The Falcons pulled the trigger on the long-rumored Jones trade Sunday, sending the veteran and future Hall of Famer to the Titans for not very much at all. The Titans gave up a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-rounder for Jones (while getting a sixth-rounder for 2023 back), and they've put together one of the most star-studded offenses in the league with Jones joining Brown, Derrick Henry, and Ryan Tannehill.
There isn't much beyond that, but it's hard to see how that is going to matter -- the Titans ranked fourth in scoring last season without Julio, after all. As for the Falcons, it's not like they've got a deep well of playmakers ready to step up in Jones' absence -- it's going to be the Calvin Ridley/Kyle Pitts show there.
Heath Cummings gave his immediate reaction to the deal here, and obviously, this is one that has significant repercussions for the Fantasy football landscape for 2021. You can read my thoughts on what the trade means for both the Titans and Falcons below in today's newsletter, and you can listen to the Fantasy Football Today podcast from Sunday to hear Heath, Dave Richard, and Adam Aizer's thoughts on the deal here and please take a brief moment to susbscribe on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts!
We'll start the week off by making sure you're caught up on the rest of our non-Julio content. Here's what the FFT team got up to last week:
- 2021 Bold Predictions: Jamey's | Dave's | Heath's | Mine
- Dynasty Mailbag: Time to buy Saquon?
- Best/Worst-case for Year 2 RB
- Team Previews: Cardinals | Bills | Ravens | Panthers
And now, here's some more perspective on the trade, along with some quick thoughts on some other news from around the league this week, including:
But first, the Julio trade fallout:
Titans add more star power
The Titans offense has operated by different rules than nearly every offense in the league over the last couple years, looking more like a mid-2000s offense than anything else out there today. They were an extreme run-heavy team that didn't build around a QB's singular talents the way the Ravens or Cardinals are, and they really only had a few Fantasy-relevant players on offense. That truth doesn't fundamentally change as a result of this trade, but there's no question that the addition of Jones should be a tide that lifts all boats.
You can find our in-depth Titans outlook with numbers to know, projections, key offseason additions/departures and more here.
The Titans were pretty devoid of talent outside of Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown at the skill positions before this trade. They lost Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis and replaced them with Josh Reynolds and that's about it. Jones is just one player, but if healthy, he's more than impactful enough to replace Smith and Davis and then some. Keep reading to the Falcons section to see just how much Jones impacted the Falcons passing game last season when he was on the field.
The impact on Henry is pretty minimal, though. At least in my eyes. I don't expect Henry to be anywhere near as good as he was last season, and I did knock his projected carries down just a bit with this trade -- I figure the Titans almost have to pass more than they have the last couple of years now. However, I also expect a bit less regression from Henry when it comes to his efficiency and that was more than enough to counter the loss of a few touches -- Henry's projection actually improved, though he stayed at No. 9 in the rankings, representing what I see as the end of the second elite tier at the position and the last player I'd feel really good about as my RB1 if I go with an RB-heavy build.
Ryan Tannehill's value did increase a decent amount in my eyes, as I moved him up from QB18 to QB10. Tannehill has been arguably the most efficient QB in the NFL since getting to Tennessee, and now he gets to throw to both Jones and Brown, the best WR duo in football. I've got Tannehill projected for 8.0 yards per attempt and a 6.4% touchdown rate -- the latter of which would actually be slightly lower than 2019 and 2020. But the biggest place he gains is in pass attempts, as I have him down for 531 -- the sixth-lowest in the NFL but still 50 more than last season.
Maybe that's too aggressive, but the Titans already saw an increase of nearly 40 attempts from 2019 to 2020, and Brown and Jones are so good, why wouldn't you throw the ball at least a few times more per game?
Speaking of that duo, Brown did actually move up in the rankings just a bit, from WR9 to WR7. Playing opposite Jones has been pretty good for other wide receivers' touchdown numbers, and Brown is already basically unrecoverable in the red zone; I have him projected for the second-most touchdowns among all wide receivers, on 45 fewer targets than No. 1, Davante Adams. Brown has been an outrageously efficient receiver, topping 10.0 yards per target in each of his first two seasons and sporting a 10% touchdown rate, and I actually have him declining ever-so-slightly from his career marks. That's what happens when you get more volume. However, I expect less regression in those categories with Jones here.
As for Jones, he did drop from WR10 to WR13 for me, but that still means I have two of the 13-highest WR in my projections on the offense with the sixth-fewest pass attempts. That's a credit to how good Tannehill has been, but mostly it's a credit to how absurdly dominant these two are. Jones and Brown both excel as both downfield receivers and with the ball in their hands, and now defenses have to worry about two of them while also having to focus on the interior of the field to keep Henry in check. This isn't the Chiefs with five home run threats on the field at all times, but it's going to be pretty difficult for any defense to be able to slow this group down.
As long as everyone stays healthy, of course. Jones missed seven games last season with hamstring issues, and while he had actually only missed three in his previous five seasons, he's been the kind of receiver who always seems to be playing through something. Now that he's 32, it might be harder for him to play through those injuries.
And Brown was dominant last season despite playing through injuries in both knees for 12 games. He had surgery on both knees this offseason, which is a bit of a "good-news/bad-news'' situation: It's good that he got whatever was bothering him taken care of, but you never want to hear "surgery on both knees" with your top-20 pick. Health, or lack thereof, seems like the only thing that could really slow this offense down.
Here's what I have the Titans primary players projected for:
- QB -- Ryan Tannehill -- PA: 526, YD: 4205, TD: 34, INT: 13; RUSH -- ATT: 59, YD: 258, TD: 4
- RB -- Derrick Henry -- CAR: 323, YD: 1548, TD: 14; TAR: 27, REC: 19, YD: 161, TD: 1
- RB -- Darrynton Evans -- CAR: 73, YD: 323, TD: 3; TAR: 37, REC: 26, YD: 190, TD: 2
- WR -- A.J. Brown -- TAR: 138, REC: 87, YD: 1349, TD: 12
- WR -- Julio Jones -- TAR: 132, REC: 85, YD: 1232, TD: 9
- WR -- Josh Reynolds -- TAR: 43, REC: 24, YD: 315, TD: 2
- TE -- Anthony Firkser -- TAR: 90, REC: 64, YD: 639, TD: 4
A post-Julio Falcons
It's less exciting over here, unfortunately. I mean, sure, Calvin Ridley may have an even larger role now, and Kyle Pitts is the clear No. 2 option in what should still be a pretty pass-heavy Falcons offense, but this offense looked really ugly without Jones last season. Here are Matt Ryan's numbers in the games Jones played vs. the one's he missed:
- In Jones' seven full games: 39.4 attempts per game, 68% completion, 324.3 YPG, 2.1 TD, 0.4 INT, 8.2 Y/A
- w/o Jones: 38.9 attempts, 63%, 256.8 YPG, 1.2 TD, 0.9 INT, 6.6 Y/A
With Jones healthy, Ryan played like a top-12 Fantasy QB; without him, he played like Drew Lock. I think he'll be better than that in 2021 without Jones -- they didn't have Pitts, obviously, and Ridley wasn't 100% when he was held without a catch in Week 4. But Jones is a significant loss. That much goes without saying.
You can find our in-depth Falcons outlook with numbers to know, projections, key offseason additions/departures and more here.
With Jones gone, my expectation for the Falcons is they'll throw less and be less effective when they do throw. I went from projecting Ryan to throw the most in the league with Jones to ranking ninth now, with a decrease in both per-attempt efficiency and touchdown efficiency. Add it all up I've got Ryan ranked 23rd at QB, down from 12th with Jones. That's not as dramatic a change as it sounds because the No. 2 QB range is pretty tightly packed, but it's obviously pretty significant.
And it's not necessarily incredible news for Ridley or Pitts, either. Ridley did move up from WR7 to WR6 with the news, and he's within spitting distance of No. 3, Stefon Diggs, because he's likely to see massive volume -- I have him projected for the fifth-most targets in the NFL, and he was on pace for a truly absurd 181 in the seven games Jones missed last season. Add in what was a healthy downfield role -- he led the NFL in air yards by a significant amount in 2020 -- and he's still a bonafide No. 1 WR for Fantasy.
But I expected all of that even with Jones, more or less. Ridley is going to be a stud regardless, and we've seen him thrive without Jones, so there's not really any questions here -- though I will say, a lot of Falcons players have benefited greatly from Jones' purported inability to score touchdowns, which was more about him drawing so much defensive attention that it made everyone else's lives easier. Don't be surprised if Ridley posts career-best numbers in every category except touchdowns.
As for Pitts, it's much harder to be certain about what this means, because we've never seen him play in the NFL, with or without Jones. I expect him to be an impactful player from day one, and that confidence is reflected in the fact that I have him ranked No. 5 at tight end, ahead of T.J. Hockenson. It's entirely possible Pitts comes out and is absolutely dominant -- he's the only tight end outside of the Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Darren Waller triad I could see putting up No. 1 WR numbers. He's probably not Julio Jones, but Pitts could absolutely be a must-start tight end from Week 1 on. If that's the case, I'll end up way too low on Ryan for sure.
But that's putting pretty huge expectations on him. I expect he'll be great, but the rule for rookie tight ends is to expect to be disappointed. Pitts is supposed to be different, but this is an awfully top-heavy Falcons passing attack -- it's Ridley, Pitts, and a bunch of replacement-level guys -- and asking a rookie tight end to be the focus of defensive attention the way Pitts likely will be is to ask an awful lot.
Maybe he's up for it, but I didn't move Pitts up with this news. I'm already plenty high on him as it is, and at some point, you reach a price where there's only downside. If he starts going ahead of Mark Andrews in drafts, that's when we'll be at that point.
Here's what I've got the Falcons main offensive players projected for in 2021:
- QB -- Matt Ryan -- PA: 607, YD: 4370, TD: 28, INT: 15; RUSH -- ATT: 35, YD: 125, TD: 2
- RB -- Mike Davis -- CAR: 217 YD: 867, TD: 7; TAR: 61, REC: 46, YD: 337, TD: 2
- RB -- Qadree Ollison -- CAR: 72, YD: 286, TD: 2; TAR: 13, REC: 10, YD: 72, TD: 1
- WR -- Calvin Ridley -- TAR: 155, REC: 99, YD: 1436, TD: 9
- WR -- Russell Gage -- TAR: 94, REC: 61, YD: 642, TD: 4
- WR -- Kyle Pitts -- TAR: 110, REC: 68, YD: 847, TD: 6
- TE -- Hayden Hurst -- TAR: 49, REC: 32, YD: 346, TD: 2
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.
More news and notes
- Cam Newton has a bone bruise in his hand -- Newton hit his hand on a helmet during a recent practice and will likely miss the remainder of OTAs and the upcoming three-day minicamp. The injury isn't likely to be an ongoing issue that should limit his availability for training camp, which doesn't open for another eight weeks or so, but it does serve to give Mac Jones some much-needed extra reps. It may not matter much, but considering that Jones comes out of college considered "pro ready," it could give him a better chance to prove he's worth playing from day one. I don't think that would be a great thing for the Patriots offense for Fantasy, because this offense is still pretty lacking for playmakers even after their offseason additions, and Newton is likely to be the more impactful option of the two. Maybe Jones is ready to be an above-average passer from day one, but my assumption is that a Jones-led offense is likely to be less dynamic than a Newton-led one. Jones could, of course, prove me wrong, and he'll get an extended opportunity to prove himself here. This will be a battle to watch in camp.
- The Ravens have a "running group by committee" -- that's from offensive coordinator Greg Roman in a Q&A session with Ravens season ticket holders recently, per The Athletic. Which sounds like bad news for J.K. Dobbins, if you haven't been paying attention to the Ravens offense over the last few years. It's part of why I'm lower than the consensus on Dobbins, but it's not like seeing this quote from Roman changed how I view Dobbins at all. He's an incredibly skilled rusher in one of the best offenses for running the football, but he's also not going to dominate carries in the same way someone like Derrick Henry does. I've got Dobbins projected for 46% of Baltimore's total rush attempts, which is comparable to what I've got David Johnson projected for in Houston's offense, but Dobbins is obviously a much better bet for Fantasy because this is a high-volume and efficient rushing offense. But Gus Edwards is still going to have a significant role -- Roman singled Edwards out as a "highly underrated talent" -- and Lamar Jackson is going to run the ball a ton, too. Dobbins is more like a high-floor No. 2 RB for Fantasy, but I don't think he has the upside to finish much higher than the lower end of the No. 1 RB group. For what it's worth, however, Roman did say the team is looking for ways to increase Dobbins' role in the passing game. That's where Dobbins could have more upside, but given that his 24 targets led the team's RB in 2020, I'm skeptical he'll play enough of a role there to move the needle.
- Jets want Jamison Crowder to take a pay cut -- Crowder has been absent from the team's offseason practices so far because he has been "working through some stuff with his contract," as head coach Robert Saleh told reporters. SNY reports the team wants Crowder to take a "significant" pay cut from his $10 million salary, and they certainly have leverage after drafting Elijah Moore in the second round out of Ole Miss in the 2021 NFL Draft. Crowder could still have a role if he returns, but he won't likely be the team's leading receiver again. They could cut him with no guaranteed money left on his deal, but with second-year receiver Denzel Mims lining up outside with free agent signee Corey Davis on the opposite side, they would probably like to have Crowder around to provide some stability. From a Fantasy perspective, however, we're hoping Crowder winds up elsewhere. Let Crowder be a factor in someone else's offense and let Moore blossom into a star as a rookie.
- The Lions "have interest" in Todd Gurley -- we knew that when it was reported they had him in for a workout, and head coach Dan Campbell told reporters they would like to sign Gurley. I wouldn't expect Gurley to have a significant role even if he does sign, but it's not a great sign for D'Andre Swift that they are looking to bring in another name, especially after Anthony Lynn has had so many positive words about Jamaal Williams. I still expect Swift to be the lead back here, but it sounds like it's going to be a committee even if they don't add Gurley, who would represent a threat at the goal-line, at the very least. An RB committee on what might be a very bad offense? I still want Swift if I can get him as my No. 2 RB, but I probably won't be the one reaching for him in my drafts.