Which Falcons receiver will have the better fantasy season: Roddy White or Julio Jones?
The Atlanta Falcons are one of three teams with two wide receivers being taken in the top 15 in ESPN live drafts so far this summer. And for good reason, as they boast a steady, super-productive veteran in Roddy White, as well as a youngster coming off a top-20 rookie campaign (despite missing three games due to injury) in Julio Jones.
However, when it comes to figuring out which of these receivers should be taken first, it probably depends on how much risk you're willing to take and whether you prefer established production or potential upside.
White has put up five consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards and is coming off his second straight 100-reception season. Even with Jones brought in to bolster the receiving corps, White still led the NFL with 180 targets in 2011. He's also been very durable, never missing a game in seven NFL seasons. There's something to be said about reliability and security, and that's what White brings to the table.
The veteran White also seemed to pick up the stats as the season went on, as he had four 100-yard games, three 10-reception outings and five TDs in the final seven games of the season, compared to just one 100-yard game and three TDs before that. So it doesn't appear that he's really slowing down at age 30.
Meanwhile, Jones is just 23 and appears to have loads of potential. Remember, the Falcons traded a ton of draft picks to move up to draft him early in the first round last year. He finished his rookie season with 54 catches for 959 receiving yards (a whopping 17.8 yards per catch). He had as many TD catches (eight) and 100-yard games (five) as White, despite a hamstring injury that forced him to miss three games and limited him in a few other games as well.
Jones also finished the 2011 season with a flourish, putting up 393 yards and six touchdowns over the final four games of the season, helping his owners during the fantasy playoff stretch run.
There's still plenty of room for Jones to grow. As he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently, he considered himself "maybe five or six" during his rookie season, but now "I'm a 10." It appeared he was at that 10 level early in the Falcons' preseason opener, when he had six catches for 109 yards a TD. That's a big reason Jones has moved up even further in many drafts in recent weeks.
Overall, Jones is fully healthy, has developed a solid bond with quarterback Matt Ryan and has a chance to be used even more under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, as that first game may have demonstrated. The upside is definitely there.
But Jones still has a bit of downside. There were game-to-game consistency issues, partly because of his injuries. In addition to the three games he missed with injuries, he had three other weeks where he scored two or fewer points (ESPN standard scoring), compared to just one for White. And while Jones had as many TDs as White, all but one were outside the 20. That's great for his big-play capabilities, but can you count on long touchdowns on a week-to-week basis? Interestingly, all but one of White's eight TDs were inside the 20, which seems to show how the Falcons liked to use both guys last season.
As for White's downside, remember that he did lead the league in dropped passes, but the huge volume of targets somewhat compensated for it. There's a pretty good chance White is not getting 175-180 targets again, not with Jones ready to become even more involved in the offense. So even if White does improve on the drops (which he did by the end of last season), will he still get as many chances to do something with the ball? Remember, this potential decrease in receptions could also affect his value in PPR leagues, where he has been very desirable in recent seasons. And if he's getting fewer receptions, what will the yardage be, especially given that he's averaged just 12.8 yards per catch over the past three seasons? Granted, he's caught exactly 300 passes during that time, but will he come close to 100 catches again this season?
White is still going to be a dangerous weapon and a big part of the Falcons' offense, but he may be passing the baton to Jones as the top wideout. At the very least, there could be more of a 1A and 1B situation in play, with White as the steady option who'll be more in the mix for shorter TDs and moving the chains, while Jones serves as the home-run threat but with the capacity to do a lot more.
Jones' ceiling appears to be higher than White's (which still isn't too bad), but the floor might be a bit lower as well. I'm taking the risk on Jones' upside and growth in his second year slightly over White's consistency that seems destined for a slight decline.