Written by: Joe Carlino, @joecarlino14
He shows up every August ready to perform for his team, and never attempts to bash his fellow teammates. When they’re down, he picks them up and gets them back in a competitive mindset. When his fellow receivers are struggling, he’ll look at the film with them and work on the practice field to improve their cuts and speed.
This is just some of the ways to define the Falcons’ star receiver Julio Jones, who year in and year out proves why he’s the best receiver in the National Football League. His skill set has been on watch since he was young when stories arose about how he lifted trees when he was a toddler or had middle and high schoolers raving about his work ethic and ability to make something out of nothing.
While at Alabama, Jones put on receiving clinics for the Crimson Tide, and in 2011, the Falcons pulled a huge gamble by trading six picks to the Cleveland Browns to move up to the sixth overall pick, which they used to select Jones and make him a member of the “Dirty Birds”.
Since that day, Jones has been the ultimate model of consistency when he’s healthy, ranking in the top three for receptions and receiving yards every year except for 2014 when he missed most of the season with a foot injury. Look at his numbers since entering the league, per Pro Football Reference:
In all but one year that he played at least 13 games did he finish below 1,000 receiving yards, and that was his rookie season when Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were still present and Matt Ryan spread the ball around.
We’re now in 2019, and not only do the Falcons have the same ability to spread the ball around to numerous talented players as they did back then, but Jones is in White’s position as the leader of the receiving unit. All of his teammates rave about his knowledge and ability to help them improve. Take the newest member of the unit in Calvin Ridley. In a story which went widely under the radar, during one of last year’s games against the Saints, Ridley had a huge 75-yard touchdown catch but slowed down prior to entering the endzone. Jones was reportedly very upset at that and made sure Ridley knew that was not how a professional carries themselves in this game. Since then, Ridley has drastically changed his game to not do these kinds of antics and even has stated that he “wants to improve every chance I get, and I’m learning from the best in Julio.”
Or how about just four weeks later against the Giants on Monday night, when Jones was in the middle of his touchdown-less streak of contests. In the postgame interview, Jones said how he doesn’t care about individual stats like touchdowns scored, or that he’s constantly with four/six/eight eyes on him at all times; if he’s contributing to the team’s overall performance, then he’s performing the way he wants to.
Or back in the offseason, when Jones was a guest on the now-defunct Alabama talk show “Shop Talk”, when he offered advice to current members on the Tide’s roster in front of Nick Saban about the dangers of social media and how they need to figure out who they really are without the validation of all the trolls. When do other star athletes take time out of their schedule to ensure the next set of athletes are truly ready to perform at the professional level? The answer is not that often, but Julio doesn’t get that notoriety because he’s not a distraction. He’s a professional, the right person for the job.
Now, of course, people will be quick to mention Jones doesn’t have the quickness of AB or Odell, but I’ll refer back to my original argument: when does Julio make the news in a negative light or distractionary tactic? I’ll wait.
I’m not going to deny that AB and Odell are up there in the conversation with Julio, and even DeAndre Hopkins making a name for himself (side note: Hopkins is good, but Madden needs to get their eyes checked about the “99 overall” club), but only Hopkins is like Julio in terms of professionalism. They show up, do their job, and are rewarded for it with the lucrative deals. AB and Odell, they just throw others under the bus and look pretty for social media because that’s where the attention lies, and that’s not how a professional is supposed to act.
I’ve just got one thing to say to opposing NFL defenses facing Atlanta this year: some of you might hold Julio to under 100 yards and maybe out of the end zone but just know this- you’re only prolonging the monster from emerging, and when he does, Atlanta’s offense is going to explode bigger than they did in 2016. Mark my words.