Julio Jones is being drafted as a WR1 (ninth receiver taken on average according to FFC), but the second-year receiver finished as only the No. 18 WR in standard scoring as a rookie in 2011. So why are expectations so high for Jones in 2012?
A strong finish to the season is one reason fantasy owners are high on Jones. He had eight TDs as a rookie in 2011—with six of those coming in the last four weeks of the season after recovering from a lingering hamstring issue that caused him to miss three games and not even have a target in one other.
Jones also had five 100-yard receiving games—one more than fellow 2011 first-round pick A.J. Green, who played in all 16 games for the Bengals. Green, though, is the clear No. 1 receiver on his team and is a safer fantasy choice in 2012. This is reflected in his higher ADP on both ESPN and FFC.
Once again, Jones will line up opposite of Roddy White with the Falcons. White commands a lot of targets from QB Matt Ryan. While (likely) being the second-most targeted receiver on his team in 2012 will be a negative, there are also benefits Jones will continue to enjoy with another talented receiver on the field. A focus on White should open up more opportunities for Jones to exploit the defense deep with his superb speed.
Not everyone is sold on Jones' potential for a big year though. ESPN is projecting only six receiving TDs for Jones in 2012, according to the WR projections here. That is two less TDs than he had as a rookie in (effectively) 12 games. It is also equal to Jones’ TD production in Weeks 14-17 alone. Really, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to set the floor for Jones’ expected TD total for 2012 at eight.
Another reason Jones will rise to meet high expectations in 2012 is that there should be a more balanced distribution of targets between White and Jones. White had a league-leading 181 targets to Jones’ 96 in 2011.
Jones should get about 40 more targets this season, considering he missed time last season and will be better acquainted with Matt Ryan in his second year. Jones’ catch rate would translate those extra targets into 77 total catches. Even if his YPC falls (say from 17.8 to 16), Jones would rack up more than 1,200 receiving yards.
Jones also showed he merits more targets by outperforming White in some key areas in 2011—most notably in gaining yards after the catch. Jones had 417 YAC to White’s 364, and he gained those yards on 46 less receptions.
Obviously, that leads to a big discrepancy in AYAC.
Jones had an AYAC of 7.44, while White tacked on an average of only 3.64 yards after the catch.
Overall, Jones averaged 17.8 YPC (seventh in the NFL), while White averaged 13 (60th in the NFL).
While landing Jones on your fantasy squad will probably cost a late third or fourth-round pick, he will prove worth it in 2012. A healthy Jones will produce 1,250 receiving yards and nine TDs in 2012, which should land him comfortably in the top 10 of fantasy scoring receivers.