Julio Jones will go down as one of the greatest receivers ever to play the game, and perhaps the best of his generation. That’s not really in question, given his production and jaw-dropping talent, but there’s one dent in his Hall of Fame case that gets brought up a lot in the era of fantasy football: His lack of touchdowns.
Julio’s scored double digit touchdowns just once, back in 2012. Outside of his injury-marred 2013 season and a fluky 2017, he’s scored at least 6 in every season, but he’s never been close to the league leaders there despite regularly finishing top 3 in receiving yardage in his illustrious career. That’s led to grumbling from those who have Julio in fantasy, but it’s also led to some disgruntled Falcons fans who think he should be scoring more. None of that diminishes who Julio is and what he’s capable of, but it is an ongoing source of frustration for many.
One thing you can count on is that the team will talk about getting him more touchdowns each year, while also conceding that it’s difficult to get him more touchdowns when . This year, Vaughn McClure at ESPN has the writeup, and he provides some color that makes it clear how good Julio is despite the lack of elite touchdown production.
The problem, as Dirk Koetter and Matt Ryan outline, is that there is simply not going to be a game where #11 is not doubled in the end zone. With the way things tighten up close to the goal line, it’s much harder for Julio to shake loose of two defenders, and the fact that teams have to put 2/5ths to 1⁄2 of their secondary on him inside the 20 opens up one-on-one opportunities for other players. Calvin Ridley, in particular, has proven to be incredibly adept at punishing defenders in single coverage, scoring 4 red zone touchdowns on just 8 targets last season.
Julio had double that number of targets (16) in the red zone in 2019, managing 5 of his 6 touchdowns this past year there despite the double teams, but Koetter seems to suggest that’s about the upper limit on what the team thinks they can get Julio for targets given coverage.
“I really think for Julio to get more touchdowns, it has to come on either deep throws — deeper throws where you take your shots whether it be go balls or deep posts — or it has to be stuff like slants and intermediate routes where Julio breaks or spins out of a tackle,” Koetter said. “Or like the Philly game: a screen where he catches it, gets a great block from Jake [Matthews], and he runs for  yards. I think he’s going to have to run some in.”
We all know what Jones is capable of when he’s receiving targets downfield, but that’s another item that will have to change if the team wants to give him a better chance of scoring, as McClure notes Ryan threw just four balls that traveled 38-45 yards in the air a year ago, and not one of them went to Julio. A big part of Koetter’s marching orders in his second season will be finding ways to use his weapons more creatively, and there is no better weapon than Julio Jones.
Julio is not a slouch either way, as McClure notes he’s 11th in the NFL in red zone touchdowns over the past three seasons and 19th in touchdown receptions overall. If the Falcons want to get him the kind of elite scoring production he last enjoyed in 2012, though, it appears they’ll want to focus on having Matt Ryan huck more bombs his way and figure out ways to spring him free in the open field, because defenses aren’t going to give the team the courtesy of single coverage in the red zone all that often.