As the 2012 NFL season approaches I will be taking a look at a few of the more interesting fantasy player profiles through a series of articles pitting them against one another in order to establish the best value on draft day. In our first matchup we will tackle the dynamic Atlanta Falcons receiving duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White.
In order to set the parameters for this matchup, let’s take a look at the 2011 statistical totals for each of our contestants:
PLAYER REC YARDS TD’S TARGETS YAC
R. White 100 1,296 8 180 364
J. Jones 54 959 8 96 415
Based on these numbers we can see that White had the superior fantasy season in 2011 although there are some indicators that a changing of the guard may be on the horizon in Atlanta.
While White is clearly still the go to receiver for the Falcons, he is cresting at 30 years of age (soon to be 31), and with the up and coming Jones ready for his second NFL campaign, I feel it’s only a matter of time before White’s numbers begin to recede.
While this changing of the guard may be happening it is not something that will be done overnight, and it certainly will not happen in 2012. White is still a very focal part of the offense, a receiver leaned on heavily by QB Matt Ryan, as attested by his league leading 180 targets last season. So it’s difficult to envision a receiver of White’s caliber moving from tops in the league in targets to, let’s say, outside the top 5 in this category.
The mention of Matt Ryan brings up an important part in this analysis. Ryan has seen is numbers improving in each of his first 4 NFL seasons and I see no reason for that trend to stop in 2012. This continued statistical improvement should have a positive effect on both White and Jones in the 2012 campaign, although I feel as if White may benefit from it a bit more.
The reason being is that many analysts say this is a turning point in Ryan’s NFL career. The season in which he takes the next step or plateaus as a signal caller. I feel Ryan will take that next step but in order to do so he will need to lean on Roddy White as much if not more than he has in the past. It is sensible to think that when a QB is trying to elevate his game he would rely on the teammate who has been there for him throughout his career to do so.
This is not to say that Jones won’t reap the benefits of a more determined Ryan as I certainly feel he will. Jones’ athleticism and big play ability are unquestioned, and the reason the Falcons dealt with the Browns for him on draft day. He showed up well in his rookie campaign, causing many to place him high on their fantasy draft boards, even being selected higher than White in some of the mock drafts I have participated in to date.
This over-drafting of Jones is a bit premature although there are some fantasy formats in which it makes perfect sense. A dynasty league, if he’s available, for example.
In the final analysis I feel White is still the man to draft first when it comes to the Falcons receiving corps. He will definitely still be near the top in targets making him a must have in the PPR format, and his yardage and TD totals should remain on pace with those of the 2011 season. Jones, however, is the man to most other formats, including the dynasty format as his long term prospects are much greater.