For the first twelve weeks of Julio Jones’ NFL career, many people thought that he would never be able to outshine what the Falcons gave up to get him in the 2011 NFL Draft. Essentially trading five picks for a wide receiver is going to draw that kind of criticism, for sure.
But after returning from an injury that cost him three games of his rookie campaign, Jones showed that the Falcons didn’t trade up for just any wide receiver. They traded up for a guy who has the potential to be a top five wide receiver, starting in 2012.
Over the final five games of the 2011 season, Jones compiled 461 yards on 24 catches and 6 touchdowns. Just like that, critics stopped talking about what Atlanta gave up to get him and started criticizing the other teams that missed out on him.
No one really ever doubted the talent that the Alabama star had. His leaping talents, his hands and his overall game-breaking ability made him a top prospect at his position in the draft. In fact, there were many leading up until draft day who said to flip a coin to decide between him and, now Cincinnati Bengal, A.J. Green. But with both players now proving they have the chops to make it at the next level, what can we expect of Julio in his sophomore effort?
It seems kind of crazy to say that a 959 receiving yard and eight touchdown season can, and should, be improved upon, but with anew offensive coordinator and a now dreadless Jones looking even more determined in camp, it seems likely.
Consider this; Julio Jones’ stats for yards and touchdowns rank among the top-20 all-time by rookie receivers. That’s more than Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or even Calvin Johnson had. And that’s some pretty good company to be in. Especially when you consider what that trio was able to accomplish after their rookie seasons.
With the miserable Mike Mularkey offensive scheme in the rearview mirror, new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter expects the Falcons to run more of a no-huddle offense. Something that many of Mularkey’s critics didn’t understand last year. When you have two stud receivers like Jones and Roddy White along with arguably the greatest tight end ever to play the game in Tony Gonzalez, why aren’t you slinging the ball around more?
Koetter favors maximizing the talents of his top playmakers, and that should lead the Falcons to use more quick passes and crossing routes to take advantage of the elite running skills of White and Jones. Julio showed the ability to play down the field on vertical routes, as evidenced with his two brilliant catches in Indianapolis last year, but he has also flashed sick skills as a catch-and-run playmaker.
Jones possesses the size and speed to run through arm tackles, and an uncanny ability at weaving through traffic. This makes him dangerous when he gets the ball in the open field. Last season, Jones turned a pair of slant routes into touchdowns of 75-plus yards, and added another two scores on short crossing routes. That’s why Koetter will make Jones the primary threat on quick passes to take advantage of his impressive running skills. Thus, getting Roddy White more involved after a down year in 2011.
Playing those two off of each other will be a huge difference in 2012. And it’s one that just might have many saying “perhaps they didn’t overpay for Julio” by the end of the season.