First of all, I really like Julio Jones. I really think he’s going to be a very good Falcon. I think he’s going to come in right away and make plays and be a good third option in the Falcons offense. He can come in and bolster the slot position, block, and make plays down the field. If/when Tony Gonzalez hangs it up after this season, Jones will slide in very well in his vacant niche as Ryan’s second favorite target, third down chain mover, and secondary redzone target after Roddy White. His physical presence is going to make it very hard for opposing teams to match up with us in the coming years. He is the prototype as far as fit for the Falcons receiver position. Short of picking up A.J. Green, they couldn’t have found a better offensive player to help them make the next leap forward on that side of the ball.
But in the end, I think that may be all for naught. The Falcons mortgaged their future for Jones, and in particular their defensive future. The Falcons traded their second and fourth round picks this year, and first and fourth round picks next year to go up and get Jones. That’s four players that the Falcons gave up to get Jones. The first and second rounders were very likely to be good starters for the team. And if you just get a decent starter with one of the fourth round picks, you’ve basically given up three starters for one.
And there’s simply no way that Jones is going to be able to make up for that. Particularly when you consider he’s a wide receiver. I personally believe that wide receivers are the most overvalued position in the draft. I’m a firm believer in the notion that wide receivers are nothing more than shiny hood ornaments, a theory purported by Cold Hard Football Facts.
And I think the problem the Falcons are going to run into in the future years without those premium draft picks, is that their defense won’t make the necessary strides to make the team better. Many Falcon fans would say that the reason why the Falcons couldn’t beat the Packers this past January is because they weren’t explosive offensively. They would be wrong. The Falcons offense, despite its limited explosiveness kept pace with the Packers through the early part of that game. The real reason why the Falcons got so thoroughly manhandled by the Packers was because they could not make any stops on defense. They didn’t force a single punt in that game. I don’t think people really quite grasp just how rare that is in the National Football League. I may be wrong, but there’s a very good chance that was the only instance where that occurred in the 256 regular season and 11 postseason games played all of last year. I mean, Shane Lechler punted 4 times in the game where the Raiders put 59 points on the Broncos, and Sav Rocca punted 5 times when the Eagles pounded the Redskins for 59 points.
Indeed, the Falcons needed to get more explosive on offense. But even more so they needed to make significant strides on defense. And it was not just the Packer game that was the culprit. There were several games last year where opposing teams drove down the field at will in the fourth quarter to put themselves into position to win the game. Those opponents didn’t always make the play to win it, but if one thing was clear throughout last year, that the Falcons did not have the horses on defense to get stops when they needed to.
Now, I’m of the belief that if you were going to mortgage the future, then go for the player that has much more value than a wide receiver, mainly a defensive playmaker. Get the defensive end or cornerback that is so good, that he can potentially make up for the loss of three other starters. If you put a dynamic pass rusher on this Falcon team, then you may not need to be as strong at up front on the defensive line, at linebacker, or at cornerback. The same applies if you acquire a shutdown corner.
Those two players were within the Falcons grasp. The pass rusher was Robert Quinn. The corner was Patrick Peterson. Yes, I realize that Peterson went fifth overall to the Cardinals. But the reports are that the Falcons were talking to the Bengals to move up to No. 4 to get A.J. Green. Regardless of the potential greatness of Green, both Peterson and Quinn would have been better picks than him as well.
Now, Quinn isn’t a slam dunk. Jones is a much safer pick than him. But if you do in fact hit a homerun with Quinn, you have potentially one of the league’s most feared pass rushers and you have your franchise defensive player for the next decade. He can potentially be the caliber of playmaker on that side of the ball that a young John Abraham was that can take over games.
Could Jones take over games? Sure. But how big an impact will it have on the outcomes of games? In the past three years, Roddy White has scored a touchdown in half of the Falcons 50 games. They’ve won 18 of 25 games when he’s scored a touchdown. In the 25 games where Roddy has been kept out of the endzone, the Falcons have won 15 games. So even if you were to get Jones to be “Roddy-esque” in those games, you’re only really adding 1 more win per season.
I think the Falcons have put all of their eggs in the basket of trying to outscore opponents, which doesn’t lead to many Super Bowl rings. People will talk about the Packers and their ability to light up the scoreboard, but what they forget is the Packers had the league’s second best defense in 2010.
The Falcons were very opportunistic through the early part of last year like the 2009 Saints, but it’s hard to sustain that over multiple seasons without a really strong foundation on defense. And I’m not sure the Falcons currently have that foundation, and will have a hard time building that without those premium picks over this year and next year’s draft. Essentially they are betting that players like Curtis Lofton, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbruy, Corey Peters, Peria Jerry, Chris Owens, and Dominique Franks make huge strides to take this defense from where it currently is: middling at best, to being championship-caliber.
And I think that’s a bet that the Falcons may live to regret. This is not me saying that the sky is falling because we gave up too much to get Jones. I think the Falcons are going to be in the playoffs most years, if not every year going forward. But I think it’s going to be tough for the team to make that next leap without these picks to help bolster issues on defense and other areas of their roster going forward. And while I think they have made big strides offensively for years to come, I think it’s been at the expense of their defense. And I still firmly believe that defense wins championships. You need a QB and a defense to really have the best chance to win at this level. The Falcons definitely have a quarterback. We’ll have to wait and see if they have a defense. Let’s just hope that a few years from now people talk about our front office and coaching staff’s ability to mine middle and late round picks for quality talent like they do with the Packers. But I think people forget that one of the reasons why the Packers have been so successful is because they hit homeruns in the early rounds and in free agency with players like Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Nick Collins, and Charles Woodson. It’s going to be hard for the Falcons to duplicate that just because they don’t have the picks.