There is no getting around the high expectations for Falcons WR Julio Jones in 2012. He showed special potential as a rookie, racking up 959 receiving yards in 13 games, and the Atlanta offense again looks like it will be among the NFL's stronger attacks.
The soaring popularity of fantasy football, where participants desperately want to be in on the ground floor of The Next Big Thing, adds to the chatter about Jones.
Jones’ average draft position (ADP) in fantasy football drafts, as tracked by MockDraftCentral.com, speaks volumes about the hopes for the former Alabama star. Jones’ ADP of 32.43 as of Thursday in standard leagues was seventh among wide receivers. Meanwhile, Jones’ teammate, Roddy White, one of the NFL’s most dependable and productive receivers in recent years, had an ADP of 43.44, ranking 10th among wideouts.
The optimism about Jones also is reflected in the odds to win the 2012 regular-season receiving yards title at the William Hill-run sportsbooks in Nevada, which includes those formerly operated under the Cal Neva, Leroy's and Lucky's brands.
Jones, along with White and the Giants’ Victor Cruz, is 10-1 to lead the NFL in receiving yards at William Hill. Only the Lions’ Calvin Johnson (3-1), the field (+300) and the Patriots’ Wes Welker (4-1) have lower odds.
Here’s the full list of William Hill's receiving yards odds:
Field (all other receivers than those listed): +300
Lions WR Calvin Johnson: +300
Patriots WR Wes Welker: +400
Giants WR Victor Cruz: +1000
Falcons WR Julio Jones: +1000
Falcons WR Roddy White: +1000
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald: +1500
Bengals WR A.J. Green: +1500
Texans WR Andre Johnson: +1500
Bears WR Brandon Marshall: +1500
Steelers WR Mike Wallace: +1500
Cowboys WR Dez Bryant: +2000
Saints TE Jimmy Graham: +2000
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski: +2000
Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson: +2000
Packers WR Greg Jennings: +2000
Bills WR Stevie Johnson: +2000
Panthers WR Steve Smith: +2000
Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe: +2500
Colts WR Reggie Wayne: +2500
If you are convinced that Jones will play 16 games after missing three contests with injuries a season ago AND increase his production, then perhaps 10-1 is in your wheelhouse.
The biggest issue to ponder, however, is whether Jones will clearly become the go-to guy in Atlanta. I’m not sure that’s going to happen. White has been the most-targeted wideout in the NFL in each of the past two seasons, and TE Tony Gonzalez very well could have triple-digit passes thrown his way, too.
In the past 10 seasons, only one receiving yards champion — the Bengals’ Chad Johnson in 2006 — played on a team that had a second 1,000-yard receiver that same season. Perhaps not surprisingly, Johnson’s 1,369 yards were the lowest total gained by a receiving-yards leader in this span. On average, receiving-yard champs have gained 1,553.8 yards in the past 10 seasons, with the runner-up in receiving yards on their club gaining 775.1 yards.
I wouldn’t talk someone out of believing in Jones in 2012, but I would be surprised if he or White won the receiving-yards crown. I would rather take a shot on, say, the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald at 15-1. Yes, his QB play is a tad shaky, but he’s the clear go-to guy on that team, and he’s quite capable of a monster season.
Now, if we’re talking about the 2013 receiving-yards title … then I’m all ears on Jones. Gonzalez is expected to retire after this season, and White, while an excellent player, is on the wrong side of 30.
Vikings are long, long shots in the NFC North
The Vikings are in a challenging position, to say the least, in the NFC North, as colleague Eric Edholm did well to outline earlier this week. So it’s not surprising, then, that they are far and away the longest price to win the North at the William Hill books.
Not only that, but the Vikings, at 30-1, are the longest-priced shot to win any division this season, per William Hill’s odds. No other club is rated worse than a 20-1 shot to win any of the other eight divisions. (The only such team to be 20-1? Why, the Jaguars, who are always lacking in the bettor-love department.)
The Packers are -300 to win the North at William Hill, with the Bears 4-1 and the Lions 5-1. The overwhelming expectation is that the division-title race will come down to these three teams.
Then there's Minnesota. Per the odds, the Vikings are given roughly a 3.2 percent chance of winning the North.
At 30-1, I could see where Vikings supporters and football-loving contrarians might roll the dice. You just don’t see 30-1 shots very often in four-horse fields … unless one of them looks hopelessly overmatched.
This could be the case with Minnesota, but I am not in the business of talking people off their long shots. Moreover, I would prefer a flier on the Vikings to one on, say, the Dolphins to win the AFC East. Miami is 12-1 at William Hill, and frankly, that price looks a little short to me.