It's not breaking news for me to say that Julio Jones is "good," nor if I say he is "very good." Oddly, when I say to people for the past 2-3 weeks that Jones is showing signs of being "great," like elite/Calvin Johnson-type "great"...I get a scrunched face of concern/disbelief.
There is no secret that the debate of the best WR in the 2011 Draft class was between A.J. Green and Julio Jones. It was established quickly that both are supposed to be great. As is typical with football fans and Fantasy Football players...we get whipped into a frenzy on rookie players (oh, how we love the "possibilities"), and then we can just as quickly turn ice-cold on the same rookies at the first sign of non-greatness (anyone turn their nose up at C.J. Spiller when he became a starter for Fred Jackson?). Julio Jones quickly fell out of favor in 2011 for many, for good reason...
Jones started out with two very quiet games (strike one) in 2011 (3.5 rec per game, 50.0 yards per game, 0 TD).
Jones had no TDs in his first 5 games of 2011, thus no "highlight reels" for all of us to drool over (strike two).
Jones then missed 3 games from Weeks 6-8 with hamstring injuries...out of sight, out of mind, out of TDs, out of highlights (strike three).
What can get lost among the numbers/flow of this 2011 season is...that Julio Jones has been the single best Fantasy Football WR on a PPG basis since his return from injury in Week-9 (and the 2nd best PPR WR), and no one is close (considering Julio's Week-10 game as 0.5 games played).
Jones has been putting up amazing numbers on a per game basis, but fellow rookie A.J. Green is stealing most of the rookie WR spotlight. I think that there is an amazing Fantasy Football opportunity within all this. If you play in a Dynasty League, I would be bending over backwards to acquire Jones, who may currently have a "value" of a 7, 8, or 8.5 (out of 10), but should be a 9-10 value (more on why we think a "10" in a minute). If you play traditional Fantasy Football, I would suspect that Julio Jones will be around the #10-15 overall 2012 WR (and behind A.J. Green) when we wake up to look at national Draft Guides/rankings in July-August...and yet to us, he could/should be a top-3 Fantasy Football WR.
What is an "A+" WR...
We do not throw the "A+" WR tag around lightly. The WRs that we would consider in the A+ crowd, are WRs who have physical attributes and performance so far ahead of the masses (over the past decade). Set aside 2011 stats, or even if they are active in 2011...from our studies of college prospects/NFL performance, the A+ WR examples would be :
The A+ WRs are those that are from a grouping that we call "big-WRs". These are WRs, who are 6'2+ and/or are 205-210+ pounds...big physical WRs. The kind of WRs that, in a sense, can't be covered or shut-down easily (or virtually at all). These WRs are too big/bench-press strong to be pushed around, and they typically have giant vertical leap measurements, and are too fast/agile to be held in check by the normal DBs...and also, as in Larry Fitzgerald's case, have great hands/catching ability beyond belief. It's a rarefied air to have all these attributes all embodied in one WR. Many WRs have a couple of the top/elite attributes...but not all of them. Julio Jones, physically, is in this A+ crowd for us.
*Note, there are several great WRs that are smaller...that we consider "A" level = Percy Harvin, Torrey Smith, Mike Wallace as examples. We don't give the "A+" tag to "small-WRs", as they are more frequently injured with shorter career/useful life-span...plus there are many more good/great "small WRs" that come around every year. "Supply & Demand" favors the rarity/value of the "big-WR"...the true A+ "big-WR," is much more rare to discover.
The case for Julio Jones as an "A+" WR...
In the 2011 pre-NFL Draft season, our computer scouting formulas had Julio Jones scored as the #2 overall "big-WR"...just barely ahead of Jones was Leonard Hankerson. Despite that, we mentioned Jones's physical measurements as "too amazing" to pass up on. From a March 2011 research article...
....If you allow for a second that there are some performance issues with Jones, but acknowledge that he is a "freak" (in a good sense) physically -- what do you do? For my money, I don't take any WR with a high draft pick if I have a NFL bad team....that's first and foremost. However, if I were to make a giant reach for a WR, and pay them a ton of money -- I would have to swing for the fences and take a shot on Julio Jones...physically he is "rare" or a "freak" (which ever you prefer). If I was hell-bent on taking a WR with a Top-5 pick, I would take Jones even though he is not our statistical system's #1 rated WR (he's close enough). Jones is just too unique (physically) if he, Hankerson and Green were all available to me...and I was forced to pick one.
What we had against Jones in our measurements, which was unlike all the other elite "big-WRs" such as Calvin, Fitz, etc., was that Jones had a lower propensity for scoring TDs in college. With his physical attributes, Jones should have scored 1-2-3 TDs per game...he should have been unstoppable, but he wasn't (from a TD standpoint). Outside of the TD issue, Jones (on paper) was one of the best we've ever seen among "big-WRs."
In 2010 (at Alabama), Jones only scored 3 TDs for the entire season against legitimate teams in college (one each vs. Auburn, So Carl, and LSU...and he scored his other 4 TDs against San Jose St and Georgia State).
Jones had just 7 TDs at Alabama in 2010, and only 4 the year before. That is something that we have not seen with these physically "super-elite" WRs (Calvin, Fitz, Moss, V Jax, etc). Moreover, it is something that when we do see the high-physical attributes with lower TD production...it is a red-flag, and winds up as an issue in the NFL.
Jones has been dispelling this "TD-issue" over his last 6 NFL games. Early in the 2011 NFL season, Jones wasn't scoring TDs...and we thought, "just like college!" In Jones's past 6 games played, he has 6 TDs. When we watch Jones on tape in 2011, his overall play, his routes, his TDs are so effortless...it is captivating. I watch a bunch of NFL tape/games, and few players make me sit up and take notice that something is "different" with a certain player. From mid-season on...Jones had spurts/flashes were he seemed to be playing a different game than everyone else.
NFL Draft pundits, and even me (above), talk about players in terms of "fast," "strong," "big"...but what does that really mean? I am going to use A.J. Green as part of showing you what we mean by physically elite. Along with a Green vs. Jones comparison...I also want to make the case that you should trade Green for Jones straight up in Dynasty Leagues right now if you can (or trade an equivalent for Jones).
First a 2011 statistical comparison, then a look at the physical...
A.J. Green vs. Julio Jones, statistically in 2011
I know that my staunchly pro-A.J. Green folks likely have smoke coming out of their ears at this moment. I would say most general fans would be pro-Green over Jones right now (and that's where the opportunity lies...). Even though Jones has better per game stats than Green in 2011 (you'll see that in a second), folks are locked in on Green as superior. I know how this happens...
The Bengals got off to a fast start in 2011, (6-2) to start the season. Andy Dalton was also an exciting rookie story. Mainstream media NFL analysts (just a hunch) tried to cover their tracks of predicting the Bengals (and Dalton...while they hyped Gabbert) as the worst team in the NFL for 2011...and overcompensated their "bad call" by going overboard with praise on Green/Dalton/the Bengals. Green also scored 6 TDs in his first 9 games, and for those in the media that has their NFL homework consist of watching game highlights (of mostly scoring plays)...Green seems "awesome."
Vice-versa, Julio Jones did not record a TD in the first 8 weeks of the season (he missed 3 games in there as well). Atlanta started out slowly at (2-3). BORING!! "Moving on to the next "it"/hot thing." When Jones did score a TD finally (actually 2 in the game), he then went 4 more games without a TD (missed 2+ games with injury). BORING!! Not on the highlight express, so therefore Jones doesn't exist.
When you look at the 2011 season in terms of output per game (again we have Week-10 where Jones left very early with injury, as 0.5 games played. Green had a Week-10 game where he was in & out with a tweaked knee, but we counted as full), you might be shocked by the comparison:
10.7 FF PPG, 15.2 PPR PPG, 4.5 receptions, 73.6 yards, 0.5 TDs = A.J. Green (14 games)
12.3 FF PPG, 17.0 PPR PPG, 4.8 receptions, 84.1 yards, 0.6 TDs = Julio Jones (10.5 games played)
If you are shocked that Jones may have better stats per game than Green, you may also be shocked to know that Julio Jones finished the 2011 Fantasy season (we don't count Week-17) as the 3rd best traditional scoring Fantasy WR on a PPG basis (among those WRs with 10+ games played). The 3rd best in 2011! Jones is the 5th best if you flip to a PPR scoring system rank per game (Roddy and Cruz barely pass him).
What is more amazing to me...is that Green had so many red-zone targets in 2011, that he should have blown away Jones in Fantasy Football scoring PPG -- just from his TD counts alone. However, Jones was on par/better per game scoring TDs than Green this season.
Julio Jones had 1 pass-target from within 10 yards of the end-zone this season, just ONE. Conversely, A.J. Green had 14 pass-targets from within 10 yards of the end-zone this season. One of the main takeaways of this info...Jones is scoring a heavy majority of his NFL TDs from long-range, and that is a "green-flag" that something elite is taking place.
We would make the argument that Julio Jones (on a per game basis) has had a better 2011 season than A.J. Green. At a minimum, they were both roughly equally "good/great." I think that if Fantasy players were asked right now, "who had the better 2011 season between Green or Jones?" I think that 9 or 10 out of 10 would answer Green.
A.J. Green vs. Julio Jones, the physical comparison
I have said it several times this year...I can find many more A.J. Green-type players each season, than I can find a Julio Jones-type...from a physical standpoint. In the long run (to us), the Cincinnati Bengals will be mocked for the decision to take Green over Jones. It's a simple supply & demand thing. A couple of physical comparisons to show you what we mean:
HEIGHT/WEIGHT = Green is taller at 6'3.5, versus Jones at just slightly under 6'3. Advantage Green. However, where some of that height advantage disappears is in weight. You can see it visually...Green is very small-framed at just 211 pounds. Jones looks like a power-RB at 220+ pounds.
SPEED/AGILITY = the speed and agility measurements seem close enough, but in reality, they are worlds apart...because Jones has speed/agility for his size that is nearly unrivaled. Green runs a 4.48 40-yard dash, which is great...but I see 130+ other WRs in our college database with 4.48 40-times, or lower. The WR count drops down to 40 WRs that can equal/beat Jones's sub 4.40 times in the 40-yard dash...and only 4 WRs, that we have measured over the past 7-8 years can run as fast/faster than Jones, and are also 220+ pounds.
Taking height (6'2+)/weight (220+), 40-times (sub 4.4), and great agility measurements into consideration from the NFL Combine/Pro-Day histories...after I filter it, only Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones's names appear left on that list. If I do the same with A.J. Green's range of data...we have 38 WRs pop up on our list (many of the 38 names on there would barely provoke a response beyond "who's that?").
This is to take nothing away from A.J. Green; he is a very good NFL prospect...it's just that (by comparison) Julio Jones is so incredibly rare physically, (to us) it makes Green pale in comparison.
HANDS/VERTICAL = Jones measured with a well above-average vertical leap, and an average hand-size measurement among NFL WR prospects. Green was below average in the vertical (which is odd, because he makes many nice leaping catches), and has below-average hand size...which could lead to drops/fumble issues over the course of time.
As I look at all of Green's physical "resume," I see not one A+ characteristic. At the same time, Jones has several A+ characteristics. There is no doubt to us, that Jones is the far, far superior prospect to Green (not that both can't be good/great). When we evaluate Green, we also see a body-type (based on our calculations, not just eye-ball) that is much more at injury risk...and Green is currently fighting a shoulder injury (Jones's injury issues have been hamstring/sprain related).
In the long-run, Jones is the superior athlete, and the least-likely to be injured among he and Green. Their college on-field performances both evaluate solidly. There is no reason that we can see, why anyone would take Green over Jones.
Trading Green for Jones in a Dynasty League...
A.J. Green will get more Rookie-of-the-Year votes. Green will also see time in the Pro-Bowl. Green has the media momentum currently. Now would be the perfect time to exchange Green for Jones, if possible. In my discussions, and sense, from Dynasty Leagues around the globe...Green has a value of a 9-10 (out of 10) for most Fantasy owners, whereas Jones is a 7-8-maybe 8.5 value. I use A.J. Green as the example for the exchange/trade, but obviously, it could be any similar good-not-great WR.
If you find this to be a reasonable thought process, and I have your attention...I must also warn you, that you may have a limited time to act upon this Julio Jones-concept. Potentially, in about two weeks, the entire pro-Green/lukewarm Julio Jones world view concept is going to go flying out the door. Here's what we think is about to happen...
If the Bengals get into the playoffs, Green is likely going to face a rugged AFC opponent like NYJ/Revis or HOU/Joseph or PIT/BAL...none of this will be favorable for Green's statistical output, on a national TV stage. The current Green media momentum is such, that if he has a weaker game...it will probably be written off as a "rookie" playoff learning experience. Perhaps it knocks Green's Fantasy Football value from a 9-10, to an 8-9.
The part of the future scenario more likely to happen...Julio Jones (who has been on a tear as of the last 8 weeks) will walk into the 1st-Round of the playoffs versus the softer pass-defenses of a DAL/NYG or the Saints, and put up a monster game on national TV. Possibly, followed by another one in Round-2...and thus giving Jones a rocket-boost as the new "it" WR. Of course, he may have a quiet game in a loss...and you have an entire off-season to hatch your diabolical Julio Jones trade-scheme, but I wouldn't count on it.
The Dynasty League GM and Thomas Dimitroff's common ground...
When the Falcons forked over a ton of draft picks on Draft-Day 2011 for Julio Jones, I thought it was ill-advised (so did Bill Belichick according to reports). I was scratching my head, because NFL Draft 1st-Round WRs rarely equate to better franchise wins-losses, or playoff advancement. Actually most 1st-Round draft WRs never amount to much of anything. Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Andre Johnson's Super Bowl rings can be counted on my balled-up fist. Great WRs are often available in later rounds, and you can see that the Packers, Steelers, Patriots, Saints aren't all that concerned about chasing WRs in the first round of the NFL Draft. However, we are playing Fantasy Football here...
Rare is the time that you can land a truly elite NFL player for your Dynasty/Fantasy Football team...especially rare to acquire via trade ahead of the players statistical outbreak. You are potentially staring at one of those times with Julio Jones. Think back upon this 2011 Fantasy season alone...WRs come and go all year, stars emerge out of nowhere (Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown)....or just viable WRs emerge out of nowhere (Doug Baldwin, Damian Williams, Laurent Robinson). WRs spike up and trail off all Fantasy season, but there are only a handful of WRs that you don't even have to think about placing in as a starter each week. Julio Jones may be that next one you don't have to worry about...and that's worth it's weight in gold.
We are forever in the quest for talent at a bargain price, but sometimes it's worth "over-paying" a bit at current prices...for something you will look back on in a few years and consider a huge bargain (just like the Falcons did). I wouldn't give up an elite WR for this potential elite WR (Jones)...but I would try to fleece an owner with a B-B+ WR with some additional trinkets in exchange for Jones, hoping that the current Jones-owner see Jones as a B+ WR too.
The clock is ticking on this however. It is very possible that in two weeks, after Atlanta's 1st-Round playoff game/win...Jones will have gone from a current 7-8 value, to a 10-11 in trade value. The playoffs have a tendency to rapidly elevate and exaggerate rookie player values (see Shonn Greene circa-2009, and James Starks Circa-2010).
My current New Years resolution for 2012 Dynasty League teams...the smart/swift acquisition of Julio Jones. Happy New Years to all!
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