The Atlanta Falcons made huge news when they traded half of their draft to the Cleveland Browns for Julio Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft. Everyone was surprised and many felt Atlanta made a bad decision, risking so much for one player. Will this decision prove to be a bad one, or will it be the answer to all of their problems?
Julio Jones was a highly touted recruit coming out of Foley High and eventually decided to sign with the University of Alabama. In his three year career, Julio broke nearly every Alabama Crimson Tide receiving record and helped lead them to a National Title in 2009. Drafted at No. 6 overall, will he live up to the hype?
He certainly has the talent to do so. He's a very rare combination of size, speed, and power matched by few others in the history of football. His 4.3 speed (even on a broken foot) and knack for getting yards after the catch make him potentially the most dangerous player on the Falcons. He towers over most defensive backs and can bully his way to get open. After catching the ball, his burst up-field can shake anyone, and he is as tough to bring down as any. He is also one of the best run-blocking receivers I have ever seen at any level of play.
But can he put it all together? Julio had injury problems throughout his college career, and despite always playing through them, they really affected his performance. His sophomore year was plagued by such injuries, and he had his worst season. Occasionally, he also forgets how to catch the football. He can have long periods of time where he consistently struggles to hold onto the ball, even if all other aspects of his game are going well.
Wide receiver is one of the most difficult positions to adjust to from college to the pros, but many have done it quickly. Will Julio Jones do the same? He is certainly in one of the best possible situations to succeed. With a top 10 quarterback in Matt Ryan, a top 10 running back in Michael Turner, a top five wide receiver in Roddy White, and a future Hall of Famer in Tony Gonzalez, Julio will never have to be the spotlight of the opponent's defense. The Falcons have an array of weapons on offense now for any team to key in on one player.
In the first preseason game against the Dolphins, Matt Ryan made it clear that Julio would be a big part of the offense when he went Julio's way the first two plays. Julio finished that game with 2 catches for 43 yards and a 12 yard rush on a reverse, great statistics for the short amount of time he was in the game.
So with all the talent in the world and a perfect situation, how could any receiver, let alone Julio Jones, fail? They could not fail. Julio Jones will not fail—that much is clear. But will he be great enough to be the catalyst that gets Atlanta over the hump?
Head Coach Mike Smith and the Falcons definitely need Julio. Despite going 33-15 the last three seasons, they have lost both playoff games in that time span by a combined score of 78-45. Everything that seems great about the team disappears in the postseason. Jones could be the answer to the myriad of problems that seem to arise after the regular season.
First of all, it will be almost impossible to double cover Roddy White or Julio Jones, unless you have one of the few elite corners that can single-handedly shut down a receiver of their caliber such as Nnamdi Asomugha or Darrelle Revis. Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he gets hot, and with so many weapons, he will be on fire for the foreseeable future.
In what might eventually be the premier passing attack of the NFL, the run game will be opened up tenfold. Michael Turner, although on the decline, could have the most efficient season of his career. Atlanta went from having the number one rushing attack in the league to dropping just outside of the top ten. Because Tony Gonzalez is aging quickly, the Falcons only had one consistent threat in the passing games. Teams could focus more against the run, and that made it even harder for Turner to get his fix.
Now, no team will be able to focus on the run, lest they be burned deep by Jones, White, Harry Douglas, or any other talented player in the depths of the offense.
The Atlanta offense's biggest problem was that they were never explosive, but now they have a receiver that is incredible after the catch and who can spread the defense. Even though they had the best record in the NFC (13-3), they lacked that electric factor that Julio possesses. He makes difficult plays look routine as he entices the crowd to chants of "Julioooo!" simply by moving the chains.
Julio Jones might not put up the best stats or win rookie of the year, but he will be the most valuable rookie the league has seen in a long time. Julio Jones is the answer for the Falcons.