Why Is Julio Jones So Ordinary?

The Atlanta Falcons receiver has endured a disappointing season, and it might not get better.

Since being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2011, Julio Jones has been among the elite at his position. Only Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas had more receptions than his 589, and his 8,964 receiving yards are the most behind only Brown, while his 46 touchdown receptions are good for ninth. These numbers have translated into reality and fantasy football success. His 1,772 points per reception (PPR) make him the WR3 from 2011 to present day.

Through nine games, he is ninth among wide receivers with 49 receptions and fifth in yards with 715. But something is missing. This does not seem to be the player that fantasy owners drafted very early in the first round of their drafts this summer.

So what's the problem?

Seeing Less Work

We'll use Net Expected Points (NEP) to take deeper look at Jones' season. This is our metric that tracks the expected points added on each play throughout the season for both teams and players with the team totals being adjusted for strength of opponent. NEP gives us the context to know that a three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is much more valuable than that same completion on 3rd and 4. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.

In 2015, there were 32 wide receivers who saw at least 100 targets, while this number jumped to 41 in 2016. Jones is one of 18 such players to see at least 70 targets so far this season. The average Reception NEP per target for these players was 0.67 in 2015 and 0.66 in 2016, while this season it is currently 0.66.

The table below shows Jones' targets and Reception NEP per target for the last three seasons.

Julio Jones Targets Rank Reception NEP per Target Rank
2015 203 1st 0.73 14th
2016 129 17th 0.89 1st
2017 76 12th 0.67 11th

It is clear that Jones is seeing less volume in the last two seasons than he did in 2015. Last year, we can see he was ridiculously productive whenever he was targeted -- not that often in comparison with his peers -- and was well above the median in terms of NEP. This season, he is only 0.01 ahead of the average.

Ruthlessly Efficient?

In concert with Reception NEP per target, we also need to take into account Success Rate. Success Rate is the percentage of plays a player makes that positively impact his NEP.

Julio Jones Success Rate Rank
2015 84.56% 19th
2016 95.18% 2nd
2017 90.00% T-5th

It's clear that despite Jones' targets going down from his monster 2015 numbers, he's actually become much more efficient. In the last two seasons, he has begun to make better use of his targets, rather than simply relying on volume to perform.

But hang on. Jones had a 95.18% Success Rate in 2015 and paced the league in terms of Reception NEP per target as well. So why is his Reception NEP per target so disappointing this time around?

A lack of explosion may be to blame.

Get Him the Ball

Through the first ten weeks of the 2016 season, Jones had 61 receptions for 1,105 yards and 5 touchdowns. As we leave Week 10 of this season behind us, we know that Jones has seen 21 fewer targets than at this stage last season, 12 fewer receptions, and 4 less touchdowns. He has played nine games, compared to ten at this stage last year.

So the biggest difference between then and now? After ten games last season, Jones had 21 receptions of at least 20 yards. This season, through nine games, he has just 8.

The Falcons offense itself, while still performing at a high level, is also well behind last season's pace. The passing game has produced 875 fewer yards in just one less game, as well as 11 less touchdown passes. While they have attempted 231 rushes this season, they only had 249 at this stage. The difference in rushing yardage is just 26, with the 2016 Falcons managing 1,076 to this year's 1,050.

Looking Ahead

Julio Jones continues to be among the most efficient players at his position in the league, but at present he is part of a functional offense that is not hitting the big plays that it performed so regularly last year. As such, it is hard to get excited about his fantasy appeal.

numberFire's Barry Cohen notes that Jones, has been held to single-digit points in six of nine games this season. Barry believes that this week's Monday Night Football matchup between the Falcons and the Richard Sherman-less Seattle Seahawks could be a good chance for Jones to get right, but notes that our projections don't see a lot of end zone visiting for him.

Our rest of season projections have Jones finishing as the WR4 from here on out, but it should be noted that Jones has already seen the "soft" part of his schedule. Below are the teams that the Falcons still have to take on this season, as well as their Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play positions.

Team Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play Rank
Seahawks -0.06 5th
Buccaneers 0.18 23rd
Vikings 0.04 14th
Saints -0.09 2nd
Buccaneers 0.18 23rd
Saints -0.09 2nd
Panthers -0.01 8th

Aside from two enticing matchups against the currently hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons are facing a murderer's row of pass defenses. It could just be that this season was never meant to be special for Julio. In a season that has robbed us of the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Odell Beckham, Jones and his owners may find themselves almost wishing he hadn't played.