Julio Jones Fantasy Outlook: Is he a must-start in Week 1?

    Wide receiver Julio Jones plays his first game for the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, but should you start him in fantasy football?

    Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel wouldn’t commit to a full workload for wide receiver Julio Jones in their Week 1 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals. How much of a risk does this make Jones entering the regular season, and should you start him in your fantasy football season opener?

    Should I start Julio Jones in Week 1?

    Julio Jones is 32, and there’s a narrative that he’s not the same player he once was. It’s all relative. Is he going to lead the league in receiving yards in 2021? Probably not, although it’s still within the range of outcomes. Nevertheless, he still performed at an incredibly high level in 2020. Jones was on pace for 1,371 receiving yards and was the WR12 in points per game, despite leaving multiple games early. He averaged 86 yards per game.

    Jones will still see a heavy workload in 2021

    A wide receiver joining a new team always creates uncertainty, especially when that team has one of the best young players in football, as the Titans do with A.J. Brown. While the two will be competing for targets, there’s plenty of opportunities for both players to succeed.

    The Titans lost Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and Adam Humphries this offseason. Those three players accounted for 192 targets in 2020. Even if you think Brown takes a step forward and demands a higher target share, Jones won’t be a victim of a numbers game. A new system may even see him more productive in the red zone, a situation in which he and Matt Ryan often inexplicably struggled historically.

    Fantasy football managers with Jones on their team have had to contend with load management for most of his career. He’s never been a wide receiver who played 90% of the offensive snaps as DeAndre Hopkins does. 2019 was the last season that he played all 16 games, and he was on the field for 69.5% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps. It wasn’t uncommon to see Jones make a big play and then immediately head over to the sideline to rest.

    He has a great matchup in Week 1

    The Cardinals’ cornerback position is a concern. After letting franchise legend Patrick Peterson leave, there was an expectation Arizona would invest resources in a replacement. Their solution was Malcolm Butler, former Patriots and Titans Pro Bowler. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Butler announced his retirement recently, citing personal reasons.

    That leaves the Cardinals with Robert Alford, Byron Murphy, and Marco Wilson as their lead trio.

    Jones will be familiar with Alford, having spent six seasons practicing against him in Atlanta. In fact, that’s the last time that Alford played. Two injury-plagued seasons have meant that he is yet to see the field since signing with Arizona at the beginning of 2019.

    Murphy took a step forward after a tough rookie season, but he still has work to do. Wilson is a rookie fourth-round pick who will play in the nickel. The coaching staff believes in him, but debuts don’t get much tougher.

    Is Julio Jones a fantasy WR1 in Week 1?

    Derrick Henry will unsurprisingly see a lot of the touches for the Titans. However, the path of least resistance could be through the air. None of Arizona’s cornerbacks are capable of hanging with Jones. Thus, he should see volume.

    Since being traded by the Miami Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill has become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and will be delighted to have another elite weapon. The question is availability. Keep an eye on the injury report and look out for any updates, but if the Titans are comfortable playing Jones, you should be too.

    Jones is currently the WR10 in our Week 1 fantasy WR rankings.

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