Major U.S. sportsbooks wasted no time getting receiving totals up for the recently-traded Julio Jones. DraftKings Sportsbook set the over/under for Jones at 1,100 yards and 7.5 touchdowns for his first season with the Tennessee Titans. We’ll be looking at what these numbers mean, how Julio Jones fantasy projections from analysts stack up against those totals, and how past traded star receivers fared the following season.
Julio Jones projections vs. totals
Before we take a look at the raw totals, we have to contextualize what those totals mean in a 17-game NFL regular season. 1,100 yards in a 16-game season would prorate to 68.8 yards per game. For the 2021 season, 1,100 yards implies 64.7 yards per game.
DraftKings Sportsbook appears to be on a similar page to ESPN’s Mike Clay, who releases some of the most well-respected projections each year; Clay stats out a Julio Jones fantasy projection for 1,094 yards and 7.4 touchdowns in 15 games. However, Pat Fitzmaurice of TheFootballGirl.com (finished first in most accurate 2020 rankings at FantasyPros) has Julio stated out for a more modest 5.9 touchdowns, but 1,266 yards. 4FOR4’s John Paulsen (a perennial top-10 most accurate fantasy expert) has 1,080 yards and 6.4 touchdowns for his Julio Jones fantasy projection.
Star wide receivers on new teams
Removing a couple examples from this past season, star wide receivers that were traded in their prime or post-prime almost never replicate previous production. The most egregious example was Randy Moss, who was traded from New England to Minnesota in 2010 (where he also played from 1998-2004) . In his 2009 campaign, Moss totaled an NFL-best 13 receiving touchdowns during his final year with the Patriots. In 2010, Moss bounced between three teams– the Vikings, Patriots, and Titans– where he saw a drop of 68.9% in yardage production and went from 13 touchdowns to five.
Antonio Brown had a headline-worthy 2019 offseason where he demanded out of Pittsburgh, declined a trade to Buffalo, was shipped to the Raiders, and eventually played just four games for the Patriots. Brown had recorded just 539 yards since departing the Steelers, 58.4% of the receiving yards he picked up in 2018 alone.
Odell Beckham Jr. was also traded from the Giants to the Browns ahead of the 2019 season. While his production remained fairly consistent (just three less receptions on a 6.8% increase in targets), his teammates seemed to play significantly worse (namely Baker Mayfield) and Cleveland won fewer games than expected.
The aforementioned notable exceptions include DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs. Hopkins saw a 9.6% increase in receptions and a 17.2% increase in receiving yards since being traded from Houston to Arizona. Diggs saw a staggering 50% increase in receptions and a 26.4% increase in yards after he was traded from Minnesota to Buffalo.
The key difference between those two players and the previous three is that Hopkins was 27 years old and Diggs was 26. Moss (33) and Brown (30) were much older. Beckham was 26 when he was traded and stagnated in production.
Star receiver age trends
That leads into another major factor working against Julio Jones: his age. 2021 will be his age 32 season.
A.J. Green, maybe the most comparable receiver to Jones, saw a dramatic drop off in production after his 30th birthday. After missing the 2019 season (aged 31), Green saw a 14.5% reduction in catch percentage and dropped 45 receiving yards per game in 2020. Similarly, Brandon Marshall saw the most dramatic reduction in production after turning 32 without sustaining an injury. Marshall in 2016 had 47.5% fewer receiving yards, dropped 16.9% in catch percentage, and fell from 14 touchdowns to just three in one fewer game.
In fact since 2010, no age 32 or older wide receiver reached the 17-game, 1,100-yard equivalent without at least 129 targets. Below is a table of age 32 and older WRs that reached Julio’s 2021 yardage over, sorted by yards. None were their team’s WR2. Titans star receiver A.J. Brown led Tennessee with only 106 targets last year, in an offense that was that had the third-highest run-to-pass ratio in the league.
Age 32+ WRs To Reach 1,100 Yard, 17-Game Pace Since 2010
New leadership, new system?
It’s important to consider the change in offensive coordinator in Tennessee; previous OC Arthur Smith led the Titans to the most efficient offense in the AFC and second-most efficiency overall. Smith moved on to be the Falcons’ new head coach– the same team dealing Julio.
Todd Downing takes over as the new offensive playcaller after being promoted from the tight ends coach position. Under Downing, ex-Titan tight end Jonnu Smith recorded the fourth-most receiving touchdowns among TEs in 2020 (eight).
Uncertainty surrounds how the Titans’ offense will look this coming season and how Julio Jones will be used remains a mystery, but he is also going to an offense that is averaging nine fewer pass attempts per game as a team.
Tying it all together
Coupling Jones’ age with his movement from the WR1 to the clear WR2 on the Titans can help shape what his 2021 season may look like. While drop offs similar to Randy Moss and Brandon Marshall might be an extreme, history doesn’t seem to point to Julio picking up where he left off in Atlanta. Further, could Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator stray away from the vertical passing game that was so effective a season ago?
Keep an eye on how training camp and the progressing offseason affect’s Jones’ totals. Movement is bound to happen as we learn more about his new fit.