Julio Jones Isn't Entire Falcons 2011 NFL Draft Class, But Sure Seems That Way

No pressure, but Alabama Crimson Tide WR Julio Jones had better be at least the second- or third-best receiver in the NFC South within two years and ready to take over for Roddy White as Matt Ryan's No. 1 target shortly after that. After the team gave up two picks this year and two in 2012, Jones has to work. He's not a senior, wasn't a permanent team captain, and cost a whole lot -- Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff drafted contrary to his entire body of work with this one. The question isn't whether he can be a good player -- Cam Newton is perhaps the only player in the league with as much pressure to quickly become an elite player.

What they're saying: The Falcons do have to win the NFC South in 2011 if they want to justify this move ... Giving up five draft picks, including two first-round picks, for a No. 2 receiver is too much ... It was a risk worth taking ... If it pays off, as in a Super Bowl, he wins. If not, the criticism will come ... Falcons were super aggressive and were able to fill a huge void ... You could argue his playmaking skill as a receiver was worth it. We'll see ... I love it for both teams ... Consider Jones the "swiss army knife" of marquee receivers ... Is Jones worth that kind of bounty? The track record of first-round receivers emphatically says no.

Best case: Enjoying single coverage for the first time in his life, Jones challenges Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson for the title of NFL's best big wide receiver, nearly as overpowering as Michael Irvin, nearly as fearless as Hines Ward and nearly as springy as Larry Fitzgerald. In this circumstance, best case is the only acceptable case. If his first game in Atlanta doesn't look like his first game at Alabama, prepare for pitchforks.

Worst case: He's a Matt Millen Round 1 wide receiver. Or he can't fight through injuries in the NFL the way he could at Alabama and the NFL Combine. Either way, Kerry Meier joins the starting lineup in mid-2013.

Highlights, stats, background and stuff: Jones never had the gaudiest college stats, but he fit the pro-style, power running system in which he played. He says he loves blocking, and he certainly got to do a lot of it at Bama. He still tallied 2,792 career yards from scrimmage in 40 games, or about 70 yards per game. That doesn't sound like much, but here's what I like about his numbers: seven of his eight career 100-yard games came against SEC competition. Jones is not going to have any problem getting up for big games. Totals and workout numbers, via Buffalo Rumblings:

Julio Jones: College Statistics

Year College Class GP Rec. Yds. Avg. TD
2008 Alabama FR 14 58 924 15.9 4
2009 Alabama SO 13 43 596 13.9 4
2010 Alabama JR 13 78 1,133 14.5 7
Julio Jones Totals 40 179 2,653 14.8 15

Julio Jones - 2011 Combine Results

Name Pos. College CL Ht. Wt. Arm Hand 40 Time Reps Vert 3-Cone Broad
Julio Jones WR Alabama JR 6026 220 33.8 9.8 4.39 17 38.5 6.66 11'3"

OK, so he's huge, stays out of trouble (Nick Saban has raved about his good character, FWIW), nearly broke the NFL Combine despite working out with a broken foot and plays his best against top competition. He can't catch the ball, right? Well, that's the story. He does have a problem with turning and running before he's secured the ball. But if you really dig in to the numbers -- and sip a little Falcohol -- his catch-to-drop ratio isn't all that troublesome. It will remain under scrutiny, but remember, White couldn't catch when he got here either.

Jones also needs to tune up his route running. Another thing I like: though Jones doesn't really ever get all that wide open, he still comes down with the ball. He should have no problem gaining Ryan's confidence, provided he can reliably hang on to the ball.

If he were a pro wrestler, his finishing move would be taking a short pass, making the first receiver miss and then getting upfield. I don't know if Mike Mularkey will take advantage of this talent, but I'd love to see how good Jones will be at this if he closely observes Tony Gonzalez' masterful field vision. He's done it since high school -- here he is making a LSU defender look helpless:

If yain't from around here, you might not know that the Julio hype has been building for almost a decade now. When he was still a high school player, Sports Illustrated compared him to Terrell OwensESPN to Michael Irvin. After you get a look at video of him man-among-boying at Foley High, you immediately understand why Alabama fans -- grown men, I mean -- were captured by news cameras hugging each other while crying on the day the consensus five-star recruit announced his college commitment over Florida, FSU, Oklahoma and others:

For more on the NFL Draft, join Mocking The Draft and browse SB Nation's 2011 NFL Draft hub. More local NFL Draft resources: live discussion of Falcons picks at The Falcoholic; coverage of the Falcons and NFC South for rounds one, two and three and rounds four through seven; final conference tallies for the SEC and ACC; and pre-Draft coverage of the Falcons and SEC and ACC prospects.

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