There is no questioning the talent or upside of Julio Jones. The Atlanta Falcons wide receiver has the combination of size, speed and athleticism that makes quarterbacks very happy and causes fantasy owners to drool on their keyboards.
But Jones is not without his question marks. Will he see more targets this year? With hamstring issues behind him, will he stay healthy this year? Are there enough touches to go around in Atlanta?
As fantasy players go, Jones is one of the more intriguing. Let's take a look at a player who could be the breakout star at wide receiver in 2012.
Jones is being widely touted as a player that is about to blow up in a big way this season. A good argument in support of that theory is the efficiency that Jones displayed last year.
Despite playing just 13 games and finishing with only 54 receptions, Jones still tallied 959 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. His 17.8 yards per catch was seventh-best in the NFL, trumping players such as Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald.
But he also put up those numbers with just 96 targets. Of the 18 wide receivers who finished above him in the fantasy rankings last season, only Jordy Nelson (96) and Laurent Robinson (81) finished with 96 or fewer targets.
And then there is this, from D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
One of the features of the offense under new coordinator Dirk Koetter is the deep passing attack. The Falcons did not regularly throw the ball down the field under former coordinator Mike Mularkey and did not display the deep ball much in games against the Ravens and Bengals.
That can only mean good things for Jones in 2012. Already one of the most explosive wide receivers in the league, Jones' numbers should see a nice boost in his sophomore campaign.
Fantasy Red Flags
Efficient or not, the question remains: How much will the presence of Roddy White limit Jones' fantasy value?
Last season, White led the NFL with a whopping 181 targets, and his 388 receptions since Matt Ryan became the starter in 2008 suggests the two have built a serious rapport in the past four seasons. Oh, and Ryan also has Tony Gonzalez (116 targets in 2011) to keep involved. And Michael Turner will probably get another 300 touches.
There sure are a lot of weapons in Atlanta. And while that doesn't mean Jones won't get more looks in 2012—or make the most of those looks he does receive—the weapons in Atlanta have to be considered a serious threat to Jones' bid to be one of the elite fantasy receivers this season.
The other issue with Jones was his fantasy inconsistency last season. Yes, he had seven games with double-digit fantasy points, and was good for 16 or more points four times. But it was all or nothing with Jones—in the other six games he played last year, his fantasy-point total was as follows: seven, six, two (twice), zero (twice).
Inconsistency is always a scary proposition in fantasy. And given he'll probably still see modest targets when compared to the other elite receivers in the NFL this season, it's probable he'll offer the same production this year.
Is there any doubt he's a freak of nature?
Draft Day Value
In ESPN snake drafts, Jones has an average draft position of 31.6, so you better start targeting him in the third round. If he makes it to you in the fourth, grab him without reservation—he's a great value at that point.
Jones' has top-five upside given that he's fast enough to be a deep threat, big enough to be a red zone threat, strong enough to be possession receiver and athletic enough to make teams pay after the catch.
While the other weapons Atlanta possesses makes it likely Jones won't finish as a top-five option this year at wide receiver, at the very least he should crack the top 10 and win you a few weeks with huge performances.
Tweet That Says It All
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller on what makes Jones such a complete weapon:
Re-watching #Falcons offense this preseason. Julio Jones ability to get in and out of breaks is other-worldly.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 24, 2012
It's only a matter of time before Jones becomes one of the truly elite wide receivers in this league. Whether or not you believe this is the year should influence how high you target Jones in your draft.
With the Falcons likely to continue to run the ball regularly and Gonzalez and White seeing regular targets, I think Jones will have a role as a big-play threat for the Falcons. As any DeSean Jackson or Mike Wallace owner from the past can tell you, that sort of role can be very valuable for a fantasy owner.
However, there's also a good chance it will limit Jones' production this season.
Yes, he'll probably be huge some weeks and non-existent in others. Yes, if you own him you probably won't like Roddy White very much. And yes, given his crazy upside I think it's totally justifiable using a third-round pick to select him. In the fourth, he's great value and potentially the steal of your draft.
Julio Jones is worth the hype. Whether or not he becomes an elite fantasy receiver on the Falcons this year is another question altogether.
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