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2017 Player vs. Player - Julio Jones vs. Mike Evans

Fantasy football draft season is upon us and RotoBaller is here to help! In this series, two RotoBaller experts will discuss the merits of two players with similar value and average draft position (ADP). Remember that situations will change for all players over the course of the summer and it may impact where they are selected in drafts.

We continue this year's Player vs. Player series by looking at a pair of elite wide receivers that are going in the first round of virtually all redraft and dynasty startup drafts.

Nick Del Vecchio (@nickydelta) and Andrew C. Lovell (@andrew_lovell) take sides on behalf of owners in PPR leagues choosing between Julio Jones and Mike Evans, with each making a compelling case for his preferred player.

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Julio Jones (WR, ATL) - Nick

Julio Jones took a slight step back in 2016 compared to the gaudy receiving numbers he put up in 2014 and 2015. However, 83 receptions for 1,409 yards with six TDs from a year ago kept him within elite status of all fantasy wide receivers. He averaged over 100 yards per game and an explosive 17 yards per catch. He is by far the best receiver on his team, and Matt Ryan will continue to force feed him the ball up and down the field. It sure looked to be the game plan during the NFC playoffs, as he totaled 15 catches for 247 yards and three scores in the two games against Seattle and Green Bay.

The one downside with Jones as far as fantasy production goes is that he only has reached double-digit touchdowns once in his career. He finished with six, eight, and six in his last three seasons, respectively. I believe he can easily get to 10 or more this season, as the offense will look to get him many more red-zone looks. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, the former Alabama and University of Washington coach, now replacing Kyle Shanahan, had this to say about Jones:

"I think, No. 1, they were still very good in the red zone, but when you have a player like Julio, it's making sure we maximize his opportunities because there is so much double coverage, there are so many unique coverages that roll his way that when we don’t get that, let's make sure he's one of the primary receivers on that play because it is such a tough matchup for anybody one on one."

As Sarkisian alluded to, when Jones sees single coverage, he is making the play. There have been a number of highlight-reel catches over his career in which he was draped by coverage, only to come down with the ball. His size, hands, catch radius, and sheer determination leads to a high amount of catches per game. Needless to say, that is huge for PPR leagues.

Perhaps the new play caller will dial up more slants and fade routes for Julio deep in the red zone, and a lesser amount of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman run plays. The bottom line here is that if Julio can catch more TDs than he has been, he should have no problem coming very close to being the number one overall WR in fantasy in 2017.

The Falcons' offense was historically great in 2016, finishing with a whopping 540 points, tied with the 2000 Rams for seventh most all-time. They managed to score 30-plus points in 11 games, along with five 40-plus games, good for second all-time. Atlanta recently locked up Freeman to a long-term deal, and a nice chunk of the offense will go through him.

However, whenever Ryan has a passing down, or audibles out of the run, you can expect that his first option is Jones. Expect another prolific season for Jones, along the lines of 90-plus catches, 1,300-plus yards, and at least eight scores.


Mike Evans (WR, TB) - Andrew

Let's get this out of the way right now: you can't go wrong with either Jones or Evans. Both are big, dynamic playmaking wide receivers in the primes of their careers who play in explosive offenses led by Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Outside of stars like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and perhaps A.J. Green, Jones and Evans stand out as two of the most physically-gifted and productive wide receivers in the NFL right now. They are both studs.

But, of course, this is fantasy football, and you can only spend your first-round pick on one of them. Plus, let's be real: it's fun to debate! So while I love Jones, I love Evans just a bit more in 2017. Allow me to explain why.

Any argument in favor of Evans over Jones should begin with their ages. Jones will enter his seventh NFL season at 28 years old, while Evans (fourth season) is just 24. That might not seem like a huge difference, but it's enough of a gap to warrant a closer look. Jones, for instance, had his major breakout campaign in his fourth season, exploding for 104 receptions for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns back in 2014.

If Evans continues his upward trend, he could approach those types of numbers in 2017. The former Texas A&M standout has seen his receptions, targets, and receiving yards increase in each of his first three seasons. Jones, conversely, might have peaked, or at least plateaued over the last three seasons. Jones' average season from 2014-2016 looks like so: 107 receptions, 1,624 yards, six touchdowns. Again, that's an average. Most wide receivers will never post a single season of that magnitude. It's been a remarkable stretch, but are numbers like that maintainable for Jones? It would seem unlikely given a combination of two factors: Jones' injury history and the Falcons' wealth of weapons.

Jones missed two games and was limited in others last season as the result of a nagging toe injury. He had his third career surgery on his left foot in the offseason, and though all indications suggest he'll be ready to roll for the start of the season, it's a troublesome trend. The Falcons also added wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, and tight end Austin Hooper to an already-potent offense last year. As a result, Jones' reception total decreased by a staggering 53 catches.

Evans, on the other hand, started all 16 games last season and has played in 46 of 48 games overall since joining Tampa Bay as the No. 7 overall pick in 2014. Now, I know what you're thinking: But wait, the Buccaneers added speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard in the offseason. Won't those additions negatively affect Evans like they did Jones? Possibly, but probably not.

Evans might not match or surpass his 96 receptions from last season, but he should find himself facing less double teams. That could mean more yards and touchdowns, the latter being an area where Evans already widely exceeds Jones. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Evans has 27 career touchdowns in three seasons, including a pair of 12-touchdown campaigns. Jones has 20 touchdowns over the same three-year span, but has topped eight touchdowns only once in his seven-year career.

In short, while Jones might have a slight advantage in receptions in 2017, the two wide receivers' yardage totals should be similar. But Evans could double up Jones in touchdowns, like he did last season, which pushes him ahead in this head-to-head debate.

If you pick Jones, you're drafting based on his track record, which is stellar. If you draft Evans, you're banking on another step forward as he pushes his already skyscraper-like ceiling even higher.


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