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Fantasy Football Impact: Julio Jones Joins The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Matt Brandon Jul 27th 12:16 PM EDT.

The fantasy football landscape has been shaken up significantly by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' signing of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, Julio Jones, this morning. 

After spending his first 10 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Jones is gearing up to play for his second team in as many seasons after an injury-riddled year with the Tennessee Titans in 2021. Jones agreed to a one-year deal. The wide receiver room in Tampa Bay just got even more explosive as Jones will join Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Russell Gage. Tom Brady may not be getting Rob Gronkowski back (especially after the Bucs signed Kyle Rudolph) but Tampa’s wide receiver corps is stacked.

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Julio Jones Fantasy Outlook: 

Julio Jones produced 1,400+ yards in six consecutive seasons from 2014 to 2019 with the Falcons (Note: Jones had 1,394 receiving yards in 2019). However, injuries have limited him to a maximum of 10 games played in each of the last two seasons. Jones’ 1,400-yard streak came to an end because he was only healthy enough to suit up for nine games with the Falcons in 2020. In his final season in Atlanta, Jones caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns. It marked the end of an era when Jones left Atlanta and signed with the Tennessee Titans before the 2021 season. This was the first time he had ever played second fiddle to another wideout on his team. A.J. Brown (now with the Eagles) was the team’s best option but outside of him, Tennessee really didn’t have any significant threats before signing Jones. Unfortunately, father time seems to be knocking on Jones’ door or the injuries have simply piled up and significantly damaged his body because he produced a career-low 434 yards and a single touchdown in 2021. He missed seven games for a second consecutive season. That’s concerning. If Jones struggled as the second option in Tennessee (granted Ryan Tannehill is no Tom Brady) then how will he do when he’s competing for targets with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, and two tight ends in Cameron Brate and the recently acquired Kyle Rudolph. He averaged a mere 43.4 yards per game last season. Still, Jones’ fantasy value is much better in Tampa Bay than in Tennessee, especially if Godwin isn’t able to return from his torn ACL in time for Week 1.

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When he was in his prime and healthy, Jones was one of the best receivers in the NFL. Three years later, “Jet” is 33 and it’s not even clear how many snaps he’s going to play considering the talent Tampa has at the wide receiver position. I’m fading Julio and you should too. Fantasy owners who think Jones is going to produce a comeback season and surpass 1,000 receiving yards are unrealistic. He’s missed 19 of 33 games over the previous two seasons. It’s unlikely Jones will even remain healthy the entire season. I’d bet a substantial amount of money on the fact that Jones will miss at the very least four games this coming season due to injury. 

But just to play devil’s advocate, the Bucs did lose Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown and there is a chance that Godwin won’t recover in time for the early weeks of the season. Brady targetted those three pass-catchers 278 times last season, which leaves ample opportunity for Jones to get off to a great start in 2022 (particularly if Godwin is sidelined). And Brady does love tall, fast, veteran wideouts and Jones is only three seasons removed from a Pro-Bowl campaign. Overall, I would rank Jones as a top-40 wide receiver in PPR fantasy football leagues. Don’t expect another Pro Bowl season from Julio despite his quarterback.

Julio Jones’ Fantasy Impact On Tom Brady:

As we have seen over the last two seasons, Tom Brady is showing no signs of slowing down. He produced better numbers in 2021 at age 44 than he did in 2020 at age 43. The addition of Julio Jones to Tampa’s receiving corps gives Brady a fourth great route runner in the wide receiver room who will have a chance to make up for the setbacks which have held him back over the last two seasons.

Jones is going to have to prove himself if he wants to be the WR3 on the depth chart though because Russell Gage is a more than capable possession receiver. In situations next season where Mike Evans or Chris Godwin are overwhelmed in double-coverage, especially in heated NFC South matchups, Jones will open up the field for the soon-to-be 45-year-old ageless wonder. But I expect Jones to serve as more of a decoy than a go-to option. Sure, Brady will toss a few fades to Jones in the end zone but I don't anticipate Jones being an integral piece of the offense. Tampa can use him similarly to the way they used Antonio Brown to stretch the field and open space for Evans and Godwin. Signing Julio Jones immediately replaces the important role that Antonio Brown had on the team before his on-the-field tantrum against the Jets last season forced the Bucs to release him. 

Overall, Brady has a plethora of options, not to mention a running back who excels in route running and catching passes, Gio Bernard. Leonard Fournette is obviously the starter but Bernard will continue to serve as a nice check-down option if Brady is seeing too much pressure. Before Julio Jones arrived in Tampa Bay, Brady was being drafted as the 10th quarterback off the board. Something tells me his ADP is about to skyrocket and for good reason. If Brady’s receivers can remain healthy, this offense may simply be unstoppable. Brady could finish among the top five quarterbacks in fantasy this season. Finishing as the QB1 in 2022 isn't entirely out of the question but a top-five finish is more realistic.

Julio Jones’ Fantasy Impact On Tampa Bay’s Wide Receiver Corps:

The addition of Julio Jones to the Bucs’ receiving corps won’t hurt Tom Brady but Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should drop a few spots on everyone’s draft board. But the biggest loser in this situation is Gage. He was poised to trot onto the field in three-receiver sets. Now, if Jones impresses during training camp, Gage’s value will take a significant hit. Evans and Godwin may lose a significant number of targets with Julio in town even though Tampa's offense supported four pass-catchers last year. Regardless, as I mentioned above, I think Jones will stretch the field and provide Evans and Godwin better opportunities to create space and separate from their respective defenders. So they may see fewer targets than they anticipated before Jones came to town but the quality of the targets they do see will be right on the money with plenty of open field to run with the ball after the catch. That's where I see Godwin excelling the most so long as his health holds up. 

One thing that Evans and Godwin have going for them that Jones and Gage do not is that they are entering their third season with Brady under center. However, it’s pretty easy to establish chemistry with the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, plus that means that the entire league can study game film on Brady’s connection with Evans and Godwin. Opposing defenses will have no intel on how Brady and Julio plan to link up. For that reason, Jones is somewhat of an x-factor.

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Julio Jones’ Fantasy Impact On Tampa Bay’s Backfield:

Nothing is going to change in the Bucs’ backfield but that doesn’t mean that Jones’ presence on the field won’t affect Leonard Fournette’s production. The Buccaneers have the best offense in the league (and one of the best defenses) which means that Fournette is going to get a massive number of carries late in games to run out the clock. I’d bump Fournette up to a legitimate RB1 in 12-team leagues. 

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