Is There Any Reason to Worry About Julio Jones in Fantasy Football This Season?
But for the past few years, we have been saying this is going to be the year Julio's production falls off. What evidence is there to support that?
Is it because he is turning 31 years old? A top-10 fantasy wide receiver has averaged 282.8 PPR points over the past three years. There have been 21 instances of a 30-plus year old wide receiver scoring more points than that since the year 2000. When you factor in that teams didn't pass the ball back 20 years ago like they do today, that number will likely only grow. Age should not be much of a factor when looking at Jones for 2020.
Jones still has quarterback Matt Ryan throwing him the ball, so there isn't a lack of connection between him and his quarterback. Dirk Koetter is also still the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator. Koetter has called plays for the Falcons offense for four years -- with a stint as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach sandwiched in between -- and Jones has always been a major part of the attack.
These are just a few of the obvious reasons we shouldn't be counting out Jones heading into the 2020 season. And while Jones is by no means cheap -- he's the WR4 and 16th overall pick, per July ADP data from BestBall10 -- let's take a look at some of the important reasons you shouldn't be afraid to draft Julio when you are on the clock in the second round.
He Is Going to Be Targeted -- a Lot
Here is the percentage of Falcons wide receiver targets Julio has received the past three years and where that ranks across the league.
|Year||Targets||Rank||Percentage of WR Targets||Rank|
Last year we saw Jones's share of receiver targets drop below 40%, likely because of the emergence of Calvin Ridley. The Falcons haven't had a really good number-two wide receiver since Roddy White, and Ridley is finally giving Julio some help.
Even with his target share dropping, Julio still ranked in the top three in total targets. The Falcons love targeting the wide receiver position, and Ridley is part of the reason for that along with Julio. Here is the same chart as above but for the Falcons team as a whole.
|Year||WR Targets||Rank||Percentage of Total Targets||Rank|
The Falcons don't stray from targeting the wide receiver position, doing so 402 times last year, which came out to 65% of their total pass attempts. Russell Gage and Mohamed Sanu made up 27.2% of the other wide receiver targets. Sanu isn't on the team any longer, and Gage is much less talented than Jones or Ridley.
Austin Hooper saw over seven targets per game in 2019. The previous two years, he had 5.3 and 3.9 targets per game. Hooper is now off of the team, and Hayden Hurst was traded for from the Baltimore Ravens. Hurst is quite unproven and may take time to be as incorporated into the offense, which was the case with Hooper prior to 2019.
In the three missed games by Hooper last year, the Falcons targeted the tight end position only nine times total. The tight end position was targeted 6% of the time in those games, compared to the wide receivers being targeted 76% of the time. Julio was also banged up during those games, so he did not see a major uptick in targets, but Ridley averaged over 10 targets per game during that span.
While no one is saying Hurst will average three targets per game, there's a chance he doesn't walk right into the same high-volume role Hooper had in 2019, especially with a hectic offseason to get acclimated to the Falcons. As a result, Jones could easily see are bump in targets this year, and at a minimum, the loss of Hooper solidifies Julio as a target hog once more. We project him for 149 targets, which is equal to his total from a year ago and slots in third among receivers.
The Falcons Might Throw More in 2020
The Falcons have come a long way -- in the wrong direction -- since their Super Bowl appearance. Since that 2016 campaign, they have finished 10-6, 7-9, and 7-9 in the following three seasons. The defense has taken major steps back.
In 2017 they gave up 315 points. They allowed 423 points in 2018 and 299 last year. According to SharpFootballStats, the Falcons faced the seventh-hardest schedule of opposing offenses in 2019. In 2020 they are currently projected to face the hardest schedule of offenses in the league -- with two games apiece versus the Bucs and Saints
Last year Atlanta was the 20th-ranked team in defensive efficiency, per our schedule-adjusted metrics, and we have them projected as the 22nd-best defense for 2020. The Falcons have a tougher schedule this season and should be every bit as bad -- or possibly worse -- defensively.
With opposing offenses putting up more points, Atlanta is going to be trailing more often and should be forced to push the ball downfield. The Falcons ran 406 plays when trailing by more than one score in 2019. They ran only 211 such played in 2018 and 99 in 2017.
Julio was the highest-targeted player for the Falcons when they were down by more than a score last year, getting 17.5% of the looks in the split. Ridley was the next highest-targeted player, but Sanu and Hooper followed him. Sanu and Hooper made up 24.5% of the target share that now is available in this negative game script.
When teams are down, they are also forced to speed up their pace of play. Football Outsiders had the Falcons at 29.9 seconds per play in neutral game script. That number decreased to 25.0 seconds per play when they were trailing by seven-plus points. Fewer seconds between plays means more plays are going to be run, creating more opportunities for fantasy points.
Jones Can Still Hang With the Best of Them
Julio has been one of the most dominant wide receivers in football over his career, and 2019 was no different. He ranked third in total Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) behind only Michael Thomas and Chris Godwin. We actually haven't seen Julio's efficiency stats change much over his career. The table below shows each season in which Jones had at least 75 targets.
|Year||Reception NEP Per Reception||Target NEP Per Target||Reception NEP Per Target|
If Julio is dropping off at all, it isn't exactly showing in any of his NEP stats. Each of his 2019 numbers rank within 0.05 NEP of the average over his career.
He had the 12th-most red zone targets among receivers last year with 31. In 2018 he had the second-most with 46. We have seen Jones reach double-digit touchdowns just once in his career, but with enough targets, especially if he can capitalize on the red zone looks, he could reach that milestone again.
He is also the only receiver to post over 1,300 yards every year since 2014. That is six straight years. No other wide receiver has done that more than three times over that same span. Odell Beckham, Davante Adams, and DeAndre Hopkins have all been in the league since 2014, and they haven't come close to Julio in yearly yardage totals.
As we said early on, Jones is currently going in the early-to-mid second round in fantasy drafts as the 16th overall pick. Only three wide receivers are going before him. They are Thomas, Adams, and Tyreek Hill. You could make the case each of them could easily be the number-one fantasy wide receiver in 2020, but Julio certainly is not far behind.
We currently have Jones projected for 94 receptions, 1,315 yards and 6.1 touchdowns, which ranks him as the WR6 behind Mike Evans and Godwin as well as the three previously mentioned wideouts. Touchdowns are really the difference maker for Julio. Each of the wide receivers ahead of him in our projections are projected to have more touchdowns than him. Plus it remains to be seen if Tom Brady can support both Evans and Godwin as top-five fantasy wide receivers.
While touchdowns may limit Julio's ceiling, his yardage and receptions give him the safest floor at the position outside of Thomas (and maybe Adams). Jones' ADP is right where it should be. If you get a top tier running back in the first round, you could easily grab Julio, the safest wide receiver in the draft, as your WR1 in the second and know that he isn't going to hurt you. Even starting a draft with Adams and then Julio would give you an amazing duo at wide receiver, allowing you to hammer running back through the next few rounds.
All in all, you should have no fear with Jones in 2020.