A History of Dominance
Julio Jones has been one of the most dominant receivers in the league during two of the past three seasons:
- 2012 -- 79 receptions for 1,198 yards (15.2 yards per catch) and 10 TDs (WR9 Ranking)
- 2013 -- Injured, only played 5 games
- 2014 -- 104 receptions for 1,593 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and 6 TDs (WR8 Ranking)
He's only 26 years old, and is just now entering the "prime" years of his career.
He's Not Without Risks, Though
However, there are some clouds on the horizon for this upcoming season. First of all, though the team and Jones are in productive contract extension negotiations as of mid-July, nothing has been finalized. Jones is on the record that a holdout would be "selfish" and it doesn't appear that the contract is a sticking point as far as his participation during 2015. The contract issue does remain as a question mark (sometimes negotiations turn acrimonious suddenly). Perhaps the recent signings of Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas to five-year, $70 million contracts will smooth negotiations between Jones and the Falcons, as the market for an elite wide receiver has now been set in the near term. Time will tell this tale.
Second, the Falcons' running game has gotten very youthful as of late. All reports indicate that second-year back Devonta Freeman will battle rookie Tevin Coleman for a share of the team's running-back-by-committee, with some leavening by third-down speedster Antone Smith. Whoever runs the ball, last year the team's top three ball carriers (Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman) averaged either 3.7 or 3.8 yards per carry, an unimpressive mark at this level. It remains to be seen if the Falcons can do better in the rushing phase of the game, which may be a drag on the entire offense during 2015 (translating into reduced scoring opportunities for Jones). Additionally, the arrival of new head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan means that Jones and company will be learning a new offensive system this year. As we saw with Eli Manning/Ben McAdoo up in New York last season, that sort of transition can be bumpy, leading to worries about a slow start for the Falcons' offense during this upcoming September. However, on the flip side of this coin, if the Falcons' running game struggles, they'll need to lean on Jones even more, not less! This is a glass half-full/glass half-empty situation - problems in the running game might actually increase the number of targets that Jones enjoys (he saw 163 targets during 2014, ~26% of the 628 passes that Matt Ryan threw last year!).
Third, Roddy White is aging and doesn't demand as much coverage in defensive schemes, and Harry Douglas has moved on to Tennessee, leaving rookie Justin Hardy in place as the third wide receiver for the Falcons. Tight end Jacob Tamme is a recent import from Denver, and it remains to be seen if he will command much attention from opposing defensive coordinators. Jones will be the featured receiver for Ryan, and may command even more of the targets available than he did last season, but he also may have to battle two defenders on almost every snap given the current makeup of the supporting cast in Atlanta.
In short, there are several legitimate reasons to be concerned about Jones' prospects for the 2015 season - but every difficulty could be an opportunity in disguise for Jones. If the Falcons' offense jells during training camp, the concerns will recede, but fantasy owners drafting early during preseason will have to be ready for some hiccups and misfires by the Atlanta offense, at least early in the season.
- Jones is the clear-cut #1 wide receiver in Atlanta, and should eclipse 100 receptions this year as the dominant option for Ryan.
- Jones is only 26 years old and still has he resiliency of youth, making him a good bet for fantasy owners to play a full slate of games (despite the foot problems that marred his 2013 campaign)
- There is no threat to Jones' roster spot/role on the team from further down the pecking order in Atlanta
- Jones is obviously the best weapon that Atlanta deploys in the passing game, which should draw plenty of attention from opposing defensive coordinators and opposing defensive backs
- The Falcons' offense is shaky in the rushing phase of the game, increasing the odds that teams will seek to neutralize Jones and dare Coleman/Freeman to beat them on the ground
- Jones has ongoing contract negotiations which could lead to off-field difficulties/entanglements that manifest themselves on the field (a hold out during preseason, for example)
Though the Falcons' offensive team is not yet a cohesive whole, Jones and his quarterback have forged successful seasons in years past. The sheer volume of passes likely to flow to Jones insulates his fantasy value from downturn whether or not the running game comes together adequately. Jones has the talent and opportunity to turn a high volume of passes into elite fantasy numbers, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he catches over 100 passes this season. In my opinion, Jones is a solid choice for any fantasy team's #1 wide receiver. Footballguys' Maurile Tremblay expects Jones to be formidable during 2015, projecting: 109/1,632/7 receiving for the lead Falcons' receiver.
Mark Wimer'S Projections
- 170 targets
- 110 receptions
- 1,600 yards receiving
- 7 TDs
Other Staff Projections
Thoughts from Around the Web
NumberFire's J.J. Zachariason warns against overvaluing Kyle Shanahan's impact on the X Receiver:
And even if this narrative was a thing -- even if Kyle Shanahan's offense relentlessly feeds the X receiver -- let's not pretend there's a ton of potential growth for Julio Jones in terms of volume. A year ago, only Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas had more targets than Jones, and just six receivers saw a higher percentage of team targets.
If the reason you're drafting Julio Jones in August is because of the increase in volume, I think you're being foolish. The real reason you should be drafting Jones is because he's a transcendent talent who has proven to be one of the most impactful wide receivers real and fantasy football.
John Paulsen of 4for4 notes Julio Jones' consistency:
The CVs for, and are lower than expected, considering their big play ability. was also far more consistent than expected.