Julio Jones Shouldn't Be This Cheap in Fantasy Football
Julio Jones has been a top-tier fantasy producer for the past four seasons, and he has been as reliable as he has been elite, having missed a combined total of only three games since the beginning of the 2014 season.
However, Jones is skipping mini camp, holding out for a new contract and is heading into his age-29 campaign. Is this the beginning of the end for him as an elite receiver in fantasy football, or can he be a top-shelf wideout again in 2018?
Let’s take a look.
What Do the Metrics Say?
Looking at our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Jones has continually ranked among the game's best receivers.
If you're new to numberFire, NEP assigns each play with an expected point value; that is, how many real-life points an average team would be expected to score in that same situation (given down, distance to go and yard line). A three-yard reception on 3rd and 2 is wildly different than a three-yard grab on 3rd and 4, and NEP helps account for that by tracking the expected points players add to their team's total over the course of a season. (You can read more about NEP in our glossary.)
Going back to Jones' record-breaking 2015 season with the Atlanta Falcons, his 148.18 cumulative Reception NEP that year ranked second behind only Odell Beckham (151.54). That 148.18 mark is the ninth-most Reception NEP in a single-season in the history of our database, which dates back to 2000.
While Jones' 2016 season was a slight step back from that peak 2015 campaign, he still ranked fourth among wide receivers with a Reception NEP of 115.11 -- behind Mike Evans (144.22), T.Y. Hilton (129.84) and Jordy Nelson (123.15). In 2017, Jones again ranked fourth (117.85) in Reception NEP.
He's been one of the game's best, and his elite on-field metrics have translated to fantasy greatness.
A Fantasy Superstar
Jones has finished as a top-seven wideout in PPR formats in each of the last four seasons.
He shined the brightest in the 2015 campaign, when his league-leading 1,871 receiving yards -- on 136 catches -- ranked second all-time behind Calvin Johnson's record total of 1,954 yards in 2012. When it seemed like Jones couldn't get any better, he had his ceiling game the following season, going off for 12 catches, 300 yards and 1 touchdown in Week 4 of 2016 against the Carolina Panthers
Jones' fantasy output slipped a bit in 2017, but he still put up a WR7 season.
Here's his fantasy production from the past four years, according to the year-end PPR numbers from FantasyPros.com.
|Year||PPR Fantasy Points||PPR Fantasy Points Per Game||Positional Rank|
Julio is a baller -- that's not breaking news.
But even with all the gloriously freakish football plays Jones makes on a weekly basis, fantasy footballers, the greedy bunch that we are, always want more. With Jones, the only box he doesn't check off is a lack of touchdowns as he's always been slightly underwhelming in the scoring department, putting up just one season of 10 touchdowns (2012), including a mere 3 scores in 2017. (Never forget his gut-wrenching touchdown drop versus Carolina last year.)
Still, when a guy has just three touchdowns and still finishes as the PPR WR7, we're dealing with a stud, and when you peek under the hood of his 2017 season, the three-touchdown campaign looks like a fluke.
2017 Was Just Unlucky
In each of the last three seasons, Jones has led the NFL in yards per route run -- 3.08 in 2015, 3.12 in 2016 and 3.04 in 2017 -- smashing the metric when compared to the production of fellow elite wide receivers:
|Player||2015 to 2017 Average Yards Per Route|
As we mentioned earlier, the only blemish on Jones' fantasy resume is a lack of touchdowns, but that may be due to random variance more than a fatal flaw with Jones.
Scott Barrett from Pro Football Focus recently analyzed Jones' 2017 season, with the overarching message that Jones was extremely unlucky at scoring touchdowns, particularly in the red-zone. Based on Barrett's analysis and metrics, Jones should have scored seven more touchdowns in 2017, which would have matched his career high of 10 from back in 2012.
In the red-zone from 2014 through 2016, Jones boasted a 54.7% catch rate and 21.4% touchdown rate, catching 23 of 42 passes thrown his direction and scoring 9 touchdowns. However, Jones' 2017 red-zone catch rate dropped to a meager 26.3% and his red-zone touchdown rate fell to a paltry 5.3% as he caught only 5 of 19 throws and scored just once in the red-zone.
When we adjust the criteria to within the 10-yard line rather than within the 20-yard line, Jones actually scored seven of his nine touchdowns at a closer range from 2014 to 2016, and he scored only one touchdown from inside the 10 a year ago. Here's how much of an outlier Jones' low 2017 touchdown total truly was: he became the first receiver in NFL history to rack up more than 1,400 yards and score fewer than 4 receiving touchdowns.
It's hard to overstate how important touchdowns are to fantasy football. In standard formats, a 1-yard touchdown grab produces the same amount of fantasy points as a 61-yard non-touchdown reception. Jones is still getting plenty of red-zone volume as he saw just two fewer red-zone looks in 2017 than he did in 2015, when he scored eight times. But his lack of good results -- and good fortune -- inside the 20 last year kept him from turning a really good season (remember: he was the PPR WR7) into maybe an overall WR1 season.
Get Him Cheap
Per average draft position (ADP) data from FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Jones is going 14th overall -- WR4 -- in both standard and PPR formats. That's a pretty meaningful drop from his 2017 ADP of fourth overall, driven somewhat by a surge in running backs, and it's possible that Jones' ADP could fall even more if he continues his holdout into training camp, something that could put fear in some owners leading up to draft day.
Our projections have Jones as the WR2, forecasting him for 99 catches, 1,541 yards and 7.7 touchdowns. In 2018 drafts, we can get the same elite player Jones has always been, and we can snag him at a discount.