Jones should be destined for the slot
Traditionally, we tend to think of slot receivers as smaller, quicker guys like Wes Welker or Jordan Shipley. But when the Falcons drafted Julio Jones with their top pick, they got a player that could buck that trend.
Not always do teams employ smaller receivers in the slot, as some teams like to make use of guys with more size and physicality to present matchup problems with corners there. Two good examples of this are Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston.
According to Pro Football Focus, Colston led the league last season in yards receiving from the slot with 696. Boldin placed sixth with 561 yards.
The Falcons should do their best to utilize Jones in a similar method. Since Jones selection, some have speculated that Jenkins would move to the slot. But such a move really doesn’t fit either players skillset. Jones has experience playing in the slot from his days at Alabama, where his size and toughness as a blocker made him effective taking out smaller nickel corners, as well as matching up with linebackers. Jenkins is much more at home on the outside. In the slot, you need guys that have explosiveness to separate in space, as well as guys that are comfortable in traffic. Another major quality one looks for in slot receivers is the ability to get yards after the catch. These are all areas that are strengths for Jones, but not for Jenkins. In fact, these are Jenkins greatest weaknesses.
Thus he would be a poor match for the slot. Prior to the draft, I mentioned that the Falcons should look for a big, vertical option to help them out in the slot. It seems they came to a similar conclusion when they traded up to get Jones.
The Falcons already have a nice slot receiver that fits more of the traditional mold in Harry Douglas. Douglas can continue to perform his duties in the slot, but the Falcons need to try and utilize him more effectively. And to do so means to give him shorter routes. Last season, on passes thrown less than 10 yards, Douglas caught nearly 54% of the passes, which is a fairly normal catch rate for an NFL receiver. On passes thrown beyond 10 yards, he only caught 28% of his passes, which is well below normal. It is clear that Douglas is effective and competent on the shorter routes, but his lack of size hurts him when he’s asked to make plays on longer routes.
Jones is a nice contrast to have there. His size and length should make him a much more effective vertical option in the slot than Douglas. In that way, he can be used much the same as Marques Colston. As one of the reasons why he was the league leader in slot receiving yards because the Saints primarily used him as a vertical option there. According to ProFootballFocus, the average depth of a target when he was in the slot was 11.7 yards downfield. Jones and Colston have nearly identical size and frames.
Now there is no reason for the Falcons not to use Jones on the outside as well. That is what can make him so effective in the future for the team, his ability to play inside or outside and create matchup problems wherever he lines up. But initially, if the Falcons are going to use three and four-wide sets, Jones should be inside with Douglas rather than Jenkins.
As time progresses, Jones should be able to work more outside, and the Falcons should start to get all four receivers involved in the offense. By 2012, with a year under his belt, Jones should be pushing Jenkins for his starting job, and hopefully Douglas can pick up the slack in the slot.
This video is a near-perfect illustration of what a player like Colston can do in the slot, particularly in the redzone: