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The Case for Selecting Julio Jones No. 1 Overall

While the most common way to project players is using past production, you can also make assumptions based on the previous seasons from a team’s offensive coordinator. The narrative surrounding Kyle Shanahan’s arrival suggests 2015 will be particularly exciting for an already dominant Julio Jones.

There’s now a competing narrative suggesting Shanahan’s presence may be irrelevant. I think I can show this isn’t the case and that you’d be justified in selecting Jones at any point in a PPR draft, even No. 1 overall.

Former Kyle Shanahan Offenses

Kyle Shanahan has been coordinating offenses since 2008. This is a list of his top wide receivers each year:

YearTeamPlayerAgeGMsTgtsRecReYdsTDsFPs/G
2008HOUAndre Johnson27161701151575820.03
2009HOUAndre Johnson28161701011569919.49
2010WASSantana Moss3116146931115514.66
2011WASJabar Gaffney311611568947512.04
2012WASPierre Garcon26106744633413.13
2013WASPierre Garcon27161841131346517.35
2014CLEAndrew Hawkins281511263824210.49

Shanahan has been able to help his top wide receivers score an average of 15.31 points per game. A pretty high floor considering Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney, and Andrew Hawkins are being included in the calculation.

Over 16 games, 15.31 fantasy points per game extrapolates to 245 fantasy points. That would have been good for WR14 last season.

To create a better context for judging Julio, let’s focus on Andre Johnson and Garcon’s 2013 healthy season.1

YearPlayerreTRGMsreTRGSreRECSreYDSreTDSreYPTreCRreTDRT
Average0.30410.926.8593.540.468.600.630.04
2008Andre Johnson0.31610.697.1998.060.59.210.670.05
2009Andre Johnson0.29410.696.3198.440.569.180.590.05
2013Pierre Garcon0.30311.387.0684.120.317.40.620.03

Above are the per game averages, below are the season totals:

PlayerYearGMsTgtsRecReYdsTDsFPsFPs/G
Average16175.3109.71496.77.33303.318.96
Andre Johnson20081617111515758320.520.03
Andre Johnson20091617110115699311.919.49
Pierre Garcon20131618411313465277.617.35

Seeing an average of 175.3 targets per season, Andre Johnson and Pierre Garcon entered the 100-receptions/1,345 receiving yard/5 touchdown club. From 2000-2015, only 19 players have accomplished this feat (30 total seasons). Julio Jones is already one of the 19 players.

This would have qualified for WR5 in 2014.

While on average an NFL team targets their top wide receiver 23 percent of the time, Johnson and Garcon saw 30.4 percent of their team’s pass attempts. At 30.5 percent, only Demaryius Thomas saw a bigger cut of his team’s pass attempts in 2014.

It’s clear that when Shanahan had a star, he was willing to target him relentlessly. Who else would throw to Garcon 184 times in a season? Who else does he have to throw to on this Atlanta team?

Few Other Targets

Since Tony Gonzalez retired, the Falcons have struggled to find consistent weapons behind Julio in the pass game.

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With limited quality options, Devin Hester, Harry Douglas, and Levine Toilolo combined for 186 targets in 2014. That’s gross.

To make matters worse, Roddy White’s age is starting to catch up with him. White will turn 34 this season and has seen a decline over the past two seasons.

Roddy White CG

Another alarming concern for White is how infrequently Shanahan targets his second best wide receiver.

YearTeamPlayerWR1 TRGPCTWR2 TRGPCT
Average0.2490.149
2008HOUAndre Johnson0.3160.176
2009HOUAndre Johnson0.2940.12
2010WASSantana Moss0.2430.144
2011WASJabar Gaffney0.1980.164
2012WASPierre Garcon0.1680.157
2013WASPierre Garcon0.3030.131
2014CLEAndrew Hawkins0.2240.148

This is probably the key point that’s easy to gloss over. Even including the seasons where he didn’t have a special wide receiver, Shanahan targeted his top wide receiver more than the league average (23 percent). He threw 14.9 percent of the targets to his second wide receiver; the league average is 17.5 percent.

While this may be alarming for White, he could see a viable amount of opportunities simply because of the Falcons’ lack of pass game weapons.

Either way, Julio will get his opportunities in boatloads. And Julio Jones is really good.

Julio Jones is Really Good

Since he entered the NFL in 2011, Julio Jones has never seen fewer than 21 percent of his team’s targets or averaged fewer than 9.36 yards per target.

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Above are the per game averages. Below are the season totals.

YearTeamPlayerAgeGMsTgtsRecReYdsTDsFPs/G
Average12.0111.369.51082.56.518.71
2011ATLJulio Jones22129554959816.49
2012ATLJulio Jones23161287911981016.18
2013ATLJulio Jones2455941580222.20
2014ATLJulio Jones25151631041593619.95

For his entire career Julio Jones has never averaged fewer than 16.49 fantasy points per game in a season. Julio has averaged an impressive 18.71 fantasy points per game for his career. Extrapolated to 16 games, he would finish with 299.3 fantasy points per game. That would’ve finished as WR5 last season.

Over his past two seasons, Jones has seen an increase in targets. Over his past two seasons, he’s averaged 20.5 PPR fantasy points per game. Extrapolated to 16 games, Julio would finish with 328 fantasy points. That would have been WR3 last season.

Heading in his age 26 season, Julio is entering one of the peak age seasons for a wide receiver.

2015 Projection

To have a better understanding of what to expect from Jones, I created a projection for 2015 using RotoViz’s Projection Machine:

reTRGMsTgtsRecReYdsTDsreYPTreCRreTDRTFPsFPs/G
0.304175.2110.41708.210.219.750.6300.058342.421.40

I gave Julio 30.4 percent of the Falcons’ targets because that’s the rate at which Andre Johnson and Pierre Garcon were targeted. I believe Julio could see an even larger market share because of his incredible talent and the lack of other quality options on his team.

I retained Jones’ career yards per target average of 9.75; it’s the same amount as he averaged last year. The 63 percent catch rate is the same in the comparable seasons of Johnson and Garcon and Julio’s career average.

I left his receiving touchdown rate at 5.8 percent, which is his career average. While there is concern that Shanahan’s offense doesn’t create a large number of touchdowns to his top receiver, Jones’ early career TD prowess offers plenty of reason for optimism. He could easily best this number.

This projection of 342.4 fantasy points would have finished WR2 in 2014, behind just Antonio Brown.

In Summary

Currently drafted as the WR4 off the board, Jones looks ready for a big year. While it’s a difficult choice to take him over Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham – or even Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas – he looks like a certain value at pick 10.27 overall.

As long as Jones can stay healthy, he has an extremely high per game floor. Not only because Kyle Shanahan likes to feed his playmakers but also because he’s been dominant his entire career. In PPR leagues, his floor and ceiling projections make it difficult to argue for any RB over Jones unless your strategy is specifically RB-centric.2 Regardless, he looks like an excellent starting block for a Zero RB team.

Since we know that Shanahan was willing to target Johnson and Garcon 175.3 times per season, it’s not outside the range of realistic possibilities that Jones sees upwards of 180 targets this season. With his talent and that volume, he would likely finish as 2015’s top wide receiver and possibly challenge some of the crazy numbers we’ve seen from past greats.

If you believe in Jones this year, there should be no hesitation in taking him as one of the first five picks of your PPR draft.

When he’s not searching for ways to defeat his opponents, Mike Braude spends his time finding ways to remove the randomness of fantasy football and reward the most skilled fantasy owners. He has remedied this issue by creating Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues.

  1. Garcon missed significant portions of games battling plantar fascia in 2012. He only played 10 games.  (back)
  2. Which is fine and potentially league-winning.  (back)

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