One of the strangest topics in fantasy football has long been Julio Jones and his apparent touchdown issues. Jones has been dominant as a fantasy wide receiver and has been in the top five in multiple categories since coming into the league in 2011. Fantasy owners, though, have been disappointed his lack of touchdowns, but how has this actually impacted him in the game?
Since coming into the league as a rookie in 2011, Jones is top five in the NFL in receptions, targets and receiving yards. Jones even missed a majority of 2013 after fracturing his right foot. Over these eight seasons, he is 13th in the NFL with 43 receiving touchdowns.
He is a threat to score anytime he gets targeted in the passing game, producing six touchdown receptions over 70-plus yards and he has scored 20 of his 43 career receiving touchdowns within the red zone (inside the opponents 20-yard line). 12 of those 20 red zone touchdowns have been on targets inside the opponents ten-yard line.
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One of the biggest problems for Jones in the end zone has been volume within the red zone. At 6-3 and 220 lbs with a vertical jump of 38.5 inches – measured during his Combine workout – we would expect him to be a serious threat when the Falcons get near the opponents end zone. In his career, he has only been top ten for red zone targets three times (2012, 2015 and 2017). In fact, in the past five seasons, Jones has only twice been the Falcons’ main red zone target and after three RZ targets in week one so far in 2018, he hasn’t seen a single one since.
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Jones obviously creates mismatches within the red zone and any defensive coordinator would be foolish not to roll coverage towards him. This then would create more opportunities for other receiving threats to get looks within the red zone.
When you break down where Jones scores his TDs, it is surprising that the team is not getting him more looks when the Falcons are closer to the end zone. I compiled all 43 of Jones’ receiving touchdowns since he has entered the league and charted them out based on length of reception. Nearly half of those TDs have come within the red zone. By contrast, 36 of A.J. Green’s career 62 receiving touchdowns have come from within the red zone.
Even with such a low red zone target total, Jones has been a top fantasy wide receiver asset. Since 2014, he has consistently finished the season as a top 12 fantasy asset at the position.
So what is truly the problem? It isn’t the volume and opportunity – of which Jones is fifth in targets since entering the league in 2011 as a rookie with 971. It isn’t receptions since he has 614, which puts him fourth over that time span. He is second overall in receiving yards, with 9,556. Even the touchdowns have been there. The problem becomes consistency.
Using Bob Lung’s consistency data, we could take a look at how often over these past few seasons Jones has finished as a WR1 week to week. Using data from a 12-team league with Points Per Reception (PPR) scoring, we can look at the data and see how often Jones is a top-tier fantasy asset. When looking at this data, Jones has been fairly consistent. Yes, he does spike on a week-to-week basis but for the past four seasons, he has finished as a WR1 nearly 82% of the time.
With any top tier wide receiver, we want Clutch Games (CG) where our player finishes within the top 12 in a 12-team league or top ten in a ten-team and so on. Clutch Rating shows the percentage of games the player finished as a top asset at their position.
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His most inconsistent season was 2016, where he finished the year as the WR7 overall but only had nine of his 14 games played finishing as a WR1 in fantasy. This can be frustrating for a fantasy owner but he still finished the year with 83 receptions, 1,409 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. Even when Jones isn’t producing touchdowns, his value lies in the volume of targets and Air Yards.
The most important stat for any wide receiver is volume. Whether its snaps, targets, or routes run, fantasy owners want to target the players getting the most opportunities each week. Using Josh Hermsmeyer’s site, Airyards.com, we can track volume for fantasy. Air Yards is a stat that tracks how many yards are behind every target from the line of scrimmage downfield. Jones is constantly at or near the top of the NFL for Air Yards each season.
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Over the past four seasons – since 2014 – he has finished top six in the NFL in Air Yards every season. When we look at the Market Share of Air Yards, which tracks how many of a team’s Air Yards a player is targeted for, Jones commands nearly half of Atlanta’s total Air Yards in the passing game. During each of these seasons, he has finished second, tied for third twice and finished at the top once (2016). Additionally, during each of these seasons, he finished within the top six of the NFL for Target Share, which tracks how many of a team’s total targets are directed at a player.
In 2018, Jones is third in the league in Air Yards, has the highest percentage of his teams Market Share of Air Yards and is tied for third in the league for the percentage of his team’s Target Share. Based on his current Air Yards data, if we extrapolate it out and he maintains his current pace for the 16 games a regular season, he would set his record high for Air Yards. Jones could be on the path for a career year in 2018 if he can stay healthy over the entire season.
In the August ADP data compiled at Dynasty League Football, Jones was being drafted in the second round of dynasty startups as typically the 19th player off draft boards. His age (29) might have played a large role in that as well as players buying into this perceived notion that he is not an elite talent.
Jones has the safest floor of many of the top wide receivers in the league. He is not touchdown-dependent for his fantasy production. With the total volume he receives in Atlanta’s system, he produces based on receiving yardage and total receptions. Outside of his inconsistent 2016 season, he is almost a solid lock to be a fantasy WR1 on a week-to-week basis. Like any player, he can occasionally bottom out for his fantasy owner but he is a safe bet.
Calvin Ridley is now opposite Jones, and this is the most talented player he has had in the Falcons wide receiver room to shift attention away. In Ridley’s early rookie season production, you can visually see teams rolling coverage towards Jones, allowing Ridley one-on-one coverage. Teams will now be forced to play both sides equally, giving Jones an opportunity to get open with his prototype size and 4.39-second 40-yard dash speed.
Now is a strong time to buy Jones in all formats. In dynasty leagues, he won’t come cheap but it’s likely his owner has bought into this narrative about him not being elite based on touchdowns. Target him and use tools like the DLF Trade Finder to get a starting point in your negotiations.
Currently, Julio Jones is on pace for a career year. With touchdown production coming, he can easily finish 2018 as the top overall receiver in fantasy. The Atlanta offense obviously has issues with his touchdown production, but his volume numbers can’t be beaten.
Pete is a Western Washington University (Go Vikings! Undefeated at Football since 2009!) History grad with a doctorate in dynasty football, from a certificate he bought online. He prefers stats and analytics but realizes film grinding is an important part of the process. Dabbles in "Mild Takes" and believes in the process.
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