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Fantasy Football: The Mohamed Sanu trade actually makes Julio Jones even more valuable

Mohamed Sanu, Julio Jones, Falcons

The news of the Mohamed Sanu trade broke early on Wednesday when the Atlanta Falcons shipped the veteran receiver off to the New England Patriots for a second-round pick. Sanu was a long-tenured member of the Falcons and one-third of their deadly receiving trio. The remaining leader of the Atlanta receiving corps, Julio Jones, just got a little bit of a fantasy boost. Jones has long been regarded as a fantasy stud, and this trade will only help him get better.

In a situation like this one, there are basically two trains of thought. One is that since Sanu is gone, more defensive attention will be paid to Jones, making him less effective. The other is that there are just more targets to go around, most of which will be tossed in Jones’s direction. The latter is right, at least in this particular case. Success in fantasy football begins with an opportunity to succeed, and Jones will get even more in Sanu’s absence.

Even with Sanu in town, Jones was drawing double teams. Opposing defenses weren’t intimidated enough by Sanu or fellow receiver Calvin Ridley to leave Jones in single coverage. The Falcons still field great supplementary weapons in Ridley and tight end, Austin Hooper. While neither demands special attention, they’re good enough to dictate that Jones doesn’t get even more attention than he already does.

The more exciting part of this trade (at least from a fantasy perspective) is the spectacular target share Jones will enjoy. The former Alabama product has absorbed a total of 62 targets over seven games, seventh-best in the NFL among wide receivers. Sanu enjoyed a 15% target share throughout this season, a healthy amount for a third option. That 15% will realistically be divided between three guys: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Austin Hooper. Jones is by far the most skilled among the three, and he has an incredible rapport with quarterback Matt Ryan. Hooper and Ridley will be looked at slightly more, but they aren’t the focal point of Atlanta’s offense. Jones is, and that’s not changing any time soon.

At this point, you’re wondering about Sanu’s replacement absorbing targets, as well as other offensive players taking touches. Atlanta named Russell Gage its starting slot receiver from this point on. Gage is a sophomore who was drafted in the sixth round out of LSU. To this point, there haven’t been any signs that show he’s worthy of meaningful looks in the offense. The only other options are the Atlanta running backs. Starter Devonta Freeman has been targeted around four times a game, which isn’t a bad clip. But the Falcons are frequently playing from behind, meaning that they’ll have to shy away from throwing too many checkdowns — play Julio Jones with more confidence than ever.