By the end of the 2015 Fantasy season, Blake Bortles was sitting at the table of the fantasy elite club, ranking fourth at the QB position. A slight dip saw him finish eighth in 2016, and his stock went tumbling down in 2017 after the acquisition of (future All-Pro) rookie Leonard Fournette in the NFL Draft, finishing 13th in the QB rankings, despite carrying a 19:8 TD/INT ratio heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
As the elite "Sacksonville" defense roughed up opponent after opponent en route to the No. 3 seed in the AFC Playoffs, Bortles had bought in to the run-first scheme under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who took over the reigns in 2017 after garnering the interim tag a season before, helping the Jaguars offense offer a balanced attack in the playoffs. After a brilliant run to the AFC Championship game, the Jaguars fell victim to possibly the greatest QB ever to lace em up in Tom Brady. Looking back at the tape, you could say the Jaguars were possibly four to five plays away from playing for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LII.
So how do Bortles (who signed a three-year, $54 Million contract in February) and company overcome Tom Brady and the rest of the AFC again to earn their shot of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this upcoming season?
The Jaguars were busy in the free agency period signing Wide Receiver Donte Moncrief, Tight-End Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, and stabilizing the offensive line with highly touted offensive guard Andrew Norwell. These key additions should help benefit Bortles in his aggressiveness to run play-action more often with defenses respecting the running game with Fournette now in the mix.
It came to a surprise to some, but with the emergence of Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, and Marquise Lee, the Jaguars stunningly let Allen Robinson walk in Free Agency after a Week One ACL tear. Robinson no doubt had the tools to emerge as a top WR in the game, but with the inconsistency of Bortles in 2016 and a change of the offensive coordinator in 2017, Robinson might have been a candidate for the franchise tag, but with so much money invested on the emerging defense, the salary cap hit with the franchise tag might have been too rich for the Jaguars front office.
So how do you go replace a player like Allen Robinson? In the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jaguars selected Wide Receiver DJ Chark out of LSU who ran a blazing 4.34 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine. Chark stands at 6'3 and has been known for his blocking pedigree at the college ranks where he was a teammate of Leonard Fournette in Baton Rouge for two seasons. Despite shaky quarterback play at LSU, Chark averaged nearly 21.5 yards per catch in 2017, ranking 7th nationally in the FBS. Scouts believed with his combination of size and speed to go along with his blocking prowess that he would be a high round pick on potential alone. Shredding the Senior Bowl with better and more consistent quarterback play, Chark emerged as a player that improved his draft stock immensely. The Jaguars pounced on the opportunity to draft Chark in the second round to replace Robinson.
Marquise Lee on paper is Jacksonville's WR1 with Cole, Westbrook, Moncrief, and Chark all vying for targets on the outside. Jacksonville only ran three-wide sets 42% of the time in 2017, but with the potential of the young WR talent and a sound running game, Bortles will have the opportunity to attack the outside more with defenses stacking the box to stop Fournette.
Let's not forget about the Tight End position! Recent reports have noted that Bortles has started to build a strong rapport with newly acquired Tight-End Austin Sefarian-Jenkins in OTA's. ASJ is big frame TE at 6'6 and to go along with a huge catch radius. The former New York Jet signed a two year, $10.5 Million contract to replace outgoing veteran Marcedes Lewis who signed with the Packers. ASJ had some alcohol related issues which led to him being traded to the Jets from the Bucs but has since cleared them from his lifestyle allowing him to focus on football. ASJ will most likely be an every down player to go along with limitless potential in the red-zone.
So will Blake Bortles rise back up to the fantasy elite? Bortles will have to elevate his game when given the opportunity and with a supporting cast of young but talented WR corps to go along with a potential top-ten TE, Bortles and crew, to go along with the elite Sackonsville defense, will make the Jaguars heavy Super Bowl favorites for the 2018 season out of the AFC.