In first installment of this series, I compared the fantasy values of two closely ranked first round RBs: Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch.
This installment compares two closely ranked second round WRs from the same tier: Brandon Marshall and Julio Jones.
Many of the top reviewed fantasy sites rank Jones and Marshall within two overall spots of each other. This review will help discern these two players in terms of fantasy value. So, without further ado, the nitpicking continues…
Marshall put up monster numbers while playing his first season in the sacred navy blue and burnt orange, managing to set three single-season team records: 118 receptions, 1,508 receiving yards, and seven 100-yard receiving games (2nd in NFL). Marshall also put up an impressive 11 TDs (4th in NFL) and 94.2 yds/game. Simply put, Marshall was badass.
However, many of you probably think last season's performance (300 yards and five TDs) was a fluke, where Marshall dramatically improved upon his performances of the past two seasons. Is it fair to think ‘12 was an outlier? Should we expect to see a drop-off this upcoming season? No - expect Marshall's stock to continue to rise during the '13 season.
When Cutler tosses Marshall the pigskin, he has averaged 7 receptions/game, 89 yds/game, and .5 TDs/game. Cutler and Marshall’s most productive season together was in ’12. Marshall’s past two “down” seasons were primarily due to sub-par quarterback play from Matt Moore, Tyler Thigpen, and Chad Henne.
In addition to a strong quarterback partnership, Marshall will have an improved supporting cast this season. Many believe Chicago’s offensive line will be better this year, and Alshon Jeffery has made huge strides this offseason. "He was softer last year, much softer,” Marshall said in reference to Jeffery. “Now he's strong. He's a beast.”
In addition, the Bears present a more passing-oriented offense this season compared to Mike Tice’s offense of ’12, which will directly benefit Marshall. The Bears' new head coach, Marc Trestman, has orchestrated some of the most prolific NFL offenses in recent years, and is known for improving the productivity of every quarterback he coaches.
In fact, Trestman has become known as a quarterback guru, and is best known for helping Steve Young become a Pro Bowler, and Rich Gannon an NFL MVP. Expect this new fast-paced, west coast offense to help Marshall’s fantasy productivity.
Lastly, many analysts question Marshall’s durability heading into this season, thinking last season’s large workload cannot be duplicated, and chance of injury is higher due to this load. Let me put minds at ease: Marshall has missed only five games in seven seasons, and is still on the right side of 30 years old. Additionally, Calvin Johnson had four more receptions than Marshall last season, and that doesn’t seem to worry anyone about Johnson’s ’13 potential.
My 2013 projections for Marshall: 105 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards, and 10 TDs.
In his sophomore season, Jones exceeded his admirable rookie stats on every measure. He led the Falcons in TDs (10), was second to Roddy White in receiving yards (1,198), and finished behind only Gonzalez and White in receptions (79).
Julio has been the Falcons' most consistent deep threat since his arrival. He produced a team-leading twelve 40+ yard receptions over the past two seasons, while White was second with only five.
Julio’s raw athleticism, combined with two seasons of experience, brings enormous potential. He has reliable hands (7 drops in 127 targets in '12), great speed (4.39 40 yard dash), and is hard to tackle in the open field (12 missed tackles in ‘12).
He is also entering the coveted and over-hyped third year of a receiver's career, when fantasy owners expect a sharp increase in production (despite no significant statistical correlation actually existing), and has no injury concerns. What could one possibly dislike about this rising fantasy star?
Essentially, Jones' lack of opportunity is the only reason to downgrade him in rankings this year. There are not enough available targets in the Falcons' passing game to maximize Jones’ fantasy potential. There is an indeterminate threshold of receiving talent for each team, and when exceeded, each receiver’s fantasy value is negatively impacted.
Because it’s reasonable to expect Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez to each have 85-90 receptions this year, Steven Jackson 45 receptions, and Jacquizz Rodgers 35 receptions, that threshold most likely has been exceeded.
Jones will likely not reach 90 receptions this year, so his fantasy potential will be limited. My 2013 projections for Jones: 85 receptions, 1,250 receiving yards, and 9 TDs.
Both of these men are elite fantasy receivers, and belong in the second WR tier right behind Megatron. They both have big-play ability, similar athleticism, reliable hands, and competent QBs. Injury risk is also insignificant for both men.
However, Jones should be expected to have significantly less targets than Marshall this season, limiting his fantasy potential. Additionally, Marshall’s expected high volume of receptions warrants him being ranked significantly higher than Jones in PPR formats (top 3 WR). The only format Jones should be ranked higher than Marshall is keeper or dynasty leagues, due to Jones' younger age.
Bottom line: Brandon Marshall should be ranked just ahead of Julio Jones in standard formats, significantly ahead of him in PPR formats, and behind him in dynasty and keeper formats.