After months of speculation, Julio Jones has finally moved to pastures new, with a trade to the Tennessee Titans.
This means it’s officially the second off-season in a row where we’re seeing a generational wide receiver traded for minimal draft capital. The difference between the Jones trade and the Hopkins trade is that we saw this coming. The last few months have been spent debating where Jones would land, but in the end, it was the day one favourite who landed him. Whether it was AJ Brown’s campaigning on Twitter and Instagram that got the deal over the line is difficult to know, but the important thing is that it’s official.
Whether this is a good move for the Falcons and the Titans is yet to be seen. But as a community, we now to breakdown the fantasy implications of such a high profile move.
The first player we need to think about is Jones himself. Jones is having a Hall of Fame career and is widely regarded as one of the best to ever play the game. His tenure in Tennessee won’t really affect that – his impact has already been made. But if the Titans can somehow get themselves a ring this year, his road to Canton will become a little bit clearer.
Last year was the first year since 2014 that Jones hasn’t finished as a top-ten WR. This was entirely down to injury, with Jones missing eight games in 2020 due to injury. It’s easy to assume that he will return to being an elite option now he’s presumed to be healthy. However, my prediction would be that he’ll settle somewhere around the WR15-20 range in my projections.
This comes down to two main things – the volume of throwing in Tennessee compared to Atlanta (Matt Ryan had the highest number of passing attempts in 2020 with 626, whereas Tannehill was in 18th with 481, behind QBs in run-first offenses like Baker Mayfield and Kirk Cousins) and presumed target share. These two actually go hand in hand. I believe the Titans will still look to run first with Derrick Henry, using play-action a lot to throw the ball deep. Jones will open up the passing game, but AJ Brown will remain the primary target opposite him. Jones’s elite ability will demand a high level of target share. But the key is the lower volume of targets to go round.
Slight downgrade – WR2
AJ Brown & Calvin Ridley
I’ve chosen to group these two together because I feel that the conversations go hand in hand. Both are seen as elite WR1s, both in redraft and dynasty, with arguments to challenge for the overall WR1. They’re immensely talented and were heavily featured in their respective offenses last year. Brown is younger than Ridley. Coming into his third year in the league at 23, whereas Ridley is 26 and playing on his fifth-year option. However, they’re both young elite talents.
The argument here comes down to one crucial factor – what is more important for a wide receiver: target share or single coverage? These two have now swapped positions in terms of who will see what. Brown will face a higher percentage of single coverage, with opposing secondaries forced to account for both him and Jones (whilst also having to leave men in the box to ensure Derrick Henry doesn’t stiff-arm their entire team into the stands). Ridley is now the undisputed WR1 on an incredibly high volume passing offense. But is guaranteed to see a high percentage of double coverage, as well as a guarantee to face the opposing CB1.
For me, I think target volume is going to be more important here. I’ll take Ridley over Brown, although I fear Ridley’s ADP is about the skyrocket towards the back of the 1st round, putting him in a position where I’m unlikely to draft him, purely due to the way I like to draft my redraft rosters. However don’t be scared – both of them are elite enough for this to have little impact.
Slight upgrade for Ridley, slight downgrade for Brown
Unfortunately for Ryan, he’s the biggest loser of this trade for me. Yes, he did get Kyle Pitts earlier in the offseason, but he’s now lost his favorite target from his career so far. Part of the appeal of owning Ryan was knowing that he’d be throwing to Jones, Ridley, and now Pitts as well. With Jones now gone, I’m not fully out on Ryan, but he’s dropped a few spots.
From a dynasty perspective, you have to consider Ryan’s future with the team. He’s locked in for the next two years, but this move suggests the first step towards a soft rebuild. This may mean that Ryan will be moving on after the 2022 season, but he might not be a great fantasy asset for you in the meantime.
Downgrade to QB2
I was already incredibly in on Tannehill for the 2021 season. This move has just cemented that, although it might mean I’ll have to pay a slightly higher price to draft him. Tannehill has been sneaky elite for fantasy since he took over for the Titans in week 6 of the 2019 season, finishing as the QB8 last season. The one knock against him was that he was in a run-first offense. Don’t get me wrong, Derrick Henry is still going to eat. But you don’t trade for Jones and not throw him the ball. Finishing as the QB8 last year with Corey Davis as his WR2, you can expect to see elite numbers for Tannehill now that his two main targets are a Hall of Famer and a Pro Bowl young talent.
Upgrade – low end QB1 with mid QB1 upside
I think Kyle Pitts is about to start as the Falcons WR2. There, I said it. I get the feeling this may have been the plan the entire time. I’m not going to spend too long talking about Pitts, as we all know how elite he is, but if you were to look at the 2021 receiving class and try and pick who would be most suited to be a Jones replacement, it’s who the Falcons took. Pitts is prolific on the outside against elite corners and I think that’s how the Falcons will look to use him. Ridley is still the undeniable WR1 on the team, but Pitts will challenge him for that title.
Upgrade – TE1 potential as early as year two
I’m not willing to spend too long talking about everyone else on either team, but will give a few lines to those who warrant talking about.
Josh Reynolds – downgrade. Could find himself not fantasy relevant given the low passing volume on the Titans.
Russell Gage – remains the same. Gage has found himself as an offseason darling for the potential of what could happen if Julio left. I think Gage is the definition of a JAG and wouldn’t trouble myself chasing him. If you own him in dynasty, this is your sell window.
Hayden Hurst – upgrade. Hurst will now find himself with more opportunity to start at TE, with Pitts seeing more opportunity on the outside.
Derrick Henry – upgrade. I just wanted to take a second to say that Henry is one of the biggest winners here. It’s difficult to upgrade from where Henry’s being drafted, but Julio will mean less players in the box for Henry. A second 2000 yard season in a row? Not impossible for the King.
Image Credit: Jason Getz – USA TODAY Sports