Julio's a value! Right?
Is Matt Ryan still an upper echelon QB? Are we still viewing the Falcons as an elite passing game? The only thing we can rely on with Matt Ryan is that he's not to be relied upon from one year to the next. There's another name falling victim to similar sentiments though... Julio Jones. I'll concede that the fall from elite to 2nd tier status could be a matter of contention over the next couple of seasons. And we know the fall from that bracket is often into oblivion. For 2020 though, Julio is still an elite talent and his volume will be off the effing charts!
Atlanta sees over 250 targets leave via trade or free agency, which equates to almost 40% of their target share from 2019. With Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman and Mohamed Sanu in new homes, there are also 18 targets from inside the 10 yard line theoretically up for grabs. That's over 50% of the ten zone market share! Those all mark the most available volume in the NFL, and factoring in the environment, I say we can distribute a decent portion of that. Julio benefits immensely with the Falcons' league leading vacated target volume and the only additions in the passing game being Hayden Hurst and Laquon Treadwell. The Freeman for Gurley maneuver could be construed as a lateral move as well. The Falcons' offseason agenda just broadcasts their intentions to remain pass heavy in 2020.
WILL JULIO LEAD THE NFL IN VOLUME?
Michael Thomas and Davante Adams have received lots of votes to be the WR most likely to lead the league in targets in 2020. Julio might actually be the favorite if added to that ballot given the vacated targets in Atlanta and his historical production. He's just 2 years removed from leading the NFL with 166 targets, posting almost 1700 receiving yards in 2018. Back to the present, there are tell-tale signs that point to Atlanta funneling targets to Julio in 2020.
We can't project Atlanta to run close to 1100 plays, or that they'll again come within a dozen completed passes of the NFL record. That can serve to manage our expectations. However, on top of the most available volume in the passing game, Atlanta also ranks top 5 in vacated rushing volume and that combines for almost 450 opportunities from last year gone! This offense will be very pass heavy and it's possible some of the rushing work is converted into passing volume.
The Falcons having this much work gone from one year to the next is almost unheard of when you have your top targeted player still on the roster. League leading available volume is usually a result of an alpha WR departing. It goes to show the pass heavy nature, and Matt Ryan's reliance on his pass catching weapons. It also shows the raised ceiling for Julio and the WR corps overall. The Falcons WR group has been a top 10 scoring unit in PPR leagues for 6 years straight. They've been top 3 in 4 of those 6 seasons. In those spiked seasons we have seen Julio's share of the pie increase when necessary.
JULIO'S PRIORITY AND PERCEPTION DIMINISHING?
The fantasy market for Julio is funny. We should never be able to acquire somebody who's football card reads as his does. Yet we all know about the lack of TD upside historically, and the headache of wondering how injured he'll be after not practicing all week leading up to the MNF game. Last year, we saw an additional wrinkle introduced as Austin Hooper tore up the league during the first half of 2019 and Calvin Ridley making a significant impact in his sophomore season. What that means is we do need the volume to be elite in Atlanta, or else some of the diminished priority will become more obvious.
The plain old market share was surprising, and while Julio was over 25% of the team targets, a significant dip within such a heavy pass volume offense. It was extremely concerning heading into week 15, before Julio saw almost 50 targets in the final 3 games. With Julio's fragility, the Ridley riddle, and 80% snap totals, the days of Jones creeping close to 30% of the Falcons passing game could be behind us. So again, that passing volume from the team needs to stay sky high.
More concerning were his Air Yards. We saw Calvin Ridley cut into Julio's once league obliterating Air Yards totals last year. Julio still led the NFL with just over 1900 Air Yards in 2019, so you may be asking what could possibly be concerning about leading the league... Well, Julio led the NFL with over 2400 Air Yards in 2018, an altitude adjustment of 500 Air Yards from one year to the next! That's substantial... But it's also explainable. For years, Julio has monopolized the market share, but with Calvin Ridley breaking through, Julio has lost over 10% of the pie. His 36% of the team Air Yards is a far cry from the 46% share he saw in 2017 and 2018.
Air Yards are crucial for a few reasons. We know Julio comes with very limited TD upside, scoring more than 8 times only once in his illustrious career. Julio saw both a 7 and 9 game TD drought in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Another factor causing us to rely on the air yards and deep passing volume for Julio is we're seeing his after the catch ability diminish, or possibly being under-utilized by the coaching staff, or maybe it's both. Last year, Julio had under 400 total yards after the catch and fell below 4.0 YAC/ reception. Calvin Ridley's ascension caused a lull in some high leverage categories for Julio Jones as well, including 15 fewer red zone targets and only 6 games over 100 yards, whereas he has 10 in 2018.
Julio's touchdown drought wasn't the only streak Julio broke when he produced as the WR1 overall from weeks 15-17, scoring over 25 PPR points per game. Prior to week 15, Julio scored only 16.2 PPG, and was the WR15 up to that point. Not to be dismissed, those final 3 weeks accounted for around 30% of Julio's total points scored in 2019.
With that being said, Julio is an elite talent and he's set up to capitalize on an opportunity driven season in 2020. Who cares if he's not that 30% target share guy or the 45% air yards guy... and we already know he ain't that double digit TD guy either (But who is these days right?!). The feather we can put in his cap is that he is set up with a 2020 ceiling that could see him lead the league in targets, catches, and receiving yards.
FANTASY VALUE AND OUTLOOK
Regardless of the arrow pointing up every step of the way this offseason, the market is still gun shy on Julio. Particularly in redraft, but for dynasty owners he's the perfect buy candidate to put you over the top. If Matt Ryan throws 600 times and Julio sees that modest 25% market share, that's 150 targets. That's the floor.... the basement.
Available volume isn't always the best argument, but the robust nature of Atlanta's vacated work can't be denied. In a Falcons offense projected to be a losing team (per Vegas projected win totals), this is one situation where it's safe to distribute some of that volume. Julio's scaled back priority should go unnoticed again in 2020, and there's room for a return to regal status in air yards and deep targets. I think it's realistic to expect 2000+ Air Yards and 30+ deep targets, while still tempering our touchdown expectations. As a result, I think we'll even see a deep touchdown or 2 from Julio after his 2019 season resulted in zero touchdowns of 20+ yards.
Julio should still be going as a top 5 WR in redraft. People are suggesting that offenses with veterans and continuity could have an advantage in a year with such a unique offseason. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons will put that theory to the test with games against Seattle, Dallas, Chicago and Green Bay to start the campaign, all of whom project to be winning teams in 2020. I expect those games to force Atalanta into very pass heavy game scripts and the best play could be to let your league mates salivate over Julio's surge while you pounce and sell him at the fantasy trade deadline. The Falcons come off a week 10 bye to face Marshawn Lattimore and the Saints in 2 of the following 3 weeks and also face the Chargers, Buccaneers and Chiefs down the stretch.
To finish my dynasty thoughts, we have 3 options with a player like Julio. I mentioned the option to buy him in certain circumstances to put you over the top. The most common outcome is to sell him. Lastly, he can embody the sunset roster dude, the stud you continue to trot out there to...be a stud! That's my philosophy, but if you're enduring a losing season, and/or you bought low this offseason to sell at a later date, that mid-season window looks wide open in 2020.