It’s easy for sports fans to pigeonhole a player; the athletes who never get the chance to succeed are prematurely deemed unsuccessful. The inferred lack of propriety of an athlete most often comes as the result of having never been given the proper opportunity to demonstrate their talents. Some athletes, however few and far between, break through the barrier of non-belief when good fortune comes knocking. These “late bloomers” sometimes prove themselves to be as good as the best of their position; others only prove themselves to be as bad as the worst. For wide receiver James Jones, when bad luck reared its ugly head and sidelined Greg Jennings, he solidly established himself as the former.
Early on in the 2012 season, star receiver Greg Jennings was fighting an uphill battle against a nagging groin injury. It soon became clear that resting Jennings and rehabilitating his groin was not going to solve the on-going issue. Groin tears can be especially painful and annoying injuries for wide receivers. As a receiver stretches and separates his legs while running and jumping, the ligaments in the groin can easily suffer inflammation. According to WebMD, if over-stretching of the groin occurs then inflammation can be accompanied by pain, tenderness, loss of strength, loss of movement, tissue damage and a complete tearing of the muscle. Being that Jennings tore his groin muscle, he thereby lost necessary strength and movement. In layman’s terms, he could no longer run fast enough or jump high enough to catch a pass. The first consequence of Jennings’s injury was surgery. The second consequence was missing most of the 2012 season. The ultimate consequence was taking permanent leave from Green Bay for Minnesota in the off-season.
Up until Jennings was sidelined, Jones was having somewhat of a lackluster fantasy football career. For a receiver with so much potential on a team with very few legitimate rivals, he wasn’t accomplishing anything of significance for fantasy GMs. One might have described him as a sleeper. In Jones’s first five seasons, he averaged an abysmal 5 FFPts/G. This is not because he lacked the capability to be a great player; he was just the low man on a tall totem pole. From 2007 to 2012, Jones found himself in the back of a long line. In front of him were veteran Packer Donald Driver, Jennings and Jordy Nelson. When Randall Cobb joined Green Bay in 2011, he almost instantly began seeing more targets as the Packers’ slot receiver than Jones saw as an outside option. This was before Jennings was even injured. As such, the fantasy football experts predicted 2012 to be another inconsequential year for Jones. Some fantasy football analysts went so far as to suggest that the consummate backup would be a reserve player at best. Had fantasy football GMs taken heed of that bleak advice, then they would have been greatly rewarded when Green Bay lost Jennings. After the star receiver was sidelined, it became a mad rush to acquire Nelson and/or Cobb from the waiver wire. Ironically, it is Jones that would improve the most as a fantasy football option in the absence of Jennings. It’s safe to say that no one saw what comes next.
Jennings’s loss quickly became Jones’s gain. When the New Orleans Saints came to town during Week 4 of 2012, Jones blasted their secondary to kingdom come. On a measly five receptions, he had 56 yards and 2 TDs; do the math and you’ll find that those stats equal 17.6 fantasy points. The game against the Saints was only the tip of the iceberg. In the following two weeks, Jones posted a combined 31.9 fantasy points on 4 TDs and 79 yards. By the time Week 7 rolled around, he had put the NFL on notice. Yes, James Jones is that good. He was consistently strong as a fantasy receiver throughout the rest of the 2012 season. Even after Jennings returned he continued to out-shine his fellow Packers and NFL secondaries. His fantasy owners rejoiced when it came to playoff time. In a Week 15 match-up against the league’s most dominant defense, the Chicago Bears, Jones erupted like the second coming of Mt. Vesuvius. Halfway through the second quarter, he caught a 29-yard pass for a TD. Less than seven minutes later, Jones ran a route across the middle and came up with an 8-yard TD. In the third quarter, he found himself in the red zone once again, and you guessed it, another TD. Undoubtedly, Jones was the primary reason why the Packers were able to defeat the Bears 21-13; all 3 of the Packers’ TDs belonged to Jones. That win against the Bears gave him an astronomical 24 fantasy points. For the rest of the fantasy playoffs, Jones delivered time and time again. The proof of his greatness can be found in the league’s stat sheet: Jones led the entire NFL in receiving TDs in 2012 with 14. He had more TDs than Calvin Johnson and Roddy White combined. Clearly, his future as a Packer and a fantasy receiver is a bright one.
It has become clear that Aaron Rodgers has an affinity for Jones as a target. This is most likely because he has the right combination of awareness, size and speed to make him an optimal outside target. In 2012, Jones averaged more fantasy points than either Cobb or Nelson. Jones is an exemplary red zone threat because he catches difficult passes and finishes big plays; this characteristic sets him a step apart from his Packers counterparts. We can expect even more from him in 2013. In interviews, Jones has made it clear that he is ready to step into the role of starting wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. There isn’t a more ideal setting for him to be in during 2013. Green Bay has so many receiving threats that all eyes won’t be focused on Jones. This will give him the chance to make his moves and bring down the ball. Having Cobb, Nelson, and Finley drawing the sort of coverage they do, promises that Jones will have more than a fighting chance to make important plays like he did in 2012. I fully expect that he will have his highest scoring fantasy football season yet in 2013; it’s easy for me to imagine his 10.8 FFPts/G ascending to an average closer 12 FFPts/G.
During the draft, fantasy GMs would be wise to remember the old adage, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” In essence, having Jones on your fantasy squad is a clear and certain advantage. On the flip side of the coin, drafting Larry Fitzgerald early on because he now has Carson Palmer is a far cry from a certainty. Arizona’s offensive line bears a striking resemblance to Swiss cheese and there are no receivers to draw coverage away from Fitzgerald. Therefore, it is evident that Jones has stockpiles of upside that seemingly better receivers lack. At this stage, Jones is projected to be a seventh- or eighth-round draft pick. You would be making a huge mistake if you have the opportunity to select him that late in the draft and you don’t. In 2013, James Jones is equal to his weight in gold; draft him and watch him take your team to new heights in the WR2 or flex spot.
Eric Schuette is an enterprising sports writer and contributor to the Fantasy Cafe. You can follow him on twitter @EricOnSports and in the Cafe's forums also under the name EricOnSports.
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