It’s early August, which means it’s time once again to argue about fantasy football. Who should you take with the no. 1 pick? Which offenses and players will surprise you? Which draft picks will completely tear your office apart? Welcome to “Make the Case,” a series in which Ringer staffers will answer the most pressing fantasy questions heading into the 2019 season. We’ll help you game your way to a championship—or at least avoid drafting like Dave Gettleman.
Like the New England Patriots, Drake, or Chipotle burrito bowls, Julio Jones has been so good for so long that people take his excellence for granted. Jones has averaged more receiving yards per game than anyone else in NFL history but, paradoxically, is not a fun player to have on your team in fantasy football. That collective boredom with Jones’s greatness has seeped into fantasy rankings: On average this year, Jones is the fourth receiver drafted and is a borderline first-round pick in 10-team PPR leagues and an early second-rounder in standard leagues. (The Ringer ranked Jones third among receivers, eighth overall in PPR leagues, and 11th overall in standard scoring.) Wise managers can use this to their advantage, getting good value for a player likely to wind up as the no. 1 receiver in fantasy this year.
Last year, Jones led the league in targets (170), tied for fourth in receptions (113), and was first in total receiving yards (1,677) and receiving yards per game (104.8). He was the fifth-highest-scoring wide receiver in standard formats (by total and per-game averages) and the fourth highest in PPR scoring on the year (fifth in PPR by per-game average). All four receivers ahead of him cracked double digits in receiving touchdowns. But Jones scored only eight, and that was enough to deflate his fantasy value. (One 10-yard touchdown catch, for example, would have been enough to make him the no. 1 receiver in PPR formats.)
Jones’s lack of touchdowns has always been the main knock on him. He scored 10 touchdowns in his second season, in 2012, but since then he has managed just two, six, eight, six, three, and eight receiving touchdowns in five seasons. Scoring 33 times in five seasons would be a great career for most receivers, but for Jones it’s a bit of a disappointment. He has led or nearly led every important receiving category for the past five seasons except for the one that matters the most to fans.
Julio Jones’s Rank Among All Pass Catchers, 2014 to 2018
There’s always something. In 2015, Jones recorded 1,871 receiving yards, the second most in a single season all time, but managed just eight touchdowns, tied for 594th most all time. In 2017, Jones became the first player in NFL history to crack 1,300 receiving yards and score fewer than four times. Through the first seven games of the 2018 season, Jones was third in the league in receiving yards (812) but had zero touchdowns, a seemingly impossible dichotomy. Jones is a two-time first-team All-Pro, has earned a Pro Bowl trip every season he’s played more than 13 games, and might end his career as the only receiver not named Jerry Rice to hold a career record. But the thing people remember more than anything is that he doesn’t score touchdowns.
That perception is no longer the reality. Jones’s seven-game touchdown drought came to an emphatic end last season when he caught eight over his final nine games—more than he had in his previous 32 games. In the second half of the season, he led all NFL players in receiving touchdowns, tied for the lead in red zone targets, and was second among receivers in standard scoring to Tyreek Hill and second to DeAndre Hopkins in PPR scoring (by a difference of just 0.8 points, or 1 yard per game). Jones’s explosion wasn’t random. The Falcons had been famously flaccid in the red zone in 2017 (and in the playoffs against the Eagles, and in Week 1 of 2018 against the Eagles), but rookie receiver Calvin Ridley scored six touchdowns in a three-game span from weeks 2 to 4, with four of those coming in the red zone. Opposing defensive coordinators hoping to stick Ridley in single coverage and focus on Jones were being roasted. Once they adjusted, Jones made them pay. For years the math was clear: Based on his absurd yardage figures, Jones would eventually score more touchdowns. The moment the Falcons added a viable third receiver alongside Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Jones went from drought conditions to making it rain.
There’s even a chance he could have a career year for scoring this season. The Falcons fired offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian this offseason, and usually that isn’t a good thing for a wide receiver. But the team replaced Sarkisian with Dirk Koetter, who was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014. In Koetter’s first season running the offense in his original stint, Jones caught 10 touchdown passes, which is still his career high.
The other knock on Jones is his streaky fantasy output, making him unreliable from week to week. For two years this was true. In 2016, Jones was the best receiver in real football despite being hampered by a preseason ankle sprain, but in fantasy he finished sixth among wide receivers in PPR scoring. Remove an absurd 12-catch, 300-yard performance against Carolina when he finished with 36 fantasy points, and he was the 15th-highest-scoring fantasy receiver. ESPN’s Tristan Cockcroft tracks these weekly ebbs and flows with his consistency ratings, which account for weeks when players either count as starts (top 25 in scoring that week), studs (top five), or stiffs (51 or lower). Jones was eighth among receivers in consistency rating in 2016 but with enough stiff weeks that he was clearly below the top receiver tier. In 2017, he was even more up and down, as his consistency rating dropped to 28th, six spots behind teammate Sanu. He ranked in the top 25 receivers in fantasy scoring just six weeks that season. Jones’s three touchdowns that year were tied for 71st along with 39 other players, including Raiders receiver Johnny Holton, who had nine catches on the entire season. His consistency rating course-corrected, along with his touchdowns in 2018, as he joined Davante Adams, Adam Thielen, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown in the top five.
Jones is not being drafted like fantasy owners believe his touchdown woes and consistency issues are over, but he’s been the most consistent player in the league over the past half-decade, and there is evidence suggesting his touchdown drought won’t return. On average in standard scoring leagues, he is being drafted no. 12.8 overall and as the fourth wide receiver behind Hopkins, Adams, and Michael Thomas, according to Fantasy Football Calculator and Fantasy Pros. All of those guys are great receivers, but none of them have Jones’s absurd receiving-yard floor (he hasn’t been outside the top three in five years!), which is far more consistent year to year than touchdowns. Jones has led the league in yards per route run for four years in a row, the most predictive efficiency stat for receivers. He’s also the rare second-round pick with upside. The other receivers on the board could all score more fantasy points than they did last year, but it would be difficult for them to raise their game to another level. Not Jones. Even if he doesn’t maintain his pace from the second half of last year, which would have given him 14 touchdowns, he’s still completely in range to hit double digits for the second time in his career now that he’s reunited with Koetter.
Jones is not the sexy pick in 2019. Unlike DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, and Michael Thomas, we have grown a bit bored with Jones. But he’s a safe bet to succeed and still has the potential to wow you—just like the Patriots, Drake and Chipotle.