The Tennessee Titans won the Julio Jones sweepstakes and traded for the former Atlanta Falcons star on Sunday. Bringing in the most sought-after wideout on the market ahead of the 2021 season could work wonders for Tennessee, which has become a powerhouse in the AFC South over the last two seasons. Jones has long been considered one of the NFL’s most skilled wideouts, and his first year outside of Atlanta could help him reassert himself as a dominant force after a down year in 2020.
The Falcons struggled last year and posted an NFC South-worst 4-12 record. Jones, 32, finished the campaign with 51 catches for 771 yards and three touchdowns and only played nine games because of injuries. Jones barely missed out on being a top-50 fantasy receiver in 2020 but ranked 41st in receiving yards among 499 qualified players. Tennessee has the personnel to put Jones back among the cream of the group. Let’s go over why the Titans’ red-zone offense can help Jones rise back to prominence.
The Falcons have been notoriously bad at scoring in the red zone in recent years, and that's limited the potential of a go-to guy like Jones. Atlanta’s red zone touchdown percentage has ranked 23rd or worse in three of its last four seasons. The Falcons had bottom-six rushing attacks three times during that span, so you’d think that Jones would be a priority. However, Jones only caught 53% of his 62 red zone targets during that stretch and scored on less than 20% of his targets. The offense that Tennessee has built is far more versatile and can maximize Jones’ skills when he draws man coverage near the goal line.
Tennessee’s red zone scoring percentage (TD’s only) was only second to the Green Bay Packers last year, and its average of 30.7 points per game ranked 4th in the NFL. Derrick Henry had a lot to do with the Titans’ success, but so did Tennessee’s receiving corps and Ryan Tannehill’s accuracy in enemy territory. Tannehill ranked seventh in red zone completions and ninth in red-zone passing attempts last season while completing 63% of his passes inside the 20. Only three quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady — topped his mark of 26 passing touchdowns. All three of those signal-callers had at least one top-11 fantasy wideout last year, and that’s no coincidence.
Davante Adams, Mike Evans, and Tyler Lockett cracked the top 10 in red-zone receiving touchdowns last season, but so did Jonnu Smith and A.J. Brown. The departure of Smith and Corey Davis opens the door for new impact players to step in, and Tannehill’s efficiency makes Jones’ potential enticing.
17 quarterbacks attempted at least 62 red-zone passing attempts, and Tannehill is one of the five who completed at least 63% of his throws. His numbers get even better inside the 10-yard line. 28 quarterbacks attempted at least 20 passes from inside the 10-yard line, but only Rodgers and Tannehill completed those passes at a 68% clip or better. Tannehill’s 19 touchdown passes from inside the 10 were good for fourth in the NFL.
I’m not saying that we’re in for the second coming of a Rodgers-Adams pairing, but Tannehill and Jones could be a lot closer to the Packers duo than you might think. A healthy Jones could easily be the steal of your fantasy draft if he drops to the fourth round or later like many expect him to. He could return to being a top-10 wideout in 2021. He’s not out of his prime just yet, and his 75% catch rate from 2021 shows that even if the sample size was small. Brown’s burst in the open field, Henry’s violent running style, and Tannehill’s decision-making will make it extremely tough for opposing secondaries to key in on Jones.