When you step on the field, you should feel that you're the best, you and whoever your partner is. I feel like me and Roddy [White], we're the best when we step on the field. We take it as a challenge every year: We want to go out and show everybody we're the best one-two in the league.
There is no denying the talent of the Falcons receivers, but last year, the two had trouble staying on the field. Jones played in five games before breaking his foot. The injury caused him to miss the rest of the season.
White was able to play in 13 games, but he was severely limited. Ankle and hamstring injuries forced him to miss the first game in his career, ending a streak of 133 consecutive games played. Last year was also the first season White had less than 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns since 2006.
In their absence, a new wide receiving duo emerged. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey of the Chicago Bears took the league by storm last season. Marshall has been a consistent performer since 2007, but last year was the first time he has played with another big-time receiver in Chicago.
In his second season, Jeffery had 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. Jeffery and Marshall finished with a combined 189 receptions, 2,716 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.
I'm not the type of person that brags a lot about anything, but I feel that last year, what we did, we were at the top of the list as the two best receivers. But that was last year. This year, we have to set our goal and try our best to do the same thing we did last year, if not better.
Even if he wants to avoid it, the attention and the expectations have raised in Chicago. White now views Jeffery and Marshall as his and Jones' competition, as per McClure:
Numbers don't lie: They did a good job last year. We weren't there to play in the party. But this year, we're going to be there to play in the party. So at the end of the season, we'll come together, and then we'll see what happens.
It's expected that Jones and White would think they are the best in the league, but it means a little more when that opinion is shared by an outside source—especially when that source is All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals, as per Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The best duo in the NFL, I'd probably have to say that's pretty accurate. Both of those guys are Pro Bowl caliber receivers, both of them are All-Pro caliber receivers. Both of them do a lot of good things for Matt Ryan to make his job a little easier. But to say they are the best tandem, I'd probably have to say that he's probably right.
The strength of Marshall and Jeffery's game is their size. At 6'4" and 6'3", they are monsters in the red zone, and they are able to come up with the majority of jump balls thrown their way. Their 19 touchdowns last year prove that.
White and Jones aren't as prolific as that, but they may have the advantage in the other aspects of the game. Both can be used as deep threats, both can catch the tough passes over the middle, and they are both weapons in the screen game. Jones even lines up in the backfield on occasion. Marshall and Jeffery are great, but they do not have that type of versatility.
It all comes down to health for the Falcons wide receivers this season. If the two can manage to stay on the field all season, they should see their numbers return to something close to what they were in 2012. Jones feels like he's on track toward making that happen, as per Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
I am back doing the little things I used to do. I am back to the old Julio. I feel like I am actually stronger now. I’ve been doing back squats loading up and getting my quads more stronger more so than my hamstrings. That might have been a problem as well. [I’m trying] to balance my strength in my quads and my glutes to make sure everything is equal so I don’t put that amount of force and pressure on the outside of my foot.
If everything goes according to plan for White and Jones, they may try and prove they're the best duo in the NFL.