Actually, let me amend that—I didn’t listen. Like most who have dipped their toes in the fantasy football waters, I knew the risk associated with drafting Julio Jones. And given the momentum the #NeverJulio movement gathered on Twitter this summer, I really didn’t want to do it. It just sort of … happened. In one league, I chose Julio over Rob Gronkowski (stick around for my thoughts on Gronk later in the article) as my second keeper. In another league I drafted Julio, but only after Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham had already been selected (if you want a chuckle at my expense, take a gander at the rest of my draft).
At the time, I wasn’t sweating it because even though he may not have been my first, second or even third choice, Jones is still one of the game’s most productive wide receivers. And despite the vitriol he’s received from scorned fantasy owners on Twitter, that’s been largely true this year as Jones has gotten off to another explosive start with 34 catches for 564 receiving yards, the latter ranking third in the league behind Hopkins (594) and Adam Thielen (589). Yet Jones ranks just 14th in PPR leagues and only 16th in standard scoring. The reason? He and the end zone have never met.
That’s been the rub on Julio for a while now. Jones was a monster last year (88 catches, 1,444 receiving yards, 16.4 yards per reception) in every way but one. I have a feeling you know which “one” I’m talking about. Julio logged just three touchdowns all of last season with two coming in the same game. Think of that—Jones, a surefire Hall of Famer known for doing nonsense like this, hitting pay-dirt in just two of 16 regular season games. That’s anarchy. And, if we’re connecting the dots, it’s likely the reason Jones got lapped by Jarvis Landry (he of 8.8 yards per catch) in PPR leagues despite out-gaining him by nearly 500 yards. Catches and yards are nice, but they’ll only get you so far in fantasy.
Touchdowns are the main course but lately, Julio hasn’t had much to eat. His end-zone allergy has gotten particularly out of hand this season as the 29-year-old Alabama alum will enter Week 6 with a goose egg in the touchdown column. Fifty-five targets (seventh-most) and not a touchdown to show for it. That’s lunacy.
Last year you could make the argument that the Falcons were still finding their identity under rookie offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, which could be to blame for Julio avoiding the end zone like an ex-girlfriend with an axe to grind. The Falcons’ offense went through its fair share of growing pains in Year One of the post-Kyle Shanahan Era, but this season they’ve been firing on all cylinders, ranking in the top 10 in touchdown passes (11), passing yards per game (304.2) and total points (133). Yet we’re still waiting for Julio to get in on the action.
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I know we’re approaching dead-horse territory with Julio and his continued touchdown woes but the narrative isn’t changing. We’re way past “slump.” That word goes out the door when you’ve scored just four touchdowns in a 26-game span. At least last year the Falcons were still targeting Julio in the red zone—he just wasn’t catching many of them (5-for-19 with one touchdown). This year he’s been an afterthought inside the 20, drawing just three red-zone looks in his five contests. That’s fewer than teammates Calvin Ridley (five) and Austin Hooper (four). Even the great ones have flaws. Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t hit his free throws. Giancarlo Stanton has waved through many a curve ball. And Julio couldn’t find the end zone if you gave him a map.
I’ve been able to maintain a level of optimism with Julio, continuing to employ him in my DFS lineups (despite his exorbitant price), hoping, praying, believing each week will be the one, the rock that finally breaks the dam. But it never is. Being a Julio owner is the closest thing I can think of to living in fantasy football purgatory because you can’t not start him. In PPR leagues, his weekly floor is still double-digit fantasy points, which isn’t nothing. But without the touchdowns, it’s just empty yards, all steak and no sizzle.
Whatever the issue is, whether it’s Atlanta’s play-calling (no one would ever confuse Sarkisian for Sean McVay), Jones not doing enough to get open or an elaborate sabotage scheme masterminded by Matt Ryan (I’m just spit-balling here, but maybe he’s getting back at Julio for leaving him out of the group text chain), the problem doesn’t seem to be going away and fantasy owners like myself are starting to lose patience. Unfortunately, with Jones’ trade value approaching an all-time low, the only thing to do is stay the course and hope the touchdown problem solves itself. Jones does have a double-digit touchdown season on his resume (that was in 2012), so it’s not like he’s dealt with end-zone-a-phobia all his life.
I don’t mean to paint an unnecessarily bleak picture of something that, in the grand scheme of fantasy football, is a minor inconvenience. “Oh, Julio’s not scoring enough touchdowns for you, Jesse? Boohoo … I’m starting Peyton Barber in my flex spot.” It could be worse but it could be better too and I don’t blame the masses for having Julio fatigue. I mean look at it—172 players in professional football have caught a touchdown pass this year and Jones isn’t one of them. For Julio to have six fewer touchdowns than his rookie teammate is beyond baffling. In fact, it’s infuriating.
What’s the fantasy rub?
Well we’ve come this far with Julio, so why give up now? The reason we can’t bail yet (to clarify, we’re only talking about DFS here—if Jones is on your season-long team, it’s a given that he’s starting) is because the crown jewel of fantasy matchups awaits in Week 6. Not only are the Falcons playing at home where they’ve averaged a robust 34.6 points per game, but they’ll also be going against Tampa Bay’s league-worst defense. That’s not hyperbole—the statistics back it up. No team in football has allowed more points per game (34.8), more passing yards per game (358), more yards per attempt (9.4), more touchdown passes (13) or a higher completion percentage (77.1) than the Buccaneers, who are coming off a game where they allowed six touchdown passes to Mitchell Trubisky of all people (yes, this Mitchell Trubisky). Atlanta’s defense is nearly as pathetic as Tampa Bay’s, which means the Falcons will be forced to throw early and often just to keep pace in what figures to be a high-scoring affair (of the 15 games on the Week 6 schedule, only Kansas City at New England features a higher game total). And let’s not forget that Julio had his best game last season under identical circumstances—he erupted for 253 yards and two touchdowns when facing the Bucs at home in Week 12. This game has slump-buster written all over it. Fantasy owners who have weathered the great Julio drought of 2018 will finally be rewarded for their patience.
Tight Ends on Parade
For viewing purposes, the most intriguing matchup of the Week 6 slate is fairly obvious—it’s Patriots/Chiefs by a country mile. This game should do gangbusters in the ratings and it’s easy to see why. It’s a classic tug-of-war between young and old, the elder statesman Tom Brady trying to maintain his high perch atop the league’s quarterback totem pole amidst a growing threat from Patrick Mahomes, the slick up-and-comer with an arm for days. It’s a fascinating dynamic but not the one we should be focusing on.
Even if Mahomes outplays Touchdown Tom on Sunday night—a distinct possibly given his glorious, history-altering start—it’s going to take a lot more than one head-to-head matchup for him to leapfrog Brady on the NFL’s hierarchy. But at tight end, the distance between Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce has never been smaller. For years Gronkowski has carried the torch as football’s preeminent tight end, a shark among minnows in the NFL’s sea of talent. And while that lofty title still belongs to him, Gronk no longer owns a tier all to himself. Kelce is knocking on the door and he’s doing it loudly, closing the gap with each week.
At the tight end position, it used to be Gronk and everyone else. But the emergence of Kelce and Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz has changed the calculus significantly, particularly in the fantasy realm where the Patriots tight end has had a down year, at least by his usual awe-inspiring standards. While it’s likely Gronk will always be the better all-around player due to his blocking prowess, Kelce’s receiving outputs can’t be ignored. The 29-year-old has topped 1,000 yards receiving in back-to-back seasons and should make it three in a row this year with Mahomes transforming Kansas City’s offense from the check-down factory it was under Alex Smith to a legitimate field-stretching juggernaut.
Kelce’s current pace calls for 1,302 receiving yards, which would be the third-highest total by a tight end in NFL history. It would also put him within striking distance of Gronk’s single-season mark of 1,327 set during his breakout 2011 campaign. Kelce has been especially dominant over his last four contests, averaging a breathtaking 100.3 receiving yards with three touchdowns during that span. He’s the whole package, a matchup-proof fantasy assassin with bankable volume in arguably the league’s most explosive offense. And unlike the perpetually-injured Gronkowski, he’s been a model of durability, missing just one game over the course of his six-year career (that absence came in last year’s meaningless Week 17 game at Denver).
Gronk’s NFL resume is phenomenal bordering on historic. Even if the 29-year-old had gone through with his retirement threat this offseason (which dimmed the flame on a potential trade to Detroit), he’d still be a lock for Canton. But after having a target on his back for the better part of a decade, it’s fair to wonder if all the years of wear and tear are finally catching up to Gronk. We haven’t seen his best this year as New England’s jolly giant has averaged a pedestrian 46.3 yards over his current four-game touchdown drought while drawing significantly fewer targets than half-back/Tom Brady-bestie James White.
He fared somewhat better in last week’s win over Indianapolis (six catches for 75 yards), perhaps the result of Julian Edelman’s return from a four-game suspension. New England’s trade for Josh Gordon was also meant to give Gronkowski more room to operate, though he has yet to become a major factor (six targets in two games). Slow starts are nothing new for the Tide-pod-loving tight end—a hamstring injury limited him to decoy status early in 2016 (one catch for 11 yards over his first two games). The former Arizona Wildcat showed he can still bring it with his seven-catch, 123-yard masterpiece against Houston in Week 1 and certainly he’ll have no shortage of motivation Sunday with Kelce challenging him on his home turf.
What’s the fantasy rub?
Gronk gets a blow-up spot in Week 6 going against one of the league’s most generous secondaries. The nine-year vet was held in check by All-Pro safety Eric Berry when these teams squared off in last year’s season opener (two catches for 33 scoreless yards on six targets) but Berry won’t be around for the rematch—a heel injury has kept him out all season. Jesse James (5-38-1), George Kittle (5-79-0), Jeff Heuerman (4-57-0) and Niles Paul (7-65-0) are a few of the many tight ends who have had their way with Kansas City this year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Gronk followed suit. Despite their undefeated start, the Chiefs’ defense has yet to show up, bleeding a league-high 461.8 yards per game while allowing 400-yard passing performances to Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Blake Bortles. If Gronk spikes get you out of bed in the morning, Week 6 is for you.