Falcons Trade Julio Jones to Titans: Fantasy Football Rapid Reaction
Beyond the real-life impact, the trade that sent Julio Jones from the Falcons to the Titans in exchange for future NFL Draft picks offers a ton of fantasy football implications. We’re here to provide our reaction to the blockbuster deal.
The Details of the Trade
Here are the details of the trade courtesy of our NFL News Desk.
How does the trade impact the value of Julio Jones and other Titans players?
Sometimes, NFL teams will make a move that helps their football team but hurts fantasy value. This falls into that category, though it’s not as bad as some think. The public perception on Jones is that he’s towards the end of his career, but that’s simply not true. In fact, he averaged a career-high 11.3 yards per target during the 2020 season and was the WR13 in half-PPR points per game while ceding plenty of work to up-and-coming superstar Calvin Ridley. It’ll be a similar situation in Tennessee, as Jones will now play alongside what might be the next generation’s Julio Jones, and that’s A.J. Brown. Similar to Atlanta, Jones and Brown are going to cap each other’s truly elite ceiling, but as Jones and Ridley proved last year, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that they’re both top-12 wide receivers, especially when you factor in Ryan Tannehill‘s efficiency. Oh, and stop calling Jones injury prone – he’s played at least 14 games in seven of the last nine seasons, and has totaled at least 1,394 yards in six of the last seven seasons. You don’t do that if you’re injury prone. Updated projections had Brown as the WR7 and Jones as the WR12.
Many will wonder, “What about the pass attempts? The Titans don’t throw the ball as much as the Falcons?” Right, but they also don’t have the bevy of pass catchers that the Falcons did, and they also don’t have the same offensive coordinator. You don’t sign Julio Jones to run the same offense they’ve been. When you sign a player like him, you build your offense around him. Sure, Derrick Henry is there, and I’d say his value remains static with this deal. He may not get as many carries/targets, but he will see much lighter defensive fronts (saw 8-plus defenders in box 27.8 percent of the time in 2020), and should have more scoring opportunities. Ryan Tannehill is the biggest beneficiary from this deal, as he’ll now be throwing to the best 1-2 combo in the game. They’re going to throw more in 2021, though not enough to get him into my top-five quarterbacks or anything. He belongs in the tier with Tom Brady and Justin Herbert as a solid back-end QB1.
This is an incredible move for the Tennessee Titans to bring in one of the greatest wide receivers of all time for minimal expense! While I don’t believe they’re a team that’s ready to compete for a Super Bowl right now – which makes this a bit of a puzzling move – they absolutely needed to do something at the WR position behind AJ Brown. For Julio, this is a bit of a downgrade from a fantasy perspective due to the overall offense he’s moving from to where he is now. The Falcons were going to be throwing the ball a ridiculous amount again in 2021 due to their defense, and the Titans are certainly one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL. Even with all that being taken into account, Jones is still a top-15 receiver in my rankings. AJ Brown lands at WR8 in my updated projections, and Ryan Tannehill is now right inside the top-12 QBs. This Titans offense is going to be fun to watch this season.
The impact on Jones himself is fairly minimal, in my opinion, and I haven’t moved him yet off my initial ranking of WR15 in half-PPR formats. The Titans are a bit of an anomaly offensively because of their incredible efficiency, so the fact that they’ve averaged just 466 pass attempts over the last two seasons isn’t as big a detriment to Jones’s outlook. After all, Corey Davis finished as the No. 31 wideout in half PPR last year, and there are plenty of vacated targets with Davis and Jonnu Smith heading elsewhere. Jones has already shown he can succeed from a fantasy perspective with another elite wide receiver next to him, so when you add it all together, Jones remains a strong WR2.
As for the other Titans players, the trade is a boost to Ryan Tannehill‘s value but results in a downgrade to A.J. Brown‘s value. Tannehill now has a second elite wide receiver to throw to, particularly in the red zone, so he becomes an even more intriguing late-round value in single-quarterback formats. With that said, the actual move from a fantasy rankings standpoint is minimal for me. He moves from my No. 12 quarterback to my No. 11 option.
As for A.J. Brown, his value simply has to fall a bit because the Titans had done absolutely nothing prior to this point to add to their receiving options. There wasn’t much of an argument to keep him outside the top three or four wide receivers in half PPR. He’ll still surely remain Tannehill’s top option, but the addition of another superb talent at the wide receiver position drops him from No. 3 in my WR rankings to No. 7.
As for other Titans players, there’s a VERY slight negative impact on Derrick Henry, but he doesn’t receive enough targets for it to make a difference. He remains my third-ranked running back. It’s also a slight downgrade to Anthony Firkser, but when you’re at his level at tight end, there’s just not much to choose from. I dropped him from 18th in my tight end rankings to 20th, one spot behind Adam Trautman.
How does the trade impact the value of Calvin Ridley and other Falcons players?
Jones leaving should be viewed as a positive for the Falcons skill-position players, right? Well, for Calvin Ridley, it presents an even higher ceiling than the one he displayed last year where he finished as the WR4 while seeing 143 targets. With Jones gone, he should see 150-plus, right? Well, that’s not exactly a guarantee. The arrival of Arthur Smith is much more of a problem than most think. His offenses have finished 30th and 31st in pass attempts, and that was with Ryan Tannehill throwing the ball as well as anyone in football. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan hasn’t been the same quarterback when Jones was out of the lineup. Ridley is someone you can confidently project for 140-plus targets, which puts him in top-five wide receiver territory. As for Russell Gage, I’m not going to move him much in the rankings, as he benefited from playing inside the slot while Jones and Ridley received all of the attention. While they may ask him to play on the perimeter in 2WR sets, I’m not confident he’s made for that role. He’s someone you snag off waivers to fill a bye week and that’s about it.
Clearly, this move benefits someone like Kyle Pitts, who will need to fill some of the void that Jones left behind. Again, the Falcons are not throwing the ball the way they did under Dirk Koetter, so you can’t just scream “vacated targets” from the rooftop and expect Pitts to walk into 120-plus targets. He’s a rookie tight end, and if you’ve been around the NFL for a long time, it’s that they usually disappoint in a big way. With that being said, he’s more of a big wide receiver who played with the TE label. Arthur Smith’s tight ends have been mighty efficient, but let’s not pretend Jonnu Smith isn’t talented, and he saw just 109 targets over the last two years combined. My projections came back with Pitts at TE6, which is high, but you still shouldn’t feel the need to reach for him in drafts. Matt Ryan is simply a streaming quarterback in plus matchups, and that’s about it.
Ridley should see an uptick in targets with Julio out of town, but he honestly didn’t change much in my projections. I had him as the target leader before this trade and a top-5 WR for 2021, and he stayed right there. The big mover in my rankings, though, is Kyle Pitts. It’s near impossible to keep Pitts outside of the top-5 at the TE position due to the opportunity that’s now in front of him. For a team that should be throwing the ball a ton this year, Pitts has the potential to see 115+ targets. With his talent, that’s a recipe for fantasy success. Otherwise, Matt Ryan is the biggest faller in my rankings. He’s now outside my top-20 QBs on the season with no Julio on the field.
Ridley already should have been viewed as a locked-in WR1, as readers surely know if they have listened to the FantasyPros Football Podcast at any point in the last year. So there’s not much room for him to rise, but he does go from my No. 5 wide receiver to my No. 4 with A.J. Brown‘s drop. Ridley was already one of the most targeted wide receivers in the game last year, but his target share did increase significantly when Jones was out. At the same time, the Falcons are likely to be less pass-happy this season under Arthur Smith, so it’s a bit of a tough sell to get Ridley to the top spot. Draft him with confidence, obviously, and even more than you were prior to the trade.
As for Kyle Pitts, well, he’s just going to break the old maxim that rookie tight ends don’t succeed in fantasy. With Jones’s vacated targets and the draft capital used to select Pitts, he’s just going to be heavily involved n the passing game. I was cautious with Pitts before the trade, ranking him seventh at the tight end position. But he’s moved up to fifth, and if you want to draft him over Mark Andrews, I won’t fault you.
As for Russell Gage, he’s going to see more volume, and he’ll need it because he hasn’t been very efficient in his career. He’ll likely approach 100 targets which is enough to make him a viable option some weeks, for sure, but I’m not confident he’ll be consistent given what we’ve seen from him in his career. Still, he was off the radar entirely prior to the trade and now clocks in as my WR46, which means he can be drafted late as a bench piece with upside. And as for Matt Ryan, ignore him entirely except for two-quarterback or superflex leagues. He’s my QB20 in redraft formats.
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