Estimating Julio Jones' Impact on the Titans' Offense and AJ Brown's Fantasy Football Appeal
The Tennessee Titans' offense was simply one of the best in the NFL in 2020.
They finished fourth in points scored last season, and they were even better -- third -- by numberFire's opponent-adjusted expected points model.
So when you inject future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Julio Jones into the offense, it has to mean good things.
But just how might it impact fellow receiver AJ Brown and the rest of the offense for 2021?
Julio Jones' Potential Impact on the Titans' Offense
We have a few ways to gauge Jones' impact on an NFL offense, one of which is looking at splits with and without him in the offenses in which he has played. Specifically, that's the Atlanta Falcons' offense, where he has played his entire career thus far.
Last season, in seven games during which Jones played at least 25 snaps, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan notched an average of 324.3 yards and 2.1 passing touchdowns per game. In games without Julio playing relevant snaps, Ryan averaged 256.8 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game.
From a Net Expected Points (NEP) standpoint, Ryan was also completely different with and without Julio.
In games with Jones healthy, Ryan's Passing NEP per drop back was 0.34 (league-average was 0.11). In games without Jones healthy, Ryan's mark fell to 0.05.
Via NextGenStats, since 2016, the Falcons' passing offense has managed 8.2 yards per attempt on plays with Jones on the field and just 7.1 on plays without him. As for adjusted yards per attempt, we're looking at 8.9 with him and 8.0 without him. From their expected points model, that works out to 0.17 with Julio and 0.02 without Julio.
So, no matter how you cut it, we're looking at a marked improvement with Jones on the field, which isn't surprising. But the efficiency gaps are massive, and that's very promising for Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the offense.
Julio Jones' Potential Impact on AJ Brown
Perhaps the best corollary to figure out how Jones could impact Brown is to look at how Jones and Falcons teammate Calvin Ridley coincided in 2020.
We have a sample with and without Jones to dig into, and Ridley was a big-time performer overall in 2020. Sounds like a good place to start.
Here are some detailed numbers on Ridley's 2020 season in games with and without Jones playing heavy snaps.
Despite a bump in targets per game and nearly half of the team's air yards in games without Jones, Ridley's per-game fantasy production fell primarily due to the lack of touchdowns.
This speaks to the positive impact that Jones made on the Falcons' offense, but the opportunity was still strong with and without Julio, a reassuring notion when trying to project Brown this season.
Here's some more data.
Despite the dip in touchdowns, Ridley's yards per route increased without Julio, which is promising when anticipating Brown's efficiency.
Also, Ridley faced press coverage on 26.0% of his routes in games with Jones, a number that increased to 31.0% in games without Jones. So, yeah. If Julio plays, Brown should still see plenty of work and face less coverage.
If Jones misses time, then Brown should be unleashed.
Sometimes it's that easy.
Julio Jones' and AJ Brown's Fantasy Football Projections for 2021
Since July, Brown has an average draft position of 24th overall in NFC drafts. Jones' is 42nd, and Tannehill's is 90th. Respectively, those rank as the WR8, WR17, and QB12 draft positions.
numberFire's projections agree with all of those marks.
numberFire's half-PPR projections anticipate Brown to finish as the WR7 on a line of 98 catches, 155 targets, 1,404 yards, and 9.8 touchdowns. Jones is pegged as the WR16 on a 91-catch, 139-target, 1,172-yard, 7.8-touchdown season.
Tannehill ranks as the QB12 and is projected for 4,360 passing yards and 32.1 passing touchdowns -- as well as 209 rushing yards and 2.2 scores on the ground.
Frankly, Jones' positive impact on offenses should keep us bullish on Tannehill and even Brown after a high-end output in 2020 as an overall offense.
While Brown's volume could dip, the added efficiency can help him overcome that. And if Jones again struggles with health, then we're getting a huge surge in work for Brown -- at a baked-in draft-day discount.