Superstar wide receiver Julio Jones will miss the Atlanta Falcons' preseason opener. According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jones is experiencing tightness in his hamstrings and will veer on the side of caution.
To be safe, Jones must skip the preseason and prepare for a long-awaited Super Bowl run.
Hamstring tightness may not seem severe, but it's the type of minor ailment that can lead to more significant damage. Even if Jones is to make a full recovery and become available for future preseason games, it's not worth risking his health when the games are meaningless, even if he is already displaying signs of improvement.
Progress or not, caution is Atlanta's best friend right now.
Even if Jones were to play, he'd likely see no more than a handful of series. With that being said, we've seen countless big names suffer season-threatening injuries already, including Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Bryan Bulaga and Percy Harvin, among others.
Atlanta simply cannot risk having Jones end up as another offseason casualty.
History of Injuries
Jones is not injury-prone, and to label him in that manner would be nothing short of improper. With that being said, Jones has experienced ailments in the past, specifically in the leg-related area.
During the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, Jones wowed scouts despite having a broken bone in his foot, but later required surgery, per Chris Mortensen of ESPN. Jones ended up playing in his rookie season, but he missed three games—due to a hamstring injury.
With this fact established, it's critical that the Falcons handle the current situation as carefully as possible. Three games may not seem like a lot, but that absence could be the difference between another season with home-field advantage and a road game against the San Francisco 49ers or Green Bay Packers.
Atlanta needs Jones at full strength, and at this point, the only way to assure that is to rest him for the remainder of the preseason.
During his rookie season, Jones turned heads by picking up 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. He quickly made a statement that he could, in fact, become the difference-maker in an offense already led by Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner.
One year later, Jones topped 1,000 yards and entered his name into the realm of the elite.
Jones finished 2012 with 79 receptions, 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns, finishing 15th or better in the latter two categories. Jones was also ninth in the NFL with 17 receptions of 20-plus yards, helping to build an impressive average of 15.2 yards per reception.
If that's not enough, Jones was 11th in the NFL with 486 yards after the catch.
Jones also caught 56 passes for first downs, which thus creates one of the most impressive numbers in football. Sixty-six of his 79 receptions, a number of 83.5 percent, went for either touchdowns or first downs.
That's what you call elite.
As a unit, Jones, Gonzalez and White accounted for 194 first downs and 25 touchdowns during the 2012 regular season. The rest of Atlanta's receiving corps managed 52 first downs and seven touchdowns.
Losing any of those players, specifically Jones, would be a crushing blow to Atlanta's Super Bowl dreams.
Super Bowl Contender
The Falcons are one of the best teams in the NFL and remain the front-runner in the NFC South, even with the return of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. They were a league-best 13-3 last season, owning the fifth-best point differential.
Most importantly, they've finally gotten over the postseason hump.
Matt Ryan had long been viewed as a quarterback who was close to elite, but incapable of winning in the postseason. Early exits in each of his appearances backed that claim up, even if it is too early in his career to warrant true criticism.
Just like that, Ryan led Atlanta to an NFC Divisional Round victory over the Seattle Seahawks and had the Falcons a second-half collapse away from defeating the San Francisco 49ers.
Ryan threw for 396 yards, three touchdowns and an interception against the Niners' vaunted defense. Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and two scores, as Gonzalez and White combined for 15 catches, 178 yards and a touchdown.
In other words, this trio of receivers can dominate anyone when they're together.
If Jones is to rush back from an injury and thus miss time, the Falcons would pay the consequences. He's become a go-to player for Ryan, and his presence significantly alleviates pressure from Gonzalez and White.
By letting Jones rest, the Falcons would do all they can to eliminate the risk of a lingering injury that could heavily impact how far they go in 2013.