One of our favorite things to do as sports fans is compare the performance of our current athletes with those from the past to glean some sort of insight into who was better.
In the big picture it's a bit silly because the game (especially football) has changed so much even over the past 15 years. Still, we can dig deeper into the numbers to analyze what a player with a certain profile may do in the future.
Blake Bortles had a phenomenal breakout season from a Fantasy Football perspective in 2015. He finished fourth in Fantasy points at the position behind only Cam Newton, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. Looking at it historically, he was only the third quarterback in NFL history age 23 or younger to toss 35 touchdown passes. The other two were Dan Marino and Matthew Stafford. Marino and Kurt Warner were the only two to throw that many touchdown passes in their sophomore campaign.
Bortles has a slew of young wide receivers who figure to get even better, and his team as a whole is projected to be one of the most improved in the NFL. So, Bortles is a surefire starting quarterback in Fantasy, right? I'm not so sure. Let's compare his season to the three others we've referenced:
* Touchdown passes the following year
The first thing that sticks out is that Bortles was nowhere near as good as the other three quarterbacks referenced above. I'm going to cover this more in a minute, but his completion percentage and yards per attempt do not suggest a top-10 Fantasy quarterback. But the more important statistic is the final column. As good as those other three quarterbacks were, none of them came anywhere close to their touchdown total the next year.
Maybe you think it's a different era, so Bortles will be different. Bortles threw 35 TDs last season with a 5.8 percent TD rate. Over the past five years, 13 quarterbacks have matched or bettered those numbers. Three got hurt the next year, two improved their TD total the following year and eight regressed. Those eight lost an average of 17 percent of their touchdowns. As Chris Towers wrote last year, it's rarely a good idea to pay for last year's touchdown production.
I want to make sure I don't gloss over the other fact. Outside of touchdowns, Blake Bortles was really bad last year. According to pro-football-reference.com, Bortles had an ANY/A (think yards per attempt with factors for touchdowns, interceptions and sacks) of 6.09 in 2015. That's the lowest mark for any quarterback to ever throw 35 touchdown passes.
There is certainly a chance that Bortles improves in 2016. After all, he's just 24 years old. I ran a search, looking for second-year quarterbacks who completed between 55 percent and 60 percent of their passes with 7.0-7.5 Y/A.
The list is ... not great.
Not one other quarterback on the list ever threw even 30 touchdown passes. I removed the sophomore restriction and just looked at all quarterbacks to reach these marks since 2010. You get a lot of backups and then names like Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning and Stafford.
That is a list of qualified NFL quarterbacks and good company for Bortles to aspire to. But he's not there yet.
To be clear, those weren't the good years for those quarterbacks. In fact, they were some of their worst. Stafford was the only one of the group to post a top-10 Fantasy season, and that's because he threw the ball 634 times. Also, I chose the best names on the list. I could have just as easily referenced Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton or Drew Stanton.
All of this is to say that if you draft Blake Bortles expecting him to throw 35 touchdowns again, you're going to have a bad time. I wouldn't touch him in the top-12 quarterbacks.
Bortles is a solid backup quarterback you're hoping develops into a Fantasy starter. The time to draft that player is the Derek Carr/Jameis Winston portion of the draft, long after you've selected at least one starting quarterback and several other skill position players.
Many people will be down on Matt Ryan after the worst year of his career, but I'd much rather draft Ryan than Bortles in the late rounds.