I’ve said it before; year three is when players turn the light on. Look at what happened with Dez Bryant last season. The troubled receiver started the season full of questions and accusations of being a bust. Somewhere during 2013, something clicked in Bryant’s mind, and he ended the year with comparisons to Calvin Johnson as among the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Roddy White is one of the most consistent threats in the league and saw the same jump in year three. 2006 saw White catch 30 passes for 506 yards with no scores. 2007 saw him catch 83 for 1,202 yards and six TD’s. White has been the mentor for Julio Jones, it stands to reason that Jones’ career could follow a similar curve as White’s.
Believe it or not, Jones is entering just his third year in the league this season, and he’s going to get better. After posting career numbers in 2012 in receptions (79), yards (1,198) and TD’s (10), Jones will step up this season and overtake White as the Atlanta Falcons No. 1 receiver, in addition to challenging for the best in the league.
It’s no secret the Falcons are a pass-first team. However, the addition of Steven Jackson is huge for Jones. Last year, the Falcons running game was limited to Michael Turner and his paltry 3.6 YPC. Defenses knew they had the speed to play few in the box, and could collapse when Turner got the ball. It wasn’t uncommon to see defenders line up 20 yards back from the line of scrimmage to prevent the deep threat. That won’t be the case this season. Jackson finished 2012 with a 4.1 YPC and over 200 more yards with only 35 extra attempts. Jackson still has power, heart and motivation to win now that he’s with a team that has a legitimate shot at the title. Opposing defenses will no doubt have to respect Jackson’s running ability, which will open up the air attack more than last season.
White and Tony Gonzalez will take targets away from Jones, but I believe that the Falcons understand that while Jones is their wide receiver of the future, their window to win is right now. I think the Falcons will start to skew more towards Jones and less towards White and Gonzalez during the regular season in an effort to keep the aging vets fresh for the playoffs.
Jones also finished second in yards after the catch with a 6.9 average (Percy Harvin 7.5). Harvin has a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the NFL with space, and Jones is right on his tail. While defenses are making sure to keep White and Gonzalez occupied, and keeping men in the box for Jackson, the potential to get Jones in open spaces is certainly there.
I currently have Jones in the fourth spot on my wide receiver board behind Johnson, A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall. The only reason I have Green/Marshall above Jones is they more or less the only deep threat for their teams, while Jones still will have to compete with the myriad of offensive options for the Falcons. For the record, I like Jones’ quarterback situation better than Marshall’s.
Those other weapons are a point of concern I do have about Jones. Opposing defenses usually try to take away either Jones or White. Matt Ryan is a smart enough quarterback to figure out who the defense is keying in on, and when that happens, he traditionally forces the ball to the other, which something owners must be aware of.
Despite all that, I still see Jones ending the season with well over 1,200 yards and around 10 TD’s. Not bad numbers if you ask me.
As always, I welcome your comments. If you think I’m wrong, I’m willing to listen. Just back it up with some facts and solid evidence. Thanks for reading and good luck this season.