Julio Jones had a fantastic rookie season in 2011, but many fantasy owners expect Roddy White to continue to be the No. 1 receiving option in Atlanta.
As of today, White is being drafted ahead of Jones on average in fantasy drafts.
It’s hard to argue with it; White has collected 80-plus receptions and 1,000-plus receiving yards for each of the past four seasons, earning top-10 fantasy WR honors in each of those four seasons.
However, the writing is on the wall. White will drop out of the top 10 fantasy WRs and will be replaced by the second-year wide out.
I don’t believe that White will become fantasy irrelevant, as evidence supports that there will be enough balls to go around to make both Jones and White starter-worthy.
There are three reasons why Jones will be a top fantasy WR in 2012:
The Falcons will be near the top of the league in pass attempts
When people think of Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, they typically think of a run-first team. A “run-first team” has a different definition in 2012 than it did 20 years ago, as the entire league is passing more.
With that being said, the Falcons passed the ball on 56.7 percent of their plays last season. That may seem like a lot, but it was only 16th in the league in terms of pass-to-run ratio.
The reason Atlanta is near the top of the league in pass attempts is because of the sheer number of offensive plays they are able to run. In 2011, Atlanta was third in the league with 1047 offensive plays.
Is that number sustainable? It sure looks like it, as Atlanta has averaged more than 1000 offensive plays per year since Matt Ryan became their starting quarterback:
2011: 1047, 56.7 percent passing
2010: 1074, 53.7 percent passing
2009: 1021, 55.8 percent passing
2008: 994, 43.6 percent passing
Note: These play totals do not include sacks.
Now that Atlanta has brought in former Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, many sources are claiming it will pass the ball more in 2012.
At first glance, I thought it would be near-impossible to improve upon 594 pass attempts. But is it?
Even if Atlanta only moves into the top third of passing percentage teams in the NFL—around 58.7 percent—that would have been good for 614 attempts based on last year’s play total.
If Koetter gets really pass happy and moves into the upper-tier of passing percentage teams—60 percent or more—Ryan could throw 630-plus attempts. It may not seem likely, but Michael Turner is getting older and a pass-oriented offense is more suited for second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers.
Even if there is only a slight improvement in the number of passing plays called in 2012, the Falcons will eclipse 600 pass attempts, which is good news for both Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Julio had an outstanding rookie season
The Atlanta Falcons made up their mind in the 2011 NFL draft, they were going to draft Julio Jones regardless of the price.
After trading their 27th, 59th and 124th picks from the 2011 draft, as well as their first- and fourth-round picks from the 2012 draft, the Falcons acquired the No. 6 overall selection and drafted Alabama WR Julio Jones.
After paying that much to move up in the draft and select a wide receiver, the Falcons were expected to use Jones heavily in his rookie year, and they did.
He finished as the No. 17 ranked fantasy WR in his rookie year (WR21 in PPR leagues), despite only playing in 13 games. He caught 54 passes for 959 yards—17.8 yards-per-reception—and hauled in eight touchdowns.
In fact, Jones’ 17.8 YPR was the highest mark for a rookie with 50 or more receptions since Randy Moss averaged 19.0 YPR in 1998.
Pro-rated over a full 16-game season, Jones would have had a stat line of 66/1179/10. In standard scoring systems, that would have been good for 178 points, or tied for the eighth-best fantasy wideout with teammate Roddy White. In PPR leagues, he would have finished as the WR10.
All this was accomplished even though Jones never scored a touchdown until Week 9. From that point on, Jones caught 36 passes for 665 yards and eight TDs.
For as much love as A.J. Green got for his fantastic rookie season—including a Pro Bowl selection—Julio Jones actually averaged more fantasy points-per-game than Green.
Jones had one of the best rookie wide receiver seasons in recent memory and will only build upon that in his sophomore campaign.
Jones will play a bigger part in the offense in 2012, just ask Roddy White
When a star wide receiver speaks out and says his role will be reduced in the offense in order to get the ball in the hands of another playmaker, we need to take notice as fantasy owners.
In a June interview, Roddy White admitted he must do less in the offense this season in order to get Jones the ball more.
“We switched some things up,” White said. “We are doing the things [Koetter] likes to do. He’s a smart guy, and he knows what we do best.”
People seemed to overlook this interview, but it came straight from the mouth of White: Jones will be much more involved in 2012.
But how much more involved? Let’s take a look at the target percentage breakdown from 2011:
Roddy White: 32%
Tony Gonzalez: 20%
Running backs: 18%
Julio Jones: 17%
Harry Douglas: 11%
In what is going to be a “more balanced offense”—according to both White and Koetter—we can’t expect White to receive nearly a third of the passing targets again this season.
While everyone in Atlanta wants to get the ball more to Harry Douglas, it’s hard to envision him getting more than the 11 percent from last season. 43 percent of his production came in the four games that Jones didn’t record a catch, so we can expect his overall target numbers to stay the same.
If his offensive patterns from Jacksonville tell us anything, it’s that Koetter likes to use the tight end. While Tony Gonzalez is getting up there in age, I don’t think we’ll see a significant drop off from the 20 percent of a season ago.
Is it realistic that Jones will be the fourth option behind White, Gonzalez, and the running backs?
For prognostication purposes, let’s assume White and Jones become 1A and 1B options. That is, both players receive an equal number of targets. Based on last year’s numbers, that would be 148 targets each.
If we use Jones’ rookie season statistics, and White’s career statistics, we get the following numbers based on 148 targets:
These numbers were derived from Jones’ catch percentage, TD percentage and YPR from a year ago.
I used White’s career numbers because I don’t anticipate him dropping a league-high 15 passes again this season. In fact, White’s career catch percentage, TD percentage and YPR are all higher than his marks from a season ago, so these numbers may be a bit optimistic for 148 targets.
Those projections would have made Julio Jones the No. 5 fantasy WR in 2011 and Roddy White the No. 14 WR in 2011.
With that being said, these numbers are based on two assumptions:
The Falcons pass the ball the same amount as last season—only 594 attempts—and Roddy White and Julio Jones have an equal amount of targets.
Even if White remains the No. 1 option and receives 50 more targets than Jones, the second-year wide out's YPR and TD percentage will make him a better fantasy option.
We know there is upside to the number of passing attempts for Atlanta, but what if Jones actually surpasses White as the No. 1 option and gets more targets?
The sky is the limit for Jones, and he is the WR to own in Atlanta in 2012.