th out of quarterbacks with at least 200 passing attempts.
The patience of fans is wearing thin regarding Bortles, to say the very least. Not to mention, there is an increasing amount of chatter that Jacksonville is considering drafting Clemson quarterback, Deshaun Watson, with the No. 4 overall selection.
So, all of this got me thinking. If I were to delve deeper into Bortles’ 2016 passing metrics, what would I find? Are the critics right about the former No. 3 overall pick? Or will the metrics pleasantly surprise us? Let’s take a look, using my new favorite analytical football tool, Sharp Football Stats.
Directional passer rating
Bortles is not making his case here. On the season overall, his rating when throwing to the left side of the field on passes of 15 yards or more was 23. Come on, man, 23? That is by far the lowest in the league (next lowest was Matt Barkley at 31). According to Sharp Football, Bortles completed 12 of 50 passes for 270 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions in that field zone.
He fared a little bit better when throwing deep to the right, but still not very good (61 rating, 10 of 32, one touchdown and one interception). On deep passes to the middle, Bortles received a rating of 50 (11 of 30, one score, one interception).
His numbers look better on shorter throws. From throws of zero to 14 yards, Bortles had a rating of 87 to the left side, 95 to the middle and 86 to the right. These shorter throws accounted for 20 of his 23 touchdown passes.
FUN FACT: When throwing a pass 15 or more yards to the left side of the field on second down, Bortles had a rating of zero. He completed three of 18 passes for 53 yards and two interceptions.
Directional completion percentage
This was slightly touched on in the previous section, but let’s look at completion percentage by direction. As noted, Bortles really struggled throwing the deep ball to his left — completing just 24 percent of his passes there. Struggling on throws to the left is not really uncommon for quarterbacks who use their right arm to throw. But this was bad.
What is interesting about that, though, is that Bortles actually throws a baseball with his left arm and bats left as well, as per his high school baseball days. Again, shorter throws of 14 yards or less worked out better for him. He completed 67 percent of his passes there.
He then completed 37 percent of his deep middle attempts and 31 percent of his deep right throws. For shorter throws, Bortles completed 64 percent of his passes to the middle of the field, and also posted a 66 percent clip on throws toward the right.
ANOTHER FUN FACT: Bortles actually had an ever-so-slightly higher completion percentage overall in 2016 (59.6) than his stellar year in 2015 (59.6).
Aerial Passing Distance
This is an interesting metric — in short, it’s comparing yards in the air versus yards gained after the receiver caught the ball. So, 56 percent of yards gained from Bortles’ completions came via the ball traveling through the air, while 44 percent of the yardage gained was from runs after the catch. That ranked 28th out of the 40 quarterbacks listed on the chart.
A coinciding chart shows that Bortles threw the ball short of the first down sticks on 84 percent of his passing attempts. That sounds high, but the league average was 82 percent. He ranked 29th out of 40 quarterbacks, though.
MORE FUN FACTS: According to Sharp, Bortles completed zero passes that traveled in the air for 35 yards or more (counting yards in the air only, not yardage gained after the catch).
(You’ll have to look all the way toward the bottom of the following chart screenshot to find Bortles.)
Directional Pass Frequency
We’ll cut Blake a bit of a break here, as this chart is simply showing the overall frequency of when he chose to pass to the left, right or middle.
The majority of his throws came on short passes to the left or right (29 percent each) while he threw to the short middle zone 24 percent of the time. For deep passes, we see he threw eight percent of those attempts to the left, and five percent to both the middle and right sides.
So, drawing conclusions from this research, yes, Bortles was really that bad in terms of throwing the football in 2016. There are other factors to consider for his poor play — an offensive coordinator change in the middle of the season, a subpar run game, whatever you want to say. But this level of play is not all right.
We’ve seen what he is capable of in 2015, and personally, I’m not ready to chase him out of town just yet — at least not for a quarterback in this rather weak 2017 rookie class.
But this year has to be make or break for the UCF product. He needs to be on a short leash. If Bortles struggles this badly again in 2017, Dave Caldwell needs to swallow his pride and finally admit he got the Bortles pick wrong, and then move on.
NOTE: There are some discrepancies between the NFL.com statistics and Sharp Football statistics used (such as passing attempts).