Finishing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the best player in wide receiver Julio Jones.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 100.5/100
Last year’s rank: 1st
Player Grade: 93/100
Teams he is starter: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 30 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3
For the second year in a row, Jones finishes atop these rankings, which should be to no one’s surprise. While quarterback Matt Ryan is arguably the team’s most valuable player given his high level of skill and the importance of his position, Jones is no doubt the best overall player on the team.
Jones is an elite player in the prime of his career. And by “elite” as I define it, he’s someone that is arguably the best player at his position. My rating system also does a good job of identifying those elite players as anyone that exceeds a score of 100 can be deemed elite, and Jones is among them.
That elite ability is also evidenced by his production a year ago, where Jones finished third in the NFL in yards (1,593). Had he not missed the Week 15 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and had merely an average performance, an additional 106.2 yards would’ve allowed him to top the entire league over Antonio Brown’s 1,698 yards. Only Odell Beckham, Jr. averaged more yards per game (108.8) than Jones last year.
The only area where Jones was lacking in a year ago was scoring, finishing the year with just six touchdowns. However a lot of that had to do with the fact that Jones had limited opportunities besides deep throws. Jones had just 12 targets in the red zone last year, accounting for two of his touchdowns.
There were 38 wide receivers, 15 tight ends and four running backs that saw more red-zone targets than Jones a year ago. Given his status as one of the league’s premier wideouts, one would imagine he will get a lot more work there in 2015. Under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan that is likely to happen.
In Shanahan’s first season as the offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans in 2008, top wideout Andre Johnson ranked second in the league with 28 red-zone targets, an improvement from 10 the previous year. In 2009, Johnson tied for second with 25 red-zone targets, matching that of former Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez that same year.
In those years with Shanahan calling plays, Johnson also led the league in receiving yards twice. It’s likely that Jones will be back in the running for the league’s receiving crown again in 2015 with Shanahan now in Atlanta.
The only thing that will stop Jones from doing so will be injury. He’ll do his best to try and show that he can stay relatively healthy for two consecutive years, a feat Jones has yet to accomplish in his four-year career.
He’ll have good reason to prove himself, given the massive contract extension he signed this past weekend. That contract will make him the second highest paid receiver in the NFL only behind Calvin Johnson.
That deal could potentially keep him in Atlanta until 2020 through the age of 31. It’s not quite the deal that guarantees Jones will be a “lifer” in Atlanta since he could potentially play until he’s 34 or 35, but does indicate that he’ll spend the prime of his career wearing black and red.
It also means that Ryan, who is signed through the 2018 season, should have his go-to option for the next several years as Shanahan and head coach Dan Quinn try to rebuild a winner in Atlanta.
Alongside Ryan, Jones is becoming one of the team leaders. His quiet, football-first demeanor will certainly rub off on young receivers like Justin Hardy and others that the Falcons could bring into the locker room in the future. As the twilight of Roddy White’s career approaches, Jones will be able to exert a greater influence over the locker room.
It was a no-brainer for the Falcons to reward his team-first mentality and high work ethic with a lucrative deal. Now, it’s simply on Jones to continue to do the spectacular things he’s done in recent years.