What the Julio Jones Trade Means For His Fantasy Value, A.J. Brown, Calvin Ridley & More Impacted Players
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images. Pictured: Julio Jones, A.J. Brown
One of the biggest remaining dominoes of the 2021 NFL offseason has finally fallen: The Falcons are trading franchise star Julio Jones to the Titans, as various NFL insiders reported on Sunday morning.
The #Titans deal for Julio Jones:
— The #Falcons get a 2022 2nd rounder and a 2023 4th rounder.
— The #Titans get Julio Jones & a 6th rounder in 2023.
— The #Titans take on Jones’ salary of $15.3M in 2021 and the rest of the deal.
— #Falcons have $7.75M in dead money this year.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 6, 2021
Beyond Jones, there’s a long list of players whose fantasy football value could be influenced by this deal. From Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown to Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, our fantasy football analysts run through what exactly this trade means for Jones and all the other impacted players.
Fantasy Fallout of Julio Jones Trade
Ryan Tannehill is the big winner of this trade, while Matt Ryan’s stock takes a notable hit. Mike Davis could be another winner, whereas Jones’ value also dips.
I detail exactly how the deal has impacted my projections for every key player impacted by the move here.
I hate it for a lot of people from a fantasy perspective.
For the past decade, one of the most consistent QB-WR connections in the NFL has been that between Matt Ryan and Jones in Atlanta.
And since Jones entered the league in 2011, Ryan has suffered without Jones, throwing for fewer yards (260.1 vs. 292.7) and touchdowns (1.6 vs. 1.8) but more interceptions (0.96 vs. 0.74) in his 26 Jones-less games.
Ryan’s Jones-based fantasy splits have been predictably bad.
- Ryan without Jones (26 games): 18.7 fantasy points
- Ryan with Jones (133 games): 21.5 fantasy points
Ryan will likely suffer without his longtime No. 1 receiver in 2021. And Jones also could underwhelm this year.
The Titans have been a slow-paced, run-heavy team under head coach Mike Vrabel, Jones has no established connection with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Jones will need to compete for targets with wide receiver A.J. Brown, who is basically Jones’ younger doppelgänger.
I don’t think Jones will play poorly, but he’s unlikely to enjoy the target volume he has come to expect over the past five years.
As for Brown, the trade for Jones is disappointing but not devastating. Brown won’t have the unholy target volume he otherwise could have seen, but he also won’t have nearly the same degree of defensive attention. Even with Jones competing for targets, Brown should still produce as a fantasy WR1.
But it’s not all negative: The Jones trade is great for Tannehill, who now has another playmaking receiver at his disposal.
And it’s clearly great for Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, who should now dominate in Atlanta. Ridley has averaged 20.1 fantasy points on 11.1 targets in his eight career games without Jones, and Pitts was just selected higher than any other tight end in NFL history. Together, they could combine for 20 targets per game.
As for wide receiver Russell Gage … meh. He will now function as the No. 2 wide receiver for the Falcons, but I expect Ridley, Pitts and maybe even tight end Hayden Hurst to see more targets. Gage will likely see his average draft position rise, but I don’t think he’ll be a significantly more valuable fantasy contributor in Jones’ absence.
The move makes sense for the Titans, who lost wide receiver Corey Davis to the Jets during free agency, and now add much-needed depth to their relatively lean receiving corps.
Jones is a seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro and two-time NFL receiving yards leader. He is coming off of his worst season since 2013, a year in which he appeared in just five games. The 32-year-old was hampered by a hamstring injury throughout 2020 and finished as WR45 in half PPR (Weeks 1 through 16).
The move hurts a number of players from a fantasy perspective, though.
For one, Jones will be directly impacted by the change at quarterback. Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan finished 2020 with the fourth-most passing yards behind only Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. Much of that has to do with the Falcons’ offense being much more pass-happy, with Ryan attempting an NFL-high 626 passes last season.
In contrast, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed for 3,819 yards — 15th in the NFL — on 481 attempts. His fantasy value, which is currently floating around the low-end QB1 to high-end QB2 range, should increase with this high-profile addition.
Ryan’s fantasy value takes a hit with this deal: He loses one of his top targets in Jones, though the Falcons have no shortage of offensive weapons on their depth chart.
Falcons receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage and tight end Kyle Pitts should benefit from the move with one fewer mouth to feed and more targets to go around in Atlanta. Ridley’s ceiling was already sky-high prior to the deal: He caught 90-of-143 targets for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns and finished as the WR4 alongside Jones for nine games.
Ridley will be the team’s unrivaled No. 1 target going into 2021.
Gage stepped up into a bigger role with Jones ailing to reel in 72-of-110 targets for 786 yards and four touchdowns, good enough to finish as WR41. He could be an interesting WR3/flex play.
Pitts is already being drafted as a mid-tier TE1 in spite of being a rookie. He’s a high-risk, high-reward play who could see even more targets in this pass-heavy offense without Jones.
The fantasy value of Titans receiver A.J. Brown takes an obvious hit with the Jones’ acquisition. Brown is coming off his best season to date in which he caught 70-of-106 targets for 1,075 yards and 12 touchdowns and finished as WR14.
With Davis gone, many hoped Brown could ascend into the elite tier of receivers — he’s had to compete with Davis for targets his entire career, so I would expect similar production to Brown’s 2020 campaign and would draft him as a low-end WR1.