How Will Julio Jones Impact the Buccaneers’ Offense?

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The Buccaneers entered the 2022 offseason with a huge question at hand. How long would Chris Godwin be out after a torn ACL? In order to hedge against a large role going unfulfilled Jason Licht went out and coaxed Julio Jones into a one-year contract. Now with the season soon to start and Godwin getting closer to playing here is what we can expect from Julio Jones.

The Comparison

Taking a look at the Buccaneers’ second wide receiver usage last season will give us a clearer picture of Jones’ possible impact. To do so we will compare two similar seasons, Godwin’s season last year (2021) and Julio Jones’ 2016 season. We are also going to make an large assumption based on the word of head coach Todd Bowles and Jones himself. Bowles has stated the wide receiver has “returned to his old self”.

Additionally, Jones himself told reporters “I feel amazing,” and “I don’t have anything that is lingering, anything that is holding me back, anything that I am unsure about. I am ready to go.”

Godwin’s 2021/Jones’ 2016

I chose the 2016 season for Jones because it has some similarities that make comparison easier. First, both players only played in 14 games for the regular season in those years. The second, is the amount of targets each received. Godwin had 127 in 2021 with Jones being targeted 129 times in 2016. Additionally 2016 was a season where jones hit his career average catch percentage right on the dot (64.3%).

In 2021 Godwin would amass 1,103 yards with an 11.3 yard per reception average, and a 8.7 yard per target average. In comparison Jones eclipsed those numbers with 1,409 yards, 17 yards per reception average, and a 10.9 yard per target average. The difference is in the production comes down to scheme and routes. Though Jones had fewer receptions, 83 to Godwin’s 98, he was consistently deeper per target playing the role of the number one receiver.

With Jones filling the second receiver spot and occasionally shifting to the slot his routes will be more like those Godwin ran last year. That means fans should not expect a 2016 stat line. Jones’ yards per target will not match his 10.9 drawing down his average yards per reception.  Furthermore, Godwin sits in the upper 70s in catch percentage. Jones has only once in his career surpassed 70 percent. This will naturally, unless Jones improves in this system, reduce his stat line.

An Outside Factor

The Buccaneers are missing a huge participant in their offense this year. Rob Gronkowski, and in order to facilitate the loss the passes he accounted for will need to be spread loaded. That’s 89 targets that need to be parsed out. Seven targets per game accounting for how many weeks Gronkowski played.

Making another assumption, the second wide receiver should see an uptick of targets per game. Likely one to two. That pushes the average from Godwin’s nine per game last year to ten or even eleven.

This leaves Jones possible production at 10.5 targets a game. With a 64.3% catch percentage and Godwin’s per catch numbers works out to the following average per game stat line.

Seven catches (6.7 rounded up) at 11.3 yards a catch and 79.1 yards a game with Godwin out.

Godwin’s Return

In order to best predict Jones’ production once Godwin returns we use the same metrics but compare it through the lens of Antonio Browns stats from the 2021 regular season. Helping us is the fact that Brown does have a closer catch percentage over his career.

As the third receiver Brown had 62 targets in 2021, with an average of 8.8 targets per game. Add in having to make up for Gronkowski’s production and he may see around 9.8. Using his catch percentage he could see six catches a game for a possible 67.8 yards a game.

Final Thought

If Jones is utilized with a deeper route tree that is somewhere between those he ran in Atlanta and what Godwin and Brown ran in Tampa last year his numbers could be far higher. Byron Leftwich surely understands this and will certainly work some of that into the game plan. Jones has a high ceiling this year and, depending on Godwin’s return, give the Buccaneers a shot at having three wide receivers hit over 1,000 yards a piece.

Update:

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Buccaneers’ wide receiver Chris Godwin is expected to play on Sunday night’s season opener vs. the Cowboys. Godwin is listed as “questionable” as he recovers from a knee injury. As Schefter reported, Godwin will be on a “pitch count” if he does in fact play!

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