Why Julio Jones Is A Good Bet To Finish As 2016’s Top Player

With Zero RB becoming a more popular strategy, wide receivers are being drafted earlier than ever. On average, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. are currently the first two players off the board. I’m here to explain why Julio Jones is every bit as good as those two studs.

Kyle Shanahan Offenses

Last year was Kyle Shanahan’s first year coordinating the Falcons’ offense, but he has been coordinating offenses since 2008.1 He is known in the fantasy community as a huge boost to his team’s WR1. Do the stats support the narrative?

Year Team Player Age GMs Tgts Rec ReYds TDs FPs/G
2008 HOU Andre Johnson 27 16 170 115 1575 8 20.03
2009 HOU Andre Johnson 28 16 170 101 1569 9 19.49
2010 WAS Santana Moss 31 16 146 93 1115 5 17.97
2011 WAS Jabar Gaffney 31 16 115 68 947 5 14.98
2012 WAS Pierre Garcon 26 10 67 44 633 4 15.43
2013 WAS Pierre Garcon 27 16 184 113 1346 5 21.04
2014 CLE Andrew Hawkins 28 15 112 63 824 2 13.76
2015 ATL Julio Jones 26 16 203 136 1871 8 23.50

While Shanahan hasn’t always had elite playmakers, he’s willing to force them the ball when he does. Not only did Andre Johnson and Pierre Garcon reach 170-plus targets, but in his first season with Shanahan, Jones becaome one of five players ever to receive over 200 targets in a season. Remember, targets are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring. Targets are the most important predictor of value for wide receivers and Jones leads our composite projections in targets.

The Falcons Offense

The Falcons offense played with pace and were frequently trailing last season. That led to Matt Ryan finishing fifth in the NFL in pass attempts.

Here at RotoViz, we don’t expect that to change this season. We currently have Matt Ryan projected for the fifth most pass attempts.

PLAYER OFF POS paATTS paCOMP paPCT paYDS paTDS paINT
Matt Ryan ATL QB 604.01 391.99 0.65 4500.97 23.41 14.95

Here’s a look at Ryan’s Adjusted Yards Per Attempt from 2015.

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Despite being targeted over 100 times more than any player on the chart, Jones averaged 3.4 more adjusted yards per attempt than any of the other current Falcons pass-catchers. Jones’ 9.6 adjusted yards per attempt means that he can still be extremely efficient despite seeing high volume and not having consistent threats around him.

With Leonard Hankerson and Roddy White no longer on the team, the Falcons have added Mohamed Sanu. While targets should be available, it’s hard to get excited about the second wide receiver on a Kyle Shanahan offense.

YearTeamPlayerWR1 TRGPCTWR2 TRGPCT
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
2015ATLJulio Jones0.3290.113
Average0.2590.144

The second wide receiver on Shanahan-led offenses have averaged just 14.4 percent of targets.

It’s also hard to have confidence in Justin Hardy after a dismal rookie year. While the Falcons are excited about Austin Hooper, it’s extremely rare for rookie tight ends to have a big impact.

The Falcons’ 2016 cast of characters doesn’t inspire much more confidence than the 2015 group.

The Competition

The two wide receivers being taken ahead of Jones are among the best in the league. Let’s see how they compare.

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Brown and Jones were targeted more frequently than Beckham in 2015. Despite leading the cohort in yardage, Jones scored the fewest touchdowns last season. Touchdowns, however, can be fluky and regression should work in Jones’ favor this season. Despite leading this group in touchdowns, Beckham actually received the fewest red zone targets.

We use RotoViz’s Similarity Scores to find how comparable players performed in similar situations. To get an idea of how these players will perform next season, let’s see what the Sim Scores say.

Player Low Median High
Julio Jones 15.8 20.7 23.2
Antonio Brown 16.9 20 22.7
Odell Beckham Jr. 16.5 18.8 19.8

Despite having the lowest floor, Jones has the best median and high score. In fact, Jones receives the highest Sim Score of any wide receiver.

Injury Concerns

Many skeptics are concerned about the injury history of Jones. Our in-house doctor Jeff Budoff discussed Jones’ 5th metatarsal stress fracture before the 2014 season and predicted that he would hold up fine. Jones has played in 31 of 32 games since then, so any concerns about his health are probably unwarranted at this point.

In Summary

Jones is an elite playmaker who has been dominant for his entire career. Due to a sub-par supporting cast, it’s easy to expect Jones to be funneled the ball once again this season. With a high floor due to the potential for 200-plus targets and the high ceiling reflected by the best Sim Scores, Jones makes a compelling choice at No. 1 overall.

  1. I wrote more about Kyle Shanahan’s offenses in The Case for Selecting Julio Jones No. 1 Overall.  (back)

Mike Braude

Co-Founder of Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues, Author at RotoViz, Draft Day Consultant, and University of Arizona Business Graduate.
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