A.J. Green and Julio Jones have a lot in common. In 2008, both were five star recruits ranked inside the top-ten on Rivals.com and both enrolled as student-athletes at prestigious football universities in the Southeastern Conference. Both were then drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft and both have proven they possess All-Pro talent. Additionally, both are elite fantasy wide receivers, but which one is better? Let’s see where some notable fantasy football analysts ranked the two in their early 2013 rankings:
Green had the better sophomore season from a statistical standpoint, so I’m not surprised that six of the seven analysts ranked him higher. He took a step forward in his development and ranked as the fourth wide receiver in total fantasy points. His year even included a nine-game stretch of catching at least one touchdown. Entering the 2012 season, Jones became the darling wide receiver target thanks to a few mammoth fantasy games in his rookie year and a strong showing in the preseason. He did improve on his first-year numbers; finishing ninth at the position, but the sky-high expectations that were placed on him sapped away some of the gratification that his success merited.
A notable difference between the two players is that Green is already the focal point of the Bengals’ offense, while Jones is just a piece of the Falcons’ puzzle. Green was the target on just over 31% of Dalton’s passing attempts and caught over 40% of Dalton’s touchdown passes. While those numbers of high reliance could increase, it’s more likely that they regress. On the other hand, Jones has plenty of room for an increased role. He was the target on only 21% of Ryan’s passing attempts and caught 31% of Ryan’s touchdown passes. Roddy White will be another year older and so will Tony Gonzalez if he decides to return for another season. Barring an injury, I’d be very surprised if Jones does not see a sizeable increase of targets. That’s where this next table comes into play:
By maintaining his career FPPT, Jones would need only 140 targets to surpass Green’s total fantasy points from 2012. That would only be 11 more targets than Jones received in 2012, but still 24 less targets than Green’s 2012 total. Over the Falcons final eight games, including the playoffs, Jones averaged 9.25 targets per game. That extrapolates to 148 targets over the course of a full season and 205.72 fantasy points according to his career FPPT. As for Green’s final eight games, including the playoffs, he averaged 10.375 targets. That average projects to 166 over a full season, which is nearly right on his total from 2012. According to Green’s career FPPT, that number of targets would translate to 205.84 fantasy points. The point totals are virtually identical. So at this point, their rankings should also be identical. In order to separate them, we’ll have to look at other crucial differences.
Wide receivers are dependent on their quarterbacks (just ask Larry Fitzgerald) and therefore Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton must be taken into account when discussing the values of Green and Jones. From a numbers perspective, Ryan has surpassed Dalton by an average of 914.5 passing yards and 7 passing touchdowns over the past two seasons. That’s a lot of extra yards and touchdowns to go around. Ryan has also finished among the top-eight fantasy quarterbacks in each of the past three seasons. He improved his passing yards and touchdowns in each of those years, whilst also setting a career high in completion percentage (69%) in 2012. While Ryan has been a pillar of consistency and poster-child for improvement, questions surrounding Dalton’s future have begun to arise. J.J. Zachariason of Pro Football Focus pointed out that after Week 12, Dalton did not rank higher than 18th among quarterbacks in any given week. For your fantasy team’s sake, I hope you weren’t forced to rely on him during fantasy football’s stretch run. After Cincinnati’s Thursday night game in Week 15, the Bengals offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, had this to say of Dalton: “We expect to see progress and not regression… He’s got to be more consistent.” I think it’s safe to say that Julio Jones is in the hands of a better quarterback.
Another factor in Jones’ favor is their divisional matchups:
The numbers are so stark that they may not need any discussion. The AFC North is known for its physicality and tend to mix in some old fashioned smash mouth football, whereas the NFC South has been prone to host shootouts. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have developed a reputation for flustering opposing quarterbacks over the years. The statistics provide truth to those beliefs. However, the Cleveland Browns are able to harass top wide receivers with Joe Haden, one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks. Dalton and Green are going to face tough sledding in all six of their divisional games. Ryan and Jones have things a lot easier. After the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers each finished among the bottom-six defenses verses opposing quarterbacks in 2011, both teams ranked as the worst two defenses in 2012. Barring a major improvement from those units, which is unforeseen, that makes for four great matchups year-in-and-year-out. The Carolina Panthers have posed a little tougher task for most of their opponents, finishing near the middle of the pack in the past two seasons. That hasn’t stopped Ryan from averaging 298.5 passing yards and 2.5 touchdowns versus them over the past two seasons though.
With all that being said, A.J. Green is a damn fine receiver and he is undoubtedly a WR1 in fantasy football. However, considering all factors, I’m ranking Julio Jones a hair ahead of him in 2013. While Green will be fighting to overcome the shortcomings of his surroundings, the sky is the limit for Jones. If the numbers alone weren’t enough to convince you of Jones’ immense potential, then watching him decimate the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs (11 Receptions – 182 Yards – 2 TDs) surely would have.