If you're anything like me by now you're getting a little hoarse from telling anyone who'll listen about just how good Julio Jones was in 2011. Every year we have odd men out, and in a season that featured media darlings like Tim Tebow, and rookie phenoms A.J. Green and Cam Newton, it was easy for Jones' stellar season to get lost in the shuffle. I've done my best to try and remind football fans about Jones, and now it seems my chorus is being supported by a few more members.
This week Mike Smith made the pertinent point about needing to extrapolate out Julio Jones's numbers to get a true sense for his as a receiver.
"In my mind, he missed five and a half games, if you extrapolate his numbers out it's a monster year. We know he's going to impact the game.''
Okay, so I might take slight umbrage with Smith's quote of 5.5 games missed, but I definitely can account for three due to injury. Add those back in and he finishes the season with an impressive 1,180 yards, which would have been good enough for 13th in the NFL; all in a rookie season, and while fighting for touches with established veterans Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez.
At this point I'm probably preaching to the choir, I get that. So what is Julio Jones doing in 2012? How is he looking in training camp? In short: Stellar. There isn't a better camp in the NFL to test wide receivers than in Flowery Branch. Between Brent Grimes, Asante Samuel, and Dunta Robinson, you have three very distinct corners who play their position differently, but all play at a very high level. When Jones was facing off against Grimes he garnered some high praise, this from ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas:
In each of the practices, I saw the second-year receiver make several spectacular plays. Let's keep in mind that he was going up against some big-name cornerbacks in Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel. On at least two plays, I saw Jones use athleticism to beat Grimes, who many Falcons will point to when you ask them to name their most athletic player.
The ability goes beyond his preternatural speed and athleticism, and translates to an understanding of receiver nuance we rarely see from second year players. These are abilities like quick twitches after the catch to pick up YAC, dipping a hip to try and sell an incorrect route, and fighting for the ball in traffic; All are natural parts of a receiver's game, but areas where young players tend to struggle. Already we're seeing Jones master these areas, and any time you have a 23 year old giving seasoned veterans fits you're in for good things.
Where Jones will fit into the Falcons plans in 2012 will be one of their biggest questions. The NFL is moving away from staunch distinctions between true '#1 and #2 receivers', but there is still a delineation between the WR who gets the lion's share, and the one who gets a decidedly less impressive piece of the pie. Even with Tony Gonzalez's touches expected to drop, we'll still see plenty of fighting between Roddy White and Julio Jones for who will become Matt Ryan's #1 target. At least for now it seems Jones wants that job, and is willing to do what it takes to get it.
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