The Falcons did it. They pulled off a big-name trade that sent Julio Jones, the long-time Falcons wide receiver to the Tennessee Titans. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical of the Falcons pulling the trigger on this move. This is something I and Jalen (@Ace_eca4 on Twitter) talked about on the podcast not too long ago when the rumors started popping up. We thought it would have made more sense to move Julio Jones during the draft to get more draft capital that year and make more moves. The Falcons were still able to find a team willing to take Julio Jones and his contract off the Falcon’s hands.
I wanted to jump on this right away but opted to wait to gather intel on what the perception of the trade was among the fantasy community. From what I was gathering, some feel that the move is going to put a dent into wide receiver AJ Brown’s value because of how much Julio Jones is projected to be targeted in that offense. Or that the Titans could go more pass-heavy to compensate for the additional volume Julio Jones could command, inadvertently hurting Derrick Henry’s fantasy output. While some of these thoughts and concerns are valid, they aren’t big concerns, at least to me they aren’t. Let’s break some of those concerns down.
To start, heading into the offseason and before the trade, AJ Brown was one of the most highly valued fantasy wide receivers heading into the 2021 season, and rightfully so. With the departure of Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and Adam Humphries in free agency, Brown was expected to absorb even more of the targets that were made available because of those departures. With Julio Jones joining the Titans this season, some feel that this will impact Brown but here’s where I differ on this. Coming into the 2021 season, A.J. Brown has averaged 95 targets over the last two seasons. He saw 106 targets last season and could have seen a bit more had he not missed two games while dealing with knee issues. Brown averaged nearly eight targets a game so if you give him the 16 targets he potentially missed while being out, that’s about 122 targets on the season. With that kind of target share, that would put Brown at 18th in targets among wide receivers.
If Brown were to hit that 122 target mark, he would’ve accounted for just over 25% of the team’s targets. With Davis, Smith, and Humphries gone to other teams and leaving 197 targets in their wake, there’s more than enough targets left over for both Brown and Jones to co-exist in the same space based on the 481 pass attempts Ryan Tannehill had in 2020 with upside for that attempt total to rise a bit. Julio Jones averaged 132 targets a season on his career so far so even if you give him somewhere around that total, there’s still plenty of targets left for Brown to see an uptick in work.
I would wager that between Julio and Brown, they could account for at least 40+% of the team’s targets combined leaving some work left over for guys like Anthony Firkser or Josh Reynolds. With the Julio move, both may fall into heavy sleeper status as we get closer to the draft season by late July/early August. Julio’s average draft position (ADP) seems to have tapered off around the early part of the 4th round after being as low as the 4.05 since back in January per FFCalculator. Now it settled at in around the 4.01/02 spot which could be a nice spot to grab a WR 2 with major upside. The Titans under QB Ryan Tannehill, who should also see a bit of a boom in terms of ADP, should be one of the teams Fantasy’s manager should be looking to draft from this season.
But the Titans aren’t the only ones that will benefit from the Julio Jones trade for fantasy. The Falcons, even while losing a stud like Julio, will be another team that fantasy managers shouldn’t lose sit of. With Julio Jones in Tennessee now, and his 132 target average leaving with him, the Falcons pass catchers should see a substantial boost in targets starting with Calvin Ridley.
In Weeks 3 and 5 when Julio Jones was out, Ridley saw a combined 23 targets and 246 yards. In PPR formats, Ridley dropped 16.7 and 21.6 fantasy points in those Weeks. Even with Jones back in the lineup in Week 13 against the Saints, Calvin Ridley outproduced Jones 108 to 94 in receiving yards. The rest of the way, Ridley would average nearly 12 targets a game over from Weeks 14-17. Ridley totaled 143 targets in 2020, easily putting him in WR 1 categories in terms of production ahead of the 2021 season. While he’ll be one of the first players to come off the board for the Falcons, Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst should also be added to the mix. Hurst himself saw 88 targets last season, good for 10th (tied with Ravens TE Mark Andrews). I won’t lie. When Kyle Pitts was drafted 4th overall by the Falcons during the 2021 NFL Draft, I was sure that it spelled the end for Hayden Hurst’s fantasy value. But with the Julio trade officially in the books, Hurst has a chance to return to viable fantasy markets. Hurst finished the TE 11 last season and while that’s not the sexiest spot at the Tight End position, he finished just 6 points outside of the TE Top 10.
Kyle Pitts has also been seeing tons of work in OTA’s and minicamp so far with reports stating that Pitts is being “force-fed” the ball. With the Falcons being one of the more pass-heavy teams in the league, that can only spell major dividends for one of the top pass-catching prospects coming out of this year’s draft. There’s certainly enough of the “pie” to go around in Atlanta to boost these guys to must-have status for your fantasy teams this season.