Rankings Impact of the Julio Jones Trade
For those who vacationed under a rock this weekend, Julio Jones was traded to the Titans. Let’s break down how this trade will impact the fantasy pieces in both Tennessee and Atlanta, starting with the Titans. Check out our fantasy football rankings for all involved players and beyond.
Ryan Tannehill is a Top-10 Fantasy Quarterback.
Since taking over as the starter in Week 7 of the 2019 season, Tannehill has averaged 247 passing yards and 2.12 passing touchdowns to go along with 17.2 rushing yards and 0.42 rushing touchdowns per game. He posted the fourth-highest per game average from Week 7 to Week 17 in 2019 and followed that up with a No. 7 finish at his position in 2020.
When both Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis walked in free agency, it appeared that Tannehill was likely to take a step back, and that was reflected in his early ADP (QB16 at Underdog), though I had him ranked QB13. Now that Jones is a Titan, Tannehill is back in my top 10, at QB8, ahead of Jalen Hurts and Aaron Rodgers, who would be higher if not for all the drama in Green Bay.
My only concern with Tannehill is the loss of OC Arthur Smith–who, oddly enough, is now the head coach of the Falcons. He did a great job of maximizing Tannehill’s skillset in the Tennessee offense. New OC Todd Downing has one season under his belt running the Raiders’ offense in 2017, and things didn’t go so well as the offense regressed from the year before. He’s unlikely to overhaul the offense since the Titans have been very successful on that side of the ball under Smith in recent years. I’m expecting a similar run-focused attack, though the acquisition of Jones could signal that the team plans to throw the ball a bit more.
A.J. Brown is still a fantasy WR1 but is far less likely to be THE fantasy WR1.
Prior to the trade, I projected Brown for a massive target share given the losses of Smith and Davis. After posting 52-1051-8 on 84 targets as a rookie and 70-1075-11 on 106 targets in his second season, I have Brown projected for 82-1165-10.8 in 2021, which currently has him ranked as my WR8 in half-PPR scoring formats. It will be interesting to watch his ADP over the next week or so, but I think he should be going in the third round with Jones on board.
Julio Jones’ value takes a hit when compared to his value in Atlanta, but we knew he was probably going to land elsewhere.
Jones has been going in the fourth round of early best ball drafts and that was partially due to the uncertainty surrounding his landing spot. Now that we know he’s likely to play in Tennessee’s low-volume but highly efficient passing attack, I currently have him projected for 73-1080-6.1. The main issue is opportunity. Tannehill has only attempted 28.9 passes per game since taking over as the starter, while Matt Ryan averaged 39.9 attempts in the 23 games that Jones played over the last two seasons. The targets just aren’t there to support two fantasy WR1 types.
Josh Reynolds no longer has much sleeper appeal, but Anthony Firkser is still on the TE2 radar.
The arrival of Jones completely submarines Reynolds’ breakout chances as he is now the third or fourth option in a low-volume pass offense. He could have broken out (a la Corey Davis) as the No. 2 option, but now he’ll likely be relegated to 3-5 targets per game in a complementary role. (The same goes for Dez Fitzpatrick, who potentially could have usurped Reynolds.)
As for Firkser, he had a chance for a breakout season as well since the Titans had no clear No. 2 option in the passing game. Before Jones’s arrival, it was conceivable that Firkser would rack up the second-most targets after Brown, but that’s no longer a possibility if Brown and Jones stay healthy. I expect Firkser’s ADP will drop a couple of rounds and he could still return value at that level, but he’s more of a middle-of-the-road TE2 instead as opposed to a tight end with top 12 upside.
Derrick Henry’s value is relatively unchanged.
Even if the Titans do pass a bit more, then Henry’s efficiency should rise due to the presence of Jones. Teams will no longer be able to stack the box and dare Tannehill to beat them with his arm. Henry had the 12th-highest stacked-front carry rate, per Player Profiler, and still averaged 5.0 yards per carry in those attempts. That rate should fall and Henry’s overall YPC could rise even further. (He was 5.6 YPC against base fronts and 5.3 YPC against light fronts, per Player Profiler.)
Jones should also keep a few extra drives alive, leading to more yards and touchdowns for Henry, even if his overall share of the offense may dip a bit. I would still draft him as the clear RB3 in half-PPR formats.
Matt Ryan’s value takes a hit, but other factors could mitigate the damage.
Ryan has produced 13.7% fewer fantasy points in the eight games that Jones missed over the past two seasons. Early drafters pegged Ryan as the No. 13 quarterback in early drafts and that’s likely to drop a bit now that Jones is officially gone.
However, there are reasons for optimism surrounding Ryan and the Atlanta offense heading into 2021. He still has one fantastic receiver, Calvin Ridley, who has posted bonafide WR1-type numbers with or without Jones in the lineup, though his target and yardage numbers got a big boost whenever Jones was out or limited. (More on that later.) Russell Gage had a career-high 72-786-4 on 109 targets, while Olamide Zaccheaus posted 8-86 against the Packers and 4-103-1 against the Broncos when pressed into starter’s snaps last year. Hayden Hurst is a capable receiver and could play more in two-TE formations with Jones gone.
Two other factors working in Ryan’s favor are the respective arrivals of Arthur Smith and Kyle Pitts. The aforementioned Smith deservedly has a reputation for being a sharp offensive mind, and he has done a great job with Tannehill over the last two seasons. As for Pitts, I’m usually not one to project rookie tight ends very high, but he should step into a large role and has people throwing around adjectives like “generational” when describing his talent and upside.
Ryan’s 18.3 fantasy points per game with Jones in the lineup only equates to mid-level QB2 numbers, but I think he should be able to hit that level again given all the moving parts in Atlanta.
Calvin Ridley is a top-tier fantasy WR1.
In the 10 games over the past two seasons when Jones played fewer than 30 snaps (i.e. he was out or limited), Ridley averaged 6.3 catches (on 10.3 targets) for 95 yards and 0.30 touchdowns. The touchdowns were low given that usage–he averaged 0.72 touchdowns in the games that Jones played his full snaps–so I would expect Ridley to catch plenty of touchdowns in 2021 and perhaps crack the 1,500-yard mark if he stays healthy. (These touchdown numbers, along with Jones’ historically low TD-rate for a player of his usage, do make me wonder if Ryan purposely looks to his secondary receivers in the red zone. It’s something worth monitoring, at least.)
Now that Jones is out of the way, Ridley should be the third or fourth receiver off the board, depending on how owners feel about Davante Adams and the quarterback situation in Green Bay.
Russell Gage projects to low-end WR4 numbers.
If not for the arrival of Pitts, Gage would be projected higher than the 67-754-5.9 that he’s currently slated for. Gage was relatively unaffected by Jones’s availability in the Atlanta offense last year, averaging 7.1 targets per game with Jones and 6.6 targets per game without him. Since Jones is out of the way, Gage projects to be the second or third option in the passing game after Ridley and perhaps Pitts.
Kyle Pitts enters the top five.
Initial projections had Pitts on the same tier as Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson and Dallas Goedert, and after the Jones trade, he has moved ahead of Goedert and Hockenson in my rankings. He was always a threat for TE1-type numbers, but the loss of Jones serves to raise his floor since the Falcons will now need him on a weekly basis. I normally shy away from rookie tight ends, but Pitts will be an exception and deserves to be the fourth or fifth tight end off the board.
Given the dearth of receiving talent in Detroit, Hockenson probably offers more safety in terms of a weekly target floor, but Pitts has some serious upside if this Atlanta offense maintains its potency.
Mike Davis sees a bump in potential usage in the passing game.
Davis was an interesting signing for the Falcons, especially since the team didn’t add anyone else in free agency other than to sign undrafted free agent Javian Hawkins. This reluctance to acquire rushing talent is even more perplexing given the arrival of Arthur Smith, who thrived in Tennessee by calling Henry’s number early and often.
Davis has a career 3.7 yards per carry and posted a measly 3.9 last year, so he’s only replacement level as a runner. However, he showed some serious chops as a receiver last season, catching 59 passes while filling in for Christian McCaffrey. Smith is not known for feeding targets to his running backs, but Davis is shaping up to have a sizable role as a receiver.
I project Davis as an RB2 given his probable usage, but I’m admittedly worried that the Falcons will add a veteran running back before the season. Davis isn’t good enough to be unaffected by the arrival of a Le’Veon Bell type.