Almost instantly, everyone knew about the deal that shook up the entire 2011 NFL draft. It had the Falcons trading away six picks to move all the way up to the sixth overall pick and select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.
Jones is about as NFL-ready as you can get at the wide receiver position. He's strong, a solid route runner and does have good hands, though he does have some concentration drops at times. He is a great possession receiver that can also get behind a defender and take it to the house.
But will he be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year?
If I were a betting man, I would say yes. Jones brings great athleticism and physicality to a team that is already loaded offensively. He will be able to mature with one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Matt Ryan, as well as work out with Roddy White and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and learn the small intricacies to being a great NFL pass catcher.
So you add his strengths and his supporting cast, and then you look at the rest of the candidates in the NFL. Some of the notables are Cam Newton, A.J, Green, Christian Ponder and Mark Ingram. Then you have Andy Dalton, Ryan Williams, Titus Young and Kyle Rudolph as guys who could sneak up and win it.
These particular quarterbacks will not win the Rookie of the Year award. Neither of them is prepared to produce at a high enough level to compete with the rest of this group.
Who will win the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year?
I don't think that Young or Rudolph is going to outplay Jones, so that leaves Green, Ingram, and Williams.
Ingram should be the Saints' starting back on the first Sunday of the season, and Williams certainly could be as well. Ingram has the better supporting cast by a large margin, except that Williams has Larry Fitzgerald, so he should be able to have more running room and will undoubtedly get more exposure than Williams.
Green is heading to Cincinnati and may have to start his NFL career as the team's top receiver, but he will likely have fellow rookie Dalton throwing to him. The Bengals aren't as good as the Falcons or the Saints though, so Green could be in trouble because of his team. Green could win, but I think not having a proven quarterback throwing to him will hurt him in the end.
So while Williams is talented, I think the race will come down to Ingram and Jones. The two were teammates at Alabama during the Crimson Tide's resurgence back to a national powerhouse, and now they will be competing against one another two weeks out of the season in one of football's better rivalries.
Jones will have the easier transition simply because Ingram is still going to have to work on his pass blocking and learning the new schemes defenses will be running at him, while Jones will only have to worry about running routes and making plays with the ball.
It makes it easier for Jones, but Ingram is no slouch. I considered him to be a great deal better than the other running backs, and he should show that this year.
I don't, however, think it will be enough to keep Jones from winning the trophy. The Falcons should be opening up the offense more for Matty Ice and therefore Jones will have a great number of opportunities to make his case as the top rookie.
Only time will tell.