The Falcon’s Nest Will Miss Its Largest Bird
We have heard rumblings of the Atlanta Falcons wanting to trade star receiver Julio Jones for a few months now. However, they didn’t seem much more than rumors because it didn’t make much sense for the Falcons to trade away one of their best players. They were seemingly in a win-now mode, which they backed up by extending quarterback Matt Ryan and passing up on a quarterback with the fourth overall pick. Everything changed earlier today when Jones, on a phone call with Shannon Sharpe, revealed that he does want out of Atlanta.
With Jones leaving the Falcons now looking imminent, it is time to look into how good Jones still is. We have people who say they would rather have Jarvis Landry on their team than Julio Jones, as well as people who say he is injury prone and never finishes a season. Both of these takes are absurd and should not be taken seriously for one second.
It is no secret that Jones got plagued by injuries in 2020. He only played in nine games this season, and even when he was playing, he was not in top shape. The recency bias of this is what has given Jones the moniker of injury-prone, but this has just not been true throughout his career. Since 2013, Jones has played in at least 14 games every season until 2020. In 2015, 2017, and 2018, Jones played in all 16 games. He has been available throughout his career, and we should not let one shortened season change our judgment on this.
Jones has also shown throughout his career that he can play through minor injuries and produce at an elite level. One example would be before the Super Bowl against the Patriots. Jones dealt with a toe injury, and he would later need surgery in the offseason. That could not stop him from catching all four of his targets for 87 yards. And, of course, the catch that should have won them the game.
During the 2017 season, Jones dealt with hip, ankle, and thumb strains throughout the season. He did not miss a single game, however, and finished the season with over 1400 yards. While Jones is older now and might be more suspect to injuries, expect him to deal with minor injuries with his usual toughness and still produce at the level we have grown to expect.
Despite all the injuries, Jones was still superb in the games he was able to play in. He was rarely fully healthy even when playing and still put up 771 yards on 51 receptions. These numbers are the equivalent of a 16 game season of 91 catches for 1371 yards. He had over 100 receiving yards in three of his nine games and had above 90 in two others. He was putting up these numbers despite Calvin Ridley enjoying a breakout season of his own, opposite of Jones.
The advanced stats also stress how good Julio still was this season. He still had a 126.5 passer rating when targeted, 11.2 ADOT (average depth of target), and finished fourth in yards per route run. He had an 86.3 PFF grade, which his first year below 90 since 2015, but still good enough for eighth in the league. No matter what stat you look at, Julio ranked among the best despite never being fully healthy. He had 85.7 yards per game, which was sixth among wide receivers, right below Justin Jefferson and above Tyreek Hill. The game film matches these stats as well. Steven Ruiz from ForTheWin did a deep dive of Jones earlier today and showed that Jones is still one of the best receivers in the game.
Julio Jones may not be in his prime anymore, but he is still, without a doubt, one of the best receivers in the league. He is still the career leader in yards per game with 95.5. The next best receiver is Calvin Johnson at 86.1. Every team can use Jones, and it does not matter who they may already have as wide receivers. Unless you are the Dallas Cowboys, who Jones apparently has already ruled out.
Value for Contenders
Jones said in his call with Sharpe today that he wants to win. And any team that is contending in 2021 should try to trade for him. As excellent as Jones has been in the regular season, he has arguably stepped it up in the post-season. He has two NFC Championship game appearances, and in both games, he had over 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Who can forget this touchdown he had against the Green Bay Packers in the 2016 NFC Championship?
In eight career playoff games, Jones has 81 targets, which he has turned into 61 receptions for 834 yards and 6 touchdowns. This stat-line is a 16 game equivalent of 122 receptions for 1668 yards and 12 touchdowns. This would be his most touchdowns in a season and his third-most yards. If you are a team that expects to be in the playoffs in 2021, Jones could provide valuable experience and production that could be the difference between success and going home.
Julio Jones is still an elite receiver, and every general manager in the league should be calling the Falcons to see what they want in return for him. And whatever team does end up trading for Jones should immediately be considered a real threat to make a Super Bowl run in 2021.