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Fantasy Football Player Debate: Julio Jones

Jun 30, 2018

The only thing objective about fantasy football rankings is that nothing is objective. After a season where wide receiver production was down across the board, a number of top WRs are having their draft status questioned. Among this is perennial WR1, Julio Jones. Featured writers Jason Katz and Ryan Melosi fall on opposite sides of Julio’s valuation.

Jones is the WR4 in PPR leagues according to our consensus ADP.

Of the 54 experts that have submitted PPR rankings, 12 have Julio as their WR3 or better, while 17 have him as their WR6 or worse.

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Ryan: With Julio’s WR4 ADP, there’s really not much room to go up, but I have him as my WR3 after Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.

You said you rank him lower than that. How much lower and who do you have above him?

Katz: Ultimately, we’re not talking about much of a difference, but in the early rounds, it matters more. The difference between the WR4 and WR6, which is where I have Julio, is a lot more meaningful than the difference between the WR24 and the WR26.

Obviously, we both have Antonio Brown WR1 because we’re rational human beings. Very, very few things are objective in fantasy football, but there is nothing anyone can say to justify not having AB No. 1. And I’m actually with you on Odell Beckham at WR2. I have DeAndre Hopkins WR3, Davante Adams WR4, and Tyreek Hill WR5. Next up is Julio.

I know, you were probably expecting to see Michael Thomas or Keenan Allen. Did I catch you off guard? I promise it wasn’t intentional.

Ryan: Definitely caught me off guard as I’m a huge fan of Michael Thomas especially.

In the early rounds, I’m all about floor and consistency (within reason, of course, as all of these guys have high ceilings) which is why Adams and Hill ahead of Julio isn’t doing it for me. Adams has a solid enough touchdown floor being the number one target for Aaron Rodgers, but his career high in targets is 121, and he’s never eclipsed the admittedly arbitrary 1,000-yard mark. His three concussions also have me worried.

As for Tyreek Hill, he saw 105 targets last year and there’s almost no chance of that going up with the signing of Sammy Watkins. His last 13 (!!) touchdowns have come from 30 yards out or more. The last time he scored a red zone touchdown was Week 12 of 2016. He’s certainly a dynamic playmaker, but I think he’s almost certainly too volatile to make a profit on that WR5 ADP and everything needs to go right to return value.

I know I haven’t made my argument much for Julio yet, but what are you seeing with these guys that I’m not?

Katz: With Davante Adams, the argument about his past doesn’t really bother me because this is the first season he’s truly entering as the No. 1 WR. We know that Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 WR has value. We will never know how good Jordy Nelson ever actually was because we never saw him without Rodgers. We saw Adams without Rodgers and it was mighty impressive. Adams was fifth in contested catch rate last year, proving he can make the tough catches in traffic and yeah, that got him into trouble a few times with the concussions – that’s a fair point – but it’s not like he’s Jordan Reed. Football is a violent sport and guys get hurt. There’s no such thing as being prone to concussions, but there’s admittedly a concern with the number of concussions should he suffer another one.

Adams had 117 targets in 14 games last season. Over a full season, that extrapolates to about 133 targets and that was playing with Jordy, mostly without Rodgers, and featured an abbreviated game. I expect Adams to surpass 140 targets this season. If we apply his 62-63% catch rate over the last two seasons to 140 targets, that’s about 87 receptions. If we give him 13 yards per reception, that’s over 1,100 yards and I think he’s a near lock for double-digit touchdowns. I also think my numbers are relatively conservative as his yards per reception should exceed 14.0 with a full season of Rodgers and both his target count and catch rate could go up. We could very well see a 90-1,300-12 season. Julio can certainly match the receptions and exceed the yards, but I am done expecting the positive touchdown regression we’ve been waiting for his entire career.

You say Tyreek Hill has almost no chance of increasing his 105 targets because of Sammy Watkins. Respectfully, of course, I disagree. I think 105 targets is about his floor. Yes, he has been super efficient and generally it is unwise to rely on previous year’s efficiency. But the move from Alex Smith to Pat Mahomes is a positive for Hill as Mahomes’ play style matches up far better with Hill’s skillset. I don’t see why Watkins would take any targets away from Hill. Watkins is there to be the WR2, not to challenge Hill because Hill is the clear superior player. The Chiefs only attempted 540 passes last season. I expect that to increase with Mahomes. If we allot 100 targets for the running backs and another 120 for Travis Kelce, that leaves us with at least 320 targets for the wide receivers. There’s a very easy scenario where 130 of those go to Hill, which still leaves about 90 for Watkins and another 100 for the various other pass catchers. And, again, these are conservative estimates. There are plenty of targets to go around for Kelce, Hill, and Watkins to all be heavily involved. The reality is I just don’t think Watkins is that good and he’s not going to command targets at the expense of the Chiefs’ most dynamic weapon. Hill has legitimate overall WR1 upside. I just don’t think Julio, at age 29, in the current incarnation of the Falcons offense, has that anymore.

Hill and Julio both averaged 15.9 PPR ppg last season. And despite Hill’s boom or bust label, it was Hill that did it more consistently than Julio. I also don’t have to draft Hill as the WR5 I have him ranked. I can pass on guys like Julio, Keenan Allen, and Michael Thomas knowing that I can get Hill, who I prefer to those guys anyway, a full round later.

Ryan: Your overall point about Hill’s talent and explosiveness is something I can agree on, but the Chiefs only threw the ball to wide receivers 242 times last year. I’m not really seeing another 80 more out of Mahomes. I’ll concede that Hill could reach or slightly surpass the 105 he got last year seeing as he did it in only 15 games, but ultimately the number of, what I perceive as, unsustainable long touchdowns is why I’m out on him even at his current WR11 (ADP 26) price. Patrick Mahomes being better for Hill might have been true before last year, but Alex Smith had the 11th most deep pass attempts and was PFF’s top-rated passer on those throws, coming in first in both deep pass yards and adjusted completion percentage. Kansas City quarterbacks finished ninth in fantasy passing points per game adjusted to not include negative points for interceptions. I think it’s almost impossible to expect Mahomes put up those kind of numbers and be as good as Alex Smith was with the deep ball last year. For what it’s worth, I’m with you on not liking Watkins, but teams generally don’t give players $30 million guaranteed to not feature them.

I’m not trying to make it sound like I’m hating on Davante Adams because he’s a target for me this year as well, but if we go with your boost in targets with his historical trends for catch rate and YPC while giving him his two-year average 11 touchdowns we’d be looking at 16.48 PPR points per game. That 90/1,300/12 ceiling is 18.25.In Julio’s down year last year he averaged 15.65 and over the last four years, he has averaged a whopping 19.36. I’m with you on not expecting much of a positive touchdown regression, but only in the context of how many touchdowns a guy who averages 1,600 yards a season should get. At this point, I don’t think we’re seeing double-digit touchdowns out of Julio, though it wouldn’t surprise me, but I think putting the baseline of his career seven per 16 games is about right. The Falcons offense as a whole disappointed last year, but the underlying per-drive stats other than red zone efficiency were still near the top of the league and the red zone numbers should only improve in OC Steve Sarkisian’s second year. Even if you take Julio’s lowest catches and yards per game since his second season as his new norm, when accounting for the modest seven touchdowns he should’ve scored last year, he’d have put up 17.15 ppg which is about what I’m looking at as his floor this year. If Adams can reach the rough ceiling we’ve set for him and beat that, which doesn’t account for Julio’s upside as well, it’s awesome, but I’d rather not bet on that big of a spike early on in my draft for a minimal payoff.

I feel like I haven’t talked about how much I like this guy until right there, and still have a bit more, but you mentioned he’s 29. Are you out on him because of that age, or do you just like the other guys ahead of him more?

Katz: I mention he’s 29 merely to point out that he’s closer to the end than the beginning. I do not think Julio is done, but I do think he will be by 2020, whereas Adams and Hill are still ascending. They haven’t yet reached their prime. There’s more of a reason to project an increase in productivity for younger WRs and a decrease in productivity for older WRs, especially one with Julio’s skillset that does not project to translate well into his 30s.
There’s a phrase I like to use when comparing players that I expect will have similar end-of-season numbers. And it applies well to Julio here: “I don’t like the way he scores his points.” I don’t doubt that Julio will be right there with Adams and Hill in fantasy points. He may even outscore both of them. Yet, despite that knowledge and belief, I still would take the other two ahead of him because of how Julio scores his points. Last season, Julio finished tied with Hill essentially as the WR7…or so we think. The reality is that Julio was actually the PPR WR16 with 13.2 PPR ppg…for 14 weeks. If you had Julio, you had one week where you had the best WR in fantasy with 53.8 points and then 14 weeks where you had a mid-WR2.

No matter how I go about this comparison, I admit there’s some arbitrary endpoint bias. I’ve done my best to be fair. Last season, Julio had three weeks with 20+ fantasy points. Hill had five (counting his 19.8 week). Julio had seven weeks with 15+ fantasy points (counting his 14.8 week). Hill had eight. They each had seven weeks with 12 fantasy points or fewer.

When breaking it down like that, it may seem like Hill wasn’t that much better on a week to week basis, but those differences count. And I still think Hill is severely underutilized in the Chiefs’ offense. They did not run enough plays last season to deliberately get the ball in Hill’s hands. Remember the game against Dallas? They put the ball in his hands for a nonsense play before the half and he turned it into one of the more impressive touchdowns we’ve ever seen. How did the coaching staff reward him? By targeting him once the rest of the game. Hill had just four targets that game. Yes, the Chiefs lost. I do believe Andy Reid is a good head coach and eventually, he will figure out that Hill needs the ball as much as realistically possible. The upside if Reid figures that out is also baked into my ranking of Hill.

Ryan: I’m going to tell you (and the readers) why you shouldn’t care about any of this inconsistent talk and not only draft him over Hill and Adams but also DeAndre Hopkins. I’ll readily admit Julio’s “down” year last year, but I’m generally a big picture guy. We both agree it’s fools gold to expect double-digit touchdowns out of Julio next year, but he’s due for at least some positive regression. I mentioned above seven scores would be his baseline and it wouldn’t surprise me for more. Julio is still going to command a ~28% target share from a QB that won an MVP  just two seasons ago. 2018 will be the second year under OC Steve Sarkisian and there’s hope the entire offense can take a step forward in year two, but one thing that shouldn’t change is Sark’s commitment to getting Julio the ball in the red zone. He was targeted 16 times in the end zone compared to just six in 2016 and five in 2015 under Kyle Shanahan.

The “he’ll lose as many weeks as he’ll win you” narrative for Julio is wholly overblown by the general fantasy community. ESPN puts out a fantastic article every year to measure weekly consistency for every position. Again, still big picture here, but from 2015-2017 Julio Jones was the 15th most consistent receiver. You might think that’s not very consistent, but Antonio Brown ranked 12th on this list while Jarvis Landry and Pierre Garcon topped it. The 12 points every week those guys give is great, but we’re also looking for upside here. Julio has the second most “stud” weeks” while having one of the fewest amount of “stiff” weeks in the league. I know this isn’t a Julio vs Brown debate, but he has fewer stiff weeks than Antonio Brown who everyone would agree is the most consistent wide receiver in the league! Wide receiver is a volatile position to begin with, and Julio is going to give you one of the highest weekly upsides of any receiver in the league while also being reasonably consistent in doing so.

As for why I’m taking him over DeAndre Hopkins? Honestly… it’s splitting hairs. They’re both studs, but we saw the downside Hopkins presents in 2016. I recognize Brock Osweiler is bad but I’ll never be convinced he is significantly worse than Tom Savage, T.J. Yates, or Ryan Mallet, all of whom Hopkins has had success with. I also acknowledge DeShaun Watson’s great stretch last season, but his pace was wholly unsustainable and he’s coming off his second ACL tear. It’s easy to scream “regression!” and leave it at that, so I’ll try to quantify it briefly. Watson had a 9.3 TD%. Drew Brees for his career is sitting at 5.5%. Even if you think Watson is just as good as Brees, who is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and can match his TD rate, Watson should have been at roughly 11 touchdowns instead of his 19. What is his full season going to look like when defenses have plenty of tape on him? I’m not completely out on Watson, I have him as my QB9, but there’s a wide range of outcomes for that Houston offense.

Like I said, it’s splitting hairs between Hopkins and Julio for me but I’m going to take the guy who is arguably the best receiver in the NFL and in a more stable situation, even if he did only score three touchdowns last season.

Thanks again to Ryan and Jason for their participation. Share with them your thoughts on Julio, and let us know what you think @FantasyPros.

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Ryan Melosi is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Ryan, check out his archive and follow him @RTMelosi.

Jason Katz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive, follow him @jasonkatz13, and listen to him on the Fantasy Forensics Podcast.

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