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Spotlight: Julio Jones

posted by Jeff Pasquino on Aug 3rd


Jeff Pasquino's thoughts

The old myth was that a wide receiver was most poised to break out in their third year, but there are so many reasons to expect that Julio Jones arrives on the big stage one year early that it is hard not to get excited about his upside. Let's start with a review of his rookie season and build from there. When the Atlanta Falcons leveraged their 2010 and 2011 draft picks to move up to the sixth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, many thought that Atlanta overpaid for the privilege of selecting Julio Jones. The Falcons were one of those teams that were desperate for another offensive weapon, and they seemed to be putting most - if not all - of their eggs in the basket of the big target from the University of Alabama. Well, after just one NFL season, both the Falcons and fans of Julio Jones could not be happier with the results. Jones put up solid yardage and touchdown numbers in his first campaign (54 catches, 959 yards and eight touchdowns) - and that was in just 13 games. Fantasy owners were more than pleased too with his 15.7 points per game average in PPR leagues (10.8 in standard leagues), ending the year as the 12th best wide receiver in both formats on a per-game basis.

That is one of the first things to consider when evaluating Jones' prospects for 2012 - he only played in 13 games. If he had just been able to suit up for 16 contests - a reasonable expectation for most NFL wide receivers - then he immediately becomes a borderline fantasy WR1 as a rookie. That's a pretty rare feat, and it already begins to justify his Top 10 ADP for the coming season. To further the point, look at what Jones did over the final five regular season games last year - 24 catches, 485 total yards, six touchdowns. Projecting that over a full season would just be ridiculous. Let's take a quick look at Jones' actual 2011 numbers, what that would have meant over 16 games, and also an extrapolation of the final five contests over 16 games as well:

Category Rushes Yards YPR TD Recs Yards YPC TDs FPTs FPTs-PPR
2011-Actual (13gms) 6 56 9.33 0 54 959 17.76 8 149.5 203.5
2011-Pro Rated (16gms) 7 69 9.86 0 66 1180 17.88 10 184.9 250.9
2011-Final 5 Weeks 2 15 7.50 0 24 461 19.21 6 83.6 107.6
2011-Pro Rated 5 Weeks(16gms) 6 48 8.00 0 77 1475 19.16 19 266.3 343.3

Of course that last projection is ridiculous - Jones will not be scoring 19 touchdowns or cracking 300+ fantasy PPR points any time soon, but it does give some indication of just how much better he became in the second half of his rookie year as opposed to his first 7 NFL contests. Jones looks poised to break out for 2012.

But of course there are more reasons to love Jones for the coming year. The Falcons just added a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter who is putting in a more wide open passing game that will be of quicker pace and take advantage of the younger and more athletic Jones in the passing attack. Jones had just 94 targets last year, third on the team and far below Roddy White's ridiculously high 179 targets. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez fell in between the two wide receivers with 116 chances last year. Koetter's offense will focus on speed, the ability to separate and create space, with an emphasis on getting the ball in the hands of players who can make big plays and get yards after the catch. That description screams Jones over Tony Gonzalez, who has lost more than just one step at the age of 36.

Of course the passing game depends on two other big factors - the quarterback and the ground game. Matt Ryan has been working all offseason under Koetter to learn this new offense. Atlanta is definitely moving towards a more up-tempo, faster paced offense with more passing and play action options for this year. As far as the running backs go, Michael Turner is also on the downside of his career at age 30, and he is hardly a factor in the passing game (just 26 targets last season). Jacquizz Rodgers will likely get more involved in the passing attack this year, but Turner's lack of receiving skills and inability to make big plays at this stage of his career is in part why the Falcons tried a half dozen rushes with Julio Jones last season. The bigger picture is simply that Atlanta's best weapons right now are White, Jones and even Gonzalez - so it makes perfect sense for a team that has playoff aspirations and hunger to emphasize a passing attack with a young quarterback who is hungry for his first playoff victory.

All of this points towards a big, big year in 2012 for Julio Jones, and all the early reports on what is happening this offseason are in lock step with this outlook. Jones was described as the MVP for the Falcons' June minicamp, and NFL great Jerry Rice has nominated Jones as the most likely breakout wide receiver for 2012. The bigger statements come from head Coach Mike Smith and also quarterback Matt Ryan who both heaped praise on Jones' performance in getting ready for the coming season. Looking at all the evidence from both last year and the news from this offseason and it is easy to say that Jones will have an even bigger second year come this fall.

Positives

  • Last season's numbers for Jones were in just 13 contests, so projecting that over 16 games moves him up several notches in performance, especially considering his points per game average
  • New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is putting in a wide open, faster paced offense that will emphasize the passing game and get the ball in Jones' hands more often this year
  • A faster pace on offense means more of Jones and less touches for older veterans on offense such as TE Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner
  • Roddy White had far too many targets (179) last year - look for more balance on offense as more of White's chances get redirected to Jones
  • Michael Turner's workload will be cut this year, both because of age and lack of production. That means more passing game and more workload for Jones
  • Jones gets the full benefit of a full offseason between his first and second year, a big bonus for a player looking to take the leap upwards into an elite wide receiver status

Negatives

  • Matt Ryan will be a key figure in the new Atlanta offense, but he failed to connect with both Roddy White (56%) and Julio Jones (57%) on a consistent basis. Can Ryan improve his accuracy and ratchet up Jones' catch percentage?
  • Dirk Koetter did not exactly set the world on fire while in Jacksonville. Can his new offense really boost the production in Atlanta?
  • Jones will not be sneaking up on anyone in his second season. Roddy White must continue to draw some coverage away from Jones, and Tony Gonzalez must be a viable third target to keep defenses honest

Final thoughts

If you asked me what wide receiver outside of the Top 10 last year is most likely to land in that elite tier this coming season, that short list would have to include Julio Jones, and it probably would be the first name I mention. The Falcons are making it no secret that they want to throw the ball more and play faster, which points right at getting the ball in their best playmaker's hands as often as possible. Matt Ryan should be targeting Julio Jones at least eight times a week this coming year, which means that Jones should easily crack the 120 target level for 2012. With shorter passes and more ability to get the ball in space and show off Jones' speed, I can easily see Jones catching 60% of his targets (ahead of his 57% last year). His yards per catch may decrease, but even if it drops a full yard from last year's large 17.8 number his increased receptions will more than make up for that. I have Jones in the 75-80 catch range and about 16.5 yards per catch, pushing him right into that WR1 category for this season.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

TheDirtyWord said:

Do you realize that if Julio Jones plays all 16 games (he played 13) in 2011, his projected/prorated totals would look like this?

66 Receptions
1180 Receiving Yards
10 TDs

This is despite the fact that he missed the equivalent of 3 quarters due to injuries in other games and one other game before he was completely healthy where he was shut out. The ceiling for Julio is consistent Top 5 WR which I think he could be in 2012 and quite frankly, I would take him over Andre Johnson or Roddy White.

Julio was seen as a guy that could stretch the field. But in reality, from what I saw in 2011 - he can do it all. He can go deep. He can make spectacular catches. He can go across the middle. He can get YAC. He can be a high target guy. In baseball, you would call Julio a 5-tool player. I don't think there is a limit to his abilities. And with a full off-season to continue to continue to acclimate himself with the NFL game and the Falcons playbook, I think he'll take over as the Falcons WR1 this season.

Tall order you say? How come? Roddy is still one of the better WR's in the NFL and Ryan's rapport with him has not diminished.

1) Roddy is a tremendous player at creating separation at the LOS and over the years has developed into a solid route runner. His 'fight for the ball' skills and his catch radius (he's 6'0) though are simply OK. Julio's potential in his area is huge and if you saw his catch against TB in the final regular season game of the season, you saw a glimpse of the type of player he could be when fighting for the ball. Plus at a legit 6'3 220 with better speed than Roddy, with an off-season to improve his rapport with Ryan, he'll simply make for a more inviting target, particularly with a QB who has developed into a risk-averse one. Simply put, Julio already is more difficult to defend.

2) When the Falcons made the trade for Julio, a lot of people thought it was simply a win now move. But I've always seen it as a long-term move. Roddy White is 30. He's still top tier NFL WR, but he won't be Ryan's top tier WR for the remainder of Ryan's career. The Falcons motivation for the move was to provide Ryan his WR1 for the remainder of his career and allow Julio to grow into the role. My original prognostication was that this would happen in 2013/2014. But I've seen enough. He's ready.

FF Ninja said:

I agree with the notion that Julio could outproduce White this year. In his rookie season he caught 54 of 94 passes for 57.4% while White caught 100 of an astounding 179 targets for 55.9%. But Jones managed 17.8 ypc and 1 TD per 6.75 rec while White only got 13.0 ypc and 1 TD per 12.5 rec, both numbers within 10% of his career averages.

With a new offense, we can't just extrapolate numbers, but I'd have to think the Falcons plan on throwing the ball at least 550 times this year after throwing it nearly 600 times last year. If Jones plays all 16 games, it is a safe assumption he'll eat into some of White's targets. I believe 130 targets for Julio and 140 for White sound reasonable. I know White hasn't had less than 140 in four years, but with Jones' talent the Falcons no longer have incentive to keep forcing it to him. I think 75 rec is reasonable with 16 ypr. If he can manage 10 TD with those numbers, he'll handily outperform his WR13 ADP to end up as a mid-to-low tier WR1. If the new OC should choose to make him the feature WR on the Falcons then the sky is the limit.

TheFanatic said:

Roddy said something recently about the kid being featured more. Sounded like he was half complaining, half saying the right thing that he was OK with it. The guy is going to be targeted a TON.


Julio Jones projections

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