When you look at Julio Jones’ modest statistics and match them up against the crème de la crème of NFL receivers, they don’t pass the eye test. Last season, Jones was the 19th most-targeted receiver in the league. This season, Jones is about to become the man of the house in Atlanta. Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are still kickin’ it at the head of the table for the Dirty Birds, but Jones’ third year is when the transition begins.
White and Jones are Matt Ryan’s thunder and lightning duo. You’ll hear Rowdy Roddy coming the moment he steps in the arena, but Jones would rather be seen instead of heard.
Not only is Jones a deep threat, he’s quickly asserted himself as one of the top YAC (yards after catch) receivers in the NFL. Percy Harvin and Michael Crabtree were the only wideouts to chew up more YAC numbers than Jones in 2012, but he hasn’t had to shoulder as much of an offensive load or rack up crazy numbers because of the Falcons’ densely populated receiving corps.
Fellow 2011 wideout AJ Green is the more fundamentally sound receiver, but Jones is a superior playmaker because of his versatility. He is one of the premier athletes in the NFL and can “Rise Up” with the best of ’em. At the Combine three years ago, Jones also blazed a 4.39 40. That’s sick for a 6´3, 220-pound jump ball receiver with that type of physicality. To recap, you’ve got a receiver who can gallop past Patrick Peterson, outmuscle safeties and outleap Richard Sherman. The only receiver in the league who can scoff at Jones’ measurables is Calvin Johnson.
Jones has never been the type of receiver to run the wrong route or bungle a play, but the final part of the equation for White, or any other young receiver, is grasping the mental aspect of their position. Last year, Dez Bryant made the metamorphosis, and 2013 is Jones’ stage.
“He’s more comfortable within our offense,” Ryan told Yahoo!’s Mike Silver last August about Jones’ development. “He has a better understanding of how to run routes. His route-running has been really good from Game 1 of the preseason through Game 1 of the regular season. It’s been spot-on.”
Jones’ followed up with his Pro Bowl debut in his sophomore campaign. The expectations heading into his third season are congruent with the Falcons’ bloated expectations. This season is now Super Bowl or bust. To do that, the Falcons have another level to reach as a unit and Jones has to breach the upper echelon of receivers. Jones has the ability to continue trending upwards into the one percent, and pretty soon, he’ll be getting paid like them, as well.
Unlike the Georgia Dome, Jones’ ability has no ceiling. He’s about to blow the roof off of defensive secondaries. Hauling in 11 of 13 passes thrown his direction for 182 yards and two touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game was a sneak preview of the ascension. Now it’s time to fully realize his latent potential.