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Let’s Turn That Facemask Green: Julio Jones Edition

While not the dominant force he once was, Jones brings what Green Bay needs

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Davante Adams situation left the Green Bay Packers in an interesting position. Their all-world wide receiver wanted top money, the situation had gotten pretty toxic between his camp and the Packers’ front office, and he had been openly flirting with another franchise for the better part of nine months. Adams finally ended up with that other franchise and back with his college quarterback. While Adams now gets to catch passes from a Brandon Flowers fronting The Killers in 2004 lookalike, the Packers have serious work to do in their wide receiver group.

The obvious answer for them is to address the position in the draft, the avenue through which Green Bay has traditionally addressed roster issues. While this class may not have the top-end talent of the past few years, it still appears to be a quality class with options that could be available in the twenties, where Green Bay is currently slated to pick.

Green Bay does run into an issue here though: most rookies aren’t very good. Even those that ultimately become good players often top out as useful in their first season. This isn’t always the case, as both Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase turned into superstars immediately, but these are the exception that prove the rule. In the past few drafts there have been many useful players, but few are WR1 options from the jump. Green Bay’s problem is that they need someone to be close to that type of option in 2022. This team is built to win immediately, and their offense needs someone who they do not need to wait on.

Enter Julio Jones.

What exactly is Julio Jones at this point? He turned 33 this past January and his best days are almost certainly behind him. Green Bay does not need his best days to make this worthwhile, though. Green Bay just need two things: Competence at normal wide receiver things and a deep threat. Current free agents Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Will Fuller primarily offer the latter while Jarvis Landry offers the former. Julio Jones, while no longer at his peak, can offer both.

Another reason I would argue for Julio Jones as the proper fit for Green Bay is that the Packers are in a position where they need some level of upside at the position. They are currently sitting in a spot with a bunch of WR3/4 options. Does adding Jarvis Landry move the needle enough? Does running it back with Valdes-Scantling give you any real upside as a passing attack?

The proof is in the pudding at this point with both of those players, and if you start to look at the rest of the free agent pool, things get similarly limiting. The trade market right now is barren. Seattle just paid Tyler Lockett his option bonus, so he isn’t going anywhere. The best trade target is maybe Brandin Cooks? There are no potential WR1 options.

But is Julio Jones still a WR1, or can he get back there? His recent history suggests he can still be that guy, even if he may not be quite at the elite level he once was. Over the past three years, Jones still ranks a very strong 11th in adjusted-yards per route run (eliminating screen passes and RPOs). The top of this list is a who’s-who of the league’s top receivers, plus the always-efficient DeSean Jackson.

As recently as 2020, Jones ranked second in the NFL in DVOA at +29.8%, all while catching balls from an aging Matt Ryan in a Falcons offense that had become of a shell of itself. Jones absolutely looked the part on film too, which you can see from Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception route tree here:

While 2021 was a step back for Jones, it’s not as though he struggled. His topline numbers may seem mediocre (31 catches for 434 yards and one touchdown), but he did miss seven games and played in a worse offense. Ryan Tannehill came back to earth last season, falling to 13th in EPA-per-dropback, and the Titans as a whole were a very run-heavy ranking 31st in passing rate. Combine all that with having to play a deserved second fiddle to A.J. Brown and you get a situation where the numbers just aren’t what they used to be. But on a per-route basis, Jones was still a very strong WR2, ranking 33rd in adjusted-yards per route run:

Jones also posted a normal yards-per-target for his career as well, at 9.0. It was the second-lowest of his career, but within one yard of all but three seasons (2011, 2016, and 2020). His 9.0 ranked 28th in the NFL last season, above the likes of Mike Williams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Chris Godwin, and only 0.2 yards behind Davante Adams.

There is also an inkling around the league that Jones wasn’t exactly thrilled with his situation in Tennessee. The combination of a very high rushing rate with a quarterback whose play style did not suit Julio’s skillset particularly well may have lead to some subpar output. Add in the fact that A.J. Brown has similar route tree preferences to Julio (particularly running deep digs and over routes), and it’s a situation where the player can’t be utilized to his fullest potential the way he could elsewhere.

It’s possible Julio is too far past it at this point, and wouldn’t add that much to Green Bay’s offense, but Green Bay is in a position where they need to take a high upside bet on a receiver. If I were a GM, I would be willing to allow my team to be the bounceback for one of the best receivers in NFL history. Jones, Lazard, and a rookie receiver gives you a very solid foundation to build a receiving corps from. Now let’s turn that facemask green.