After seeing an ungodly 203 targets in 2015, Jones got only 129 looks in 14 games last season. But in the league's most efficient offense, Jones made the most of them, ranking first among the NFL's 41 100-target receivers with 10.7 YPT and second with 17.0 YPC. As a result, he finished second in yards (1,409) despite the two missed contests. Per usual, Jones was a red-zone afterthought (only 10 targets), and he scored only six times, oddly par for the course for a 6-3, 220-pound, Hall-of-Fame-level WR who has scored 10 TDs only once. The Falcons rarely look his way when they get close. Despite the low volume, Jones was second in catches of 20-plus (27) -- his 4.34 40 speed apparently still intact more than half a decade after it was tested at the Combine -- and had five catches of 40-plus (T-8th). The Falcons added no weapons of note this offseason, so Jones will reprise his role as the team's unquestioned top target. But at age 28, and prone to nagging injuries, including a surgically repaired toe from which he's still recovering at press time, he comes with more injury risk than the other top options. But with durable and reliable Matt Ryan under center, Jones has very little performance risk -- even with offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan leaving for San Francisco. In fact, it's possible Jones could even see more red-zone looks this season.
Would it kill Julio Jones to score a touchdown? How else can one explain a meager 14 TDs over his last 366 targets spanning 31 games? And Jones isn't some small, quick possession receiver who isn't used in the red zone. He's 6-3, 220, and ran a 4.34 40 at the Combine. Jones' 22 RZ targets ranked sixth last year, and his 11 targets inside the 10 tied for seventh. One would expect his TDs to regress positively to double-digits, but that's only happened once in his five-year career. Either way, Jones is one of the game's elite WR - his 136 catches tied Antonio Brown for second all time, and his 1,871 yards were also second all time, behind only Calvin Johnson's best season. Put differently, peak Jerry Rice never caught as many passes or amassed as many yards in a season asJones did last year. Jones was also efficient - his 9.2 YPT ranked eighth among the league's 32 100-target WR, and he sustained this as the telegraphed top target, receiving a league-leading 203 looks. Nonetheless, Jones didn't make many big plays. In addition to just eight TDs, he had only five catches of 40-plus yards (T-14th). Expect more of the same in 2016. The Falcons don't have anyone who poses a threat to Jones' targets - Mohamed Sanu, Jacob Tamme, Justin Hardy and Devonta Freeman are merely complementary options.
Jones finished third in the league in receiving yards but likely would have been first had a hip injury not cost him a game against the Steelers' generous pass defense late in the year. In fact, but for the injury, Jones might have challenged the record for receiving yards in a game — he had 259 against the Packers when he was sidelined in the fourth quarter. Impressive per-game yardage and catch totals aside, Jones scored only six touchdowns, thanks to a paltry 12 red-zone targets, tying him for 38th with players like Doug Baldwin and Robert Woods. At 6-3, 220, Jones has excellent red-zone size, and not much competition for work in the area, now that Tony Gonzalez is retired and Roddy White (14 red-zone looks) is on the downside of his career. Expect Jones' red-zone work to increase toward the 20 targets he had in 2012 (he missed most of 2013 with a foot injury) and his touchdown totals to spike accordingly. Unlike most No. 1 receivers, Jones doesn't merely combine plus size with adequate speed, but he actually ran a blistering 4.34 40 at the NFL Combine a few years ago. That puts him in a class with Calvin Johnson as one of the league's rare freak athletes. As such, Jones is liable to make more big plays than your typical star wideout — he led the league with 31 catches of 20-plus yards and averaged 9.8 YPT (sixth among the league's 41 100-target WR). At press time, Jones is healthy, and the Falcons did little to boost their receiving depth this offseason. While last year's pass-friendly offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter could be missed, his replacement, Kyle Shanahan, also favored a pass-heavy attack during his stops in Houston and Washington. As such, expect another big workload for Jones, only with more red-zone targets.
With so many big seasons by the league’s top wideouts, it’s easy to forget Jones was atop the receiving-yardage board when he fractured his foot in Week 5. In fact, in five games, he either had a touchdown or 99 yards in every one. At 6-3, 220 and with 4.34 speed, Jones is arguably the league’s most athletic receiver besides Calvin Johnson, and like Johnson can operate from long range and in the red zone. In fact, Jones had three catches of 40-plus in just five games, a pace that would have put him among the league leaders. Even better, Jones had seven inside-the-10 looks in those five games, a pace that would have dwarfed league-leader Dez Bryant’s 16 in a full season. Of course, Jones was playing alongside a gimpy Roddy White who would have taken at least a couple of those goal-line opportunities were he at full strength. But White will turn 33 in November, so it’s likely Jones’ role will grow relative to White’s in any event. Throw in Tony Gonzalez’s retirement, and Jones – long one of the league’s most efficient wideouts – could also become one of its most heavily targeted. Jones had surgery in October, but is working with the team’s training staff and expected to return sometime in training camp.
If it weren't for Roddy White's established rapport with Matt Ryan and track record of durability, Jones would have a strong case to be the No. 2 receiver on the board.
As it stands, Jones is one of the best per-play receivers in the league, averaging 9.3 YPT (9th) last year, and despite being just 19th in targets (129) tied for 11th with 17 catches of 20-plus and ninth with five catches of 40 or more yards.
At 6-3, 220, and having run a 4.34 40 at the NFL Combine, Jones is a rare combination of size and speed, possibly the most physically gifted wideout this side of Calvin Johnson. But with White (143 targets) and Tony Gonzalez (124 targets) set to return, and Steven Jackson likely to see his share of touches near the goal line, Jones' ceiling is lower than that of the other elite options on the board.
While Roddy White made his living on volume, Jones was the team’s big-play weapon. Jones averaged a whopping 17.8 YPC (4th among 90-target WR) and 10.1 YPT (7th) and had six catches of 40-plus yards (tied for 7th) in just 13 games. At 6-3, 220, and having run a 4.34 40 at the NFL Combine, Jones is a rare combination of size and speed arguably surpassed only by Calvin Johnson. Jones scored eight TDs despite seeing almost no work inside the red zone – just seven targets, only one of which was from inside the 10. If that keeps up, it’s likely he could approach double-digit scores solely from long distance. But if the Falcons take advantage of Jones’ size from in close, he could find himself among the league leaders. Jones should improve in Year 2, and his rapport with quarterback Matt Ryan should only get better. But as long as White is Ryan’s first read, and Tony Gonzalez (21 targets) and Michael Turner (60 rushes) are the team’s top options in the red zone, Jones’ ceiling will be capped.
Most rookie receivers don't find themselves in prominent roles off the bat. But given what the Falcons gave up to get Jones – the 27th pick, the 59th pick, the 124th pick and next year's first and fourth rounders – their lack of depth beyond Roddy White and their win-now mentality, the team will do everything in its power to get him involved this year. At 6-3, 220 and having run a 4.34 40 at the NFL Combine, Jones is a tremendous athlete and dangerous in any area of the field. He's got ideal red-zone size, a 38-inch vertical leap and good hands. Jones isn't particularly elusive in the open field, but he's tough to bring down and can get yards after the catch. He might not start right away, and White will still be Matt Ryan's first look, but expect Jones to be a factor this year. Jones had surgery to repair a fracture in his foot in March but should be healthy for the start of training camp.