After weeks of speculation, the Atlanta Falcons finally agreed to a deal to move on from the best wide receiver in franchise history in Julio Jones…
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
Feeling a cap crunch while having a pending big payday upcoming for their younger star wide receiver in Calvin Ridley to go along with the public knowledge that Julio was pressing for a new home himself, the Falcons were forced to move on from a player still producing at a high level.
Julio Jones Career Stats
After playing 14 or more games in six straight seasons, an ongoing hamstring battle limited Jones to just nine games in 2020. While Father Time is undefeated and Jones could be nearing his inevitable decline as he will be 32.5 years old when the 2021 season kicks off, he still was a high-level fantasy producer when he was on the field a year ago. Jones turned in his highest yards per catch over the past three seasons while his 75.0% catch rate and 11.3 yards per target were the highest marks of his career. From a fantasy stance, he was the WR14 in points per game.
Jones did see some dips in per game opportunity and yardage output, but his seasonal per game splits also still include Week 4 where he played just 15 snaps and Week 11 where he was on the field for just 22 snaps fighting that bulky hamstring. In the seven full games that Jones did play last season, he finished lower than the WR26 in just one of them while he averaged 100.0 yards receiving and 19.0 PPR points per game.
Jones’s age and soft-tissue injury history (despite the totality of his games missed being a false narrative) were already part of the package that had fantasy gamers treating Jones as a mid-WR2 (he has been the WR18 the past five days in FFPC ADP) while with the Falcons. That ADP Is likely to stay stagnant moving forward if it does trickle down a touch.
Atlanta was the most fantasy-friendly offense for Jones and we knew he would be leaving the organization, but his move to Tennessee also provides a significant volume disparity from the passing offenses he has been a part of with the Falcons.
Atlanta has finished fourth (39.2), first (42.8), and fifth (38.6) the past three seasons in pass attempts per game. Over his 10-year career, the Falcons have been eighth or higher in pass attempts per game in eight of those seasons, and top-five in five of them. Since the Titans hired Mike Vrabel as head coach, Tennessee has ranked 30th (30.3), 31st (28.0), and 31st (27.3) in pass attempts per game. The past two seasons have a lot to do with the success of Derrick Henry and not having the receiving talent or game scripts that Atlanta has had privilege to.
Adding Julio to their roster should have an impact in increasing the amount of passing plays called in Tennessee, but anticipating them to jump all the way up to the top of the league also is not expected. One area where the Titans should fully embrace being more aggressive is on early downs, however. No team ran the ball at a higher rate on first down than the Titans did last season at 65% of their play calls.
Just 34.3% of Ryan Tannehill’s pass attempts came on first down play calls last season, which ranked 41st in the league among 44 passers with 100 or more pass attempts. When Tennessee did have Tannehill throw the ball on first downs, he averaged 8.9 yards per pass attempt (fifth) as opposed to 7.4 yards per pass attempt (12th) on all other downs.
While Jones will suffer a volume loss in team pass attempts no matter which way we slice it, he will be part of an efficient passing game when they do throw. The Titans have ranked seventh (7.2 yards) and fifth (7.1 yards) in yards per passing play the past two seasons while Tannehill has ranked seventh and first in yards per pass attempt the past two seasons without Jones on the roster. Dan Pizzuta highlighted that Jones was first among all NFL wide receivers in EPA on intermediate targets, an area of the field the Titans and Tannehill have exploited the past two seasons.
Adding Jones gives Tannehill an extra boost, who already was a strong fantasy asset as the QB13 in ADP the past week. Even with efficiency regression in play for Tannehill across the board from his 2019 output, he still closed 2020 as the QB10 in points per game (21.5 points). Tannehill has now been a top-10 weekly scorer at the position in 16 of his 26 regular season starts with the Titans. Tannehill was third in points per dropback in 2020 (0.66) after ranking second in 2019 (0.70). Adding the caliber of target that Jones is will raise those dropbacks while cementing Tannehill as a QB1 option for fantasy football.
Where this does elevate Tannehill, the addition of Jones does dampen the potential target-hog status of A.J. Brown that we were anticipating after the NFL Draft. Now, Brown is still a strong fantasy wideout on his own merit, but he will be sharing targets with the best receiver he has ever played with in his early career while he also is losing the potentially dominant target share that he could have been walking into had another team trumped Tennessee in acquiring Jones.
This removes the likelihood that Brown could have had a 2020 Davante Adams or 2019 Michael Thomas-like team target share from his range of outcomes. While it does take that apex outcome away, having Brown continue to operate in a similar capacity that he has been to this point of his career also leaves us with a productive fantasy wideout.
Among all wide receivers since he joined the league in 2019, Brown is 33rd in the NFL in targets (190) and 35th in receptions (122). He has had just two career games hitting double-digit targets. Despite that, he ranks 16th in receiving yardage (2,126 yards), fifth in touchdown receptions (19), and 14th in PPR points (464.6) on those opportunities by being the most hyper-efficient wideout over that stretch. Brown ranks fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch (893 yards) among those wideouts and trails only Tyreek Hill in touchdowns scored of 40 yards or longer (eight) since he entered the league. Brown’s 2.66 yards per route run rank fourth among all wide receivers since entering the league while his 2.45 PPR points per target lead all wide receivers over that time span.
Reliant on efficiency firsthand is fragile ground to walk on when so many ADP peers are just smashing Brown in opportunity, but we also still have not seen the best full fantasy season Brown is capable of. He does slide down the board a bit because so many of his ADP peers are locked into more volume, but Brown also had 106 targets in just 14 games on 71% of the offensive snaps in 2020.
With the extra game on the schedule and slight passing volume spike with the addition of Jones, Brown should definitely still press 130-plus total targets in 2021 if he can stay on the field this season. If he can even hang onto a portion of his to-date efficiency, that is a valuable fantasy asset that is still a WR1 even if the odds of him being the WR1 overall has been significantly lowered.
Jones also caps the apex target potential for Anthony Firkser. Firkser was already a player being drafted arguably for his best outcome, so will certainly see some correction there as his ADP will certainly dip (being drafted as the TE15 in FFCP formats the past week). But I do not believe it changes much in terms of the tier, career arc, and positional standing for the fourth-year tight end.
Firkser signed his restricted tender for 2021, coming off career-highs with 53 targets (fourth on the team), 39 catches, and 387 yards to go along with a touchdown. Firkser posted games of 8-113-1 and 5-51-0 in the two games Jonnu Smith was out or exited early last season. With Smith and MyCole Pruitt (who played 262 snaps) off of the roster, Firkser is still going to play the most snaps and receive the most opportunity of his career, but always a player that required a step of faith at a position that does have a low bar to clear for relevancy, but one that has also provided marginal fantasy fruit where Firkser was being selected.
Firkser still remains in a deep bucket of TE2 dart throws that is capable of providing TE1 scoring weeks surrounding high variance. With the addition of Jones his target ceiling drops, but the efficient passing game as a whole and the use of his position in the red zone (Firkser himself has 20 red zone targets the past two seasons while Smith had 28) Firkser could still operate in a similar (albeit in a less efficient manner) as what we saw from Robert Tonyan a year ago in his range of outcomes.
Derrick Henry has racked up 2,213 and 2,192 total yards on 409 and 418 touches the past two seasons of football (including the postseason). Henry has scored 49 touchdowns over his past 45 games played with at least one score in 30 of those games.
He has already been a high-leverage fantasy back being selected in the top-five at the position, even with his lack of receiving output. Over the past two seasons, Henry has faced eight or more defenders in the box on 27.8% (17th) and 35.6% (fourth) of his carries per Next Gen Stats. The team had already made an improvement in personnel use removing defenders from the box last season compared to 2019 and the addition of Jones can further allow that rate of runs into stacked boxes to decline, but we also know the capacity that Henry is going to be continued to use in. Henry led the NFL with 219 touches on first down last season (the next closest player had 184) while he had just 20 touches all season come on third down.
The addition of Jones is a positive for the success for the Tennessee offense as a whole, so Henry benefits in terms of the team generating scoring chances and alleviating defensive attention. He is the locked in RB2 in formats that do not incorporate receptions and will likely push the RB3 in PPR formats following this trade and the question marks surrounding the other backs after Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook.
There is nothing to really see here anymore as Reynolds was a best ball dart in anticipation that he would be on the field in an efficient offense while potentially being one play away from being forced into a larger role should A.J. Brown be injured or limited. The Titans used 11 personnel on 38% of their offensive snaps in 2020, which was 31st in the league. That can rise under new offensive coordinator Todd Downing, but there was a reason the Titans went out and made this trade in the first place, and it was the state of their pass-catching roster after Brown.