NFL Draft 2011 ~ Statistical Analysis of WR Julio Jones, does "Upside" Trump Actual Performance?

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NFL DRAFT 2011- WR

 

By R.C. Fischer
Release Date:
   4/7/2011

Statistical Analysis of WR Julio Jones, does "Upside" Trump Actual Performance?

WR Julio Jones, Alabama

*our "Big WRs" are 6'0+ and 205+ pounds, or 6'2+ no matter what weight

**You may enjoy an article on the overall statistical problem with drafting WRs, which is a fore-runner to these individual player reports -- NFL Draft 2011 - Why are you so sure Julio Jones and A.J. Green are NFL "Locks"? A Look at the Comedy that is WR Draft Picks in the NFL - Fantasy Football 2011  

The physical measureables on him are amazing....

  • A sub 4.4 in the 40-yard dash
  • 38" Vertical Leap, historically top tier
  • Bigger than average hands for a WR, longer than average arms as well
  • Taller than most WR prospects, with a 220+ pound solid frame
  • Historically very good/great agility metrics and measurements
  • Led his team in receptions, receiving yards and TDs

What else can you say about 2003 NFL Draft prospect Tyrone Calico from Middle Tennessee State?

Also, the same can be said about Alabama WR Julio Jones. I throw Tyrone Calico in the conversation, just to bring us back down to earth a little. *Calico was actually a very good WR prospect, and the Tennessee Titans 2nd Round pick in 2003...but a knee injury cut his career short.

With every new NFL Draft season, we act as if we have never seen anything like "X" WR...which usually leads to too much pre-draft hyperbole and an almost bizarre attachment to prospects that (in reality, as fans) we know very little about individually, or in comparison to other prospects we've never even seen play. However, if you are going to get excited about a WR prospect from just from a physical characteristics standpoint alone; and no other scouting effort or statistical study...then Julio Jones would be a great candidate to do so with.

Looking within our database and system analysis on just the physical characteristics of our "Big WRs", Julio Jones is a mix of a little shorter Calvin Johnson with some Chad Jackson and Tyrone Calico physical characteristics. Calico is almost a dead ringer. You could get excited about a Calvin Johnson physical comparison, and I would call Jones a (very) "poor man's" Calvin Johnson physically. The Chad Jackson and Tyrone Calico comparisons are probably not as exciting for Jones fans. The issue with Julio Jones is not so much trying to win the argument about how great he is physically, because he is amazing...the issue with Julio Jones is -- why were his on-field performance/statistics so mediocre for such an incredible physical talent? More specifically, Julio Jones has had no penchant for collecting/compiling TDs like the top college "Big WRs" historically (as well as rating weaker historically in our system analysis on this as well, this TD metric/issue has been a "canary in the coal mine" tell-tale sign for WR problems with translating to the NFL).

A look at recent "Big WRs" (of those who played mostly, or all, of 3 seasons of college football) and their receiving TDs in comparison to games played. Looking mostly at WRs who went on to succeed in the NFL...as well as 1st Round or 2nd Round WR draft picks that "busted".                                                *example, a WR with 1.33 games played for every Rec TD scored would be a pace of 12 Rec TDs in a 16-game season

"Big WRs" in their final 3 seasons of play, Games played per Rec TD (games played divided by Rec TD):  

  1. 0.97 = avg games played for every Rec TD...Braylon Edwards, Michigan (38 games, scoring more Rec TDs than Games played)
  2. 1.32 = Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech (37 games)
  3. 1.32 = Roy Williams, Texas (37 games)
  4. 1.34 = Dwayne Bowe, LSU (35 games)
  5. 1.39 = A.J. Green, Georgia (32 games)
  6. 1.48 = Leonard Hankerson, Miami (31 games)
  7. 1.50 = Roddy White, UAB (37 games)
  8. 1.60 = Jordy Nelson, Kansas State (32 games)
  9. 1.64 = Reggie Williams, Washington (36 games, 1st Round Pick of Jacksonville in 2004)
  10. 1.66 = Hakeem Nicks, UNC (35 games)
  11. 2.15 = Troy Williamson, So Carolina (28 games, #7 overall pick of Minnesota in 2005)
  12. 2.38 = Michael Jenkins, Ohio State (38 games, 1st Round pick of Atlanta 2004)
  13. 2.40 = Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech
  14. 2.47 = Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia
  15. 2.67 = Julio Jones, Alabama (40 games, this pace would equal about 6 TDs in a 16-game season)
  16. 2.84 = Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (37 games)
  17. 5.00 = Craig Davis, LSU (35 games...1st Round pick of SD in 2007)
  • Michael Crabtree 0.63 in 2 seasons (26 games)
  • Larry Fitzgerald 0.73 in 2 seasons (25 games)
  • Charles Rogers 0.92 in 2 seasons (23 games)
  • Dez Bryant 0.93 in 2+ seasons (27 games)
  • Andre Johnson 1.26 in 2 seasons (25 games)
  • Devin Thomas 1.88 in 2 seasons (17 games)

Scoring well on this list does not automatically mean that the particular WR is going to be a guaranteed NFL star, but it has been more telling than not...as well as scoring poorly on this has been pretty apt to predict problems at the NFL level. Yes, some of these WRs played in a more high pass attempt offense (i.e. Crabtree) -- but the majority of the WRs on the list come from more statistically balanced offenses.

How could Jones be such a physical force, and yet have such muted on-field performance? I have heard a few theories on this like, "Alabama 2010 was a more run-oriented team" or "it's a statistical aberration, you can't trust statistics anyway!"

The Alabama Offense as "too run oriented"?

The problem with the "Alabama is a running team" excuse....statistically speaking is -- it is not true. Take a look at the most discussed "Big WR" 2011 prospects, and their teams % of passing attempts vs. rushing attempts in 2010:

  1. 52.6% Passing vs. Rushing = Miami (Hankerson)
  2. 44.1% = Georgia (Green)
  3. 43.7% = Alabama (Jones)
  4. 43.3% = Pittsburgh (Baldwin)
  5. 35.8% = LSU (Toliver)

I would not say that Julio Jones was held back by Alabama's "supposed" run-heavy offense. *Calvin Johnson/Georgia Tech 2007 was at 41.2% passing vs. rushing, FYI

Statistical aberration?

Statistical "blip"? Could be, but there are 2 problems with stretching into the "blip" camp.

First, Jones has had low receiving TD metrics throughout his entire career. 40 career games and just 15 TD's. Less than half of a TD per game...and rarely did future elite NFL WR have that kind of track record in college when they were a main player/starter. This past season Jones barely had over half a TD per game (0.6 per), by comparison Leonard Hankerson and A.J. Green both averaged exactly 1.0 receiving TD per game this past season.

Leonard Hankerson almost had more receiving TDs in 13 games this past season, than Julio Jones (15 total) has had in his 40 career games spanning 3 seasons. On the surface, something just doesn't look right on Jones' productivity.

Digging deeper -- secondly, future elite WRs rarely/ever had this low TD-productivity issue (that Jones is showing) whether they played with a good QB or bad QB, or in a high pass attempt or low pass attempt offense, etc. In our metrics, relative to his surroundings/Offense and QB etc -- Julio Jones low TD metrics are outside (in our system's historical analysis) of most all of the WRs who went on to become elite in the NFL. Not only within the 2011 WR class is Jones behind the curve on "TD prowess", his performance is a distance off from what most all of the future elite WRs produced in our system.

The statistical trending problem with Jones and his TD-issues are not only troubling among the 2011 class; they are also troubling among the last 5-10 years worth of incoming WRs.

 

What is an NFL GM to do with Julio Jones?

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 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.

If I were an NFL GM, I would not take a WR with a top 15-20 pick...so I would purposefully miss out on Jones and be very content (and plan) to take Leonard Hankerson (our mathematical analysis #1 WR in 2011) late first/early second round (if I was in need of a frontline WR).

 

The NFL WR that is the best match of Julio Jones in our system:

Looking at a WR match for Jones in our database, we went searching in the system for 6'2+, 210+ pound WR's who graded very high in all of the physical metrics -- especially for speed and agility. We matched the high physical performance with an overall solid receiving performance, but a more mediocre grading/metric on the TD ability. Javon Walker really fits Jones the best as a system match, and that would be a fruitful NFL career if it happened. Before you laugh at Chaz Schilens or Legedu Naanee being listed (below) as similar matches to Jones -- keep in mind Schilens and Naanee have both had multiple injury issues in the NFL, and there have been flashes of good/great with them...so don't totally dismiss them as a "bad" omen in a Jones-Schilens-Naanee comparison.

Obviously, the eye-catching WR match on the list below is Andre Johnson. Johnson also graded out high physical/mediocre in performance metrics (see note below on that)...the one caveat with Andre Johnson being on a lower performance metric list for TDs, and this is just a theory, is Johnson played his final year with future NFL'ers Kellen Winslow and Roscoe Parrish, and the year before that with Jeremy Shockey...not to mention Frank Gore, Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis all on that team.  It's rare to see so much talent on one team at one time, and that possibly influences any individual production (lower)...so we can only speculate, however we take the data all at face value and don't adjust for speculation. *our internal TD metric also takes into consideration strength of opponents and pass/run balance of their offense played in...so it is different metric/judgment than the list a couple paragraphs above where Andre Johnson scored well career-wise.

Andre Johnson may be a case where haven't been able to properly account for a player (statistically), because he was surrounded by so much talent that it may have suppressed his numbers a bit. I can't quantify that per say, so I had to judge Johnson like everyone else in our system. We've had WRs that have played with great RBs (like Julio Jones did in 2010), but rarely if ever has a WR (like Andre Johnson did) played with so many NFL caliber TEs and WRs and RBs all at the same time...which may have affected his numbers in our system...who knows, but Julio Jones does have much in common across the board with Andre Johnson on the various metrics.

The big difference between Andre Johnson and Julio Jones -- Johnson averaged 0.83 TDs per game in his 2 last/main seasons of college play, whereas Julio Jones averaged a very troubling/red-flag level 0.42 TDs per game in his last 2 seasons of play.

LEGEND FOR RATINGS:

  • SPEED = a combination of speed measurements from the NFL Combine/Pro-Days, measured against our database on similar WRs
  • AGILITY = a combination of agility test measurements from the NFL Combine/Pro-Days, measured against our database on similar WRs
  • HANDS = a combination of performance metrics and physical metrics to grade "hands" or ability to catch the ball translated ahead to the NFL. A unique/private metric of ours.
  • TD = a combination of performance metrics and physical metrics to grade "TD catching prowess", a kinda "red zone" factor translating ahead to the NFL. A unique/private metric of ours.

*school grade system, A+ being the best in class historically all the way to F- as historically the worst combination of metrics -- all based on what WRs with those measurements did (or didn't do) in the NFL.

LASTFIRSTDraft YearCOLLEGEHHW40-yHandsSpeedAgilityTD 
JonesJulio2011Alabama62.82204.39B+A+AC+
WalkerJavon2002Florida State63.02104.38B-AAC+
SchilensChaz2008San Diego State64.02254.33C-A-BC+
NaaneeLegedu2007Boise St62.12254.41DA-C
JohnsonAndre2002Miami, Fla62.02204.40BB+B+C+

 

2011 NFL DRAFT Outlook for Julio Jones

Jones seemed to be the consensus #1 WR overall in February/late-March 2011...a nudge ahead of A.J. Green. The media seems to be shifting toward A.J. Green in April -- with some having Green as high as #1 overall to Carolina, but most at #4 with Cincinnati. Again, I think it is a major mistake for the worst teams in football to try to turn their fortunes around with a WR as a Top 10-15 pick. My suspicion on all the pro-A.J. Green talk/hype lately is a cover that Julio Jones is actually the #1 WR on most NFL War Room Draft Boards.

The teams at the top of the Draft that are more desperately in need of a frontline WR (in my opinion) are Carolina, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Everyone else in the Top-15 is fairly settled for a main "Big WR", or they have a nice core of receivers/it's not a desperate need. It would likely be crazy for them to reach for another WR (a la Matt Millen). If I had to bet, I would predict Cleveland as the landing spot for Jones.

The NFL track record of success with Top-15/high pick WRs has been terrible (see prior articles on that fact). I think it is a terrible decision for an NFL team with many needs to take WR Top-15...but if I was going to break the rule and try to defy the WR draft odds/gods -- Julio Jones is the "homerun or strikeout" WR worth taking a high risk/high reward shot on.

Work has begun on our 2011 Fantasy Football "Big Board" Draft Guide, a statistical and detailed analysis of over 400 players for traditional and PPR league scoring. The draft guide is planned to be available in early June -- a unique guide that is EVER UPDATED...unlike the store bought magazine/guide that is one month out of date by the time hits store shelves, and is obsolete after trades, cuts, signings, injuries, etc. Our Draft Guide is online and you can download/update as often as you wish -- as we update the guide, projections and rankings as often as daily (as NFL events and inside information dictate) throughout the off-season and preseason...right up to Opening Kickoff! Our research and statistical modeling definitely will NOT be a "parroting" of conventional wisdom. *See our home page for samples of last season's "Big Board" Guide. Thanks!

 

Fantasy Football Writer R C FischerBy R.C. Fischer
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