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Which Round Should You Target Titans WR Julio Jones In 2021 Fantasy Football Drafts?

Which Round Should You Target Titans WR Julio Jones In 2021 Fantasy Football Drafts? article feature image

Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Julio Jones.

Editor's note: The following analysis was written in August, but when coupled with the latest rankings and projections in our 2021 Fantasy Draft Kit, is still valuable research for your next draft.

Julio Jones Fantasy Rankings

Consensus rankings via Sean Koerner and Chris Raybon are based on half PPR scoring and as of early August. » Create custom cheat sheets with their projections now

From 2014 to 2019, Julio Jones was a mainstay atop the fantasy wide receiver ranks, never finishing with fewer than 1,394 receiving yards in a season. His per-game averages in 2020 — 7.5 targets, 5.7 receptions, 85.7 yards and 0.33 touchdowns — were down from his previous career marks of 9.8 targets, 6.3 receptions, 95.5 yards and 0.44 TDs, primarily due to his injury struggles.

Jones shouldn't be expected to suit up for fewer than 10 games again in 2021, as the average wide receiver has played 13.0 games, or 81.3%, in their age-32 season since 1992.

With that said, his drop in per-game averages across the board is still a concern in regard to reaching his past heights with his new team. Here are the year-over-year declines for wide receivers going from their age-31 to age-32 season since 1992 (when Pro Football Reference began tracking targets):

  • Targets per game: -8.3% vs. age-31, -10.4% vs. career
  • Receptions per game: -8.7% vs. age-31, -10.7% vs. career
  • Receiving yards per game: -11.1% vs. age-31, -14.6% vs. career
  • Receiving TDs per game: -20.4% vs. age-31, -20.6% vs. career

If you want more evidence that 2021 Julio probably won't be peak Julio, look no further than his decline over the past few years in targets per route run (data courtesy of Pro Football Focus), one of the more predictive and less noisy metrics we have to illustrate how well a receiver is getting open.

  • 2020: 22.0%
  • 2019: 26.0%
  • 2018: 29.0%
  • 2017: 30.5%

Although he began to slow down a bit, Jones was still one of the tougher covers in the NFL in 2020. His 75.0% catch rate was the best of his career, and his 15.1 yards per catch represented a three-year high. In other words: Julio will get his.

While Jones is a known quantity as far as catches and yardage, he's always been a perplexing touchdown scorer. After posting 18 TDs over his first two seasons, he began a frustrating five-year period from 2013 to 2017 in which he converted only 11-of-68 (16.2%) targets inside the 20 into a score. The wideout bounced back in a major way in 2018 and 2019, finding pay dirt on 10-of-32 (31.3%) looks. He bottomed out in 2020, however, with none of his eight red-zone targets ending in a score.

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Jones' 2020 Season

  • Games played: Nine
  • Receiving: 68 targets, 51 receptions, 771 yards, three touchdowns
  • Fantasy finishes: WR52 in PPR, WR51 in standard, WR52 in half-PPR

Jones’ 2020 campaign went down as his first season with more than two missed games since a foot injury derailed his age-24 season after five weeks in 2013. A nagging hamstring injury landed Jones on the injury report nine times starting in Week 3, and he sat seven times, including the final four weeks of the season.

When on the field and healthy, Jones was his usual effective self, turning in performances of nine receptions on 12 targets for 157 scoreless yards, 12/9/157/0, 10/8/137/2, 9/8/97/0, 10/7/137/0 and 7/5/54/1 in games where he wasn’t listed on the injury report and didn’t sustain an injury in-game.

For games in which he was banged up, his stat lines dipped to 4/2/24/0, 4/4/32/0, 2/2/39/0 and 10/6/94/0. His five healthy games never resulted in a PPR finish outside of the top 24, while his four injured outings failed to net even one top-24 PPR finish, with three landing outside the top 60.

Jones' 2021 Fantasy Outlook

There could be reason for optimism regarding a bounce-back for Julio opportunity-wise in Tennessee, as Corey Davis drew a look on 23.6% of his routes for the Titans last season opposite A.J. Brown. Brown, like Calvin Ridley, is a young star who will be able to draw coverage away and put nearly as much fear in defenses as Jones himself, if not more.

And when it comes to touchdowns, Ryan Tannehill is a blessing for receivers, racking up 55 passing TDs in 26 starts as a Titan over the past two seasons — three more than Matt Ryan threw over the past two seasons despite starting in five more games.

But there are still concerns: Former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is now the head coach on Jones’ old team, leaving questions about how much of Tannehill’s red-zone magic will carry over without the man who played an instrumental role in turning around the QB's career.

There are also questions about volume that have nothing to do with how well Jones can maintain his elite level or performance as he ages. Last season, the Titans attempted only 485 passes, 30th in the NFL and 143 fewer than the fourth-ranked Falcons. The season prior, the Falcons led the NFL with 684 pass attempts, 236 more than the Titans (448).

In his one prior year as an offensive coordinator in 2017 with the Raiders, new Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing’s offense ranked 15th in pass attempts (558). Especially with Jones in tow, there's a decent chance he opens things up more than Smith, but it’s far from a sure thing.

How to Draft Julio Jones

According to FantasyPros’ Consensus WR ADP, Jones is currently being drafted as the WR15 in PPR, WR13 in standard and WR14 in half-PPR. This is a fair spot considering Jones’ upside, but given the past history of wide receiver aging curves, I prefer to treat him more like a mid-range to low-end fantasy WR2 and would recommend taking him only when he falls below current ADP.

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