Falcons Follow Packers' Draft Lead

When Packers needed a key piece to the puzzle, general manager Ted Thompson made the bold move of trading three draft picks to get Clay Matthews. The Falcons made an even bolder move to get Julio Jones. The Packers' defensive coaches rave about the 6-foot-3 rookie.

The NFL, as the saying goes, is a copy-cat league.

During a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday, Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith was asked if his team's shocking draft-day trade to land receiver Julio Jones was its attempt to mimic the weapons-rich Green Bay Packers aerial assault that had demolished his defense in the divisional playoffs.

Smith didn't really answer, even though he rambled on for 148 words.

Here's where the Falcons are copy-cats, though.

In 2009, the Packers needed an outside linebacker to run their new 3-4 scheme. So, general manager Ted Thompson broke out of his comfort zone and shipped their second-round pick and both third-rounders to New England to move back into the first round to get Clay Matthews.

Two Pro Bowls for Matthews and one Super Bowl for the Packers later, it's safe to say Thompson's gamble has paid off.

Whether the Falcons will get equal return for their Herschel Walker-like trade to get the 6-foot-3 All-American from Alabama remains to be seen. To swap places in the first round with Cleveland, the Falcons exchanged pick No. 27 for pick No. 6, plus sent the Browns their second- and fourth-round picks of this draft and their first- and fourth-round picks of the 2012 draft.

"We felt like the skill-set that Julio Jones has was something that we were looking for in terms of a wide receivers," Smith said in one of his few enlightening answers. "He's a big, strong guy that really plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. I think it really shows – it's easy for anybody to watch and see him and his pass-catching abilities but when you really drill down and you watch this guy, you see that he loves to block, he loves to mix it up. He's a physical player. That's what we saw, and we felt that that was the best decision for us on draft day to add this player to our team to help us get better."

Statistically, Jones certainly has delivered. At a position where rookies rarely make much of a splash, he leads all NFL rookies with 24 receptions. Quarterback Matt Ryan thought enough of Jones to throw him a whopping 17 passes – he caught 11 of them -- in last week's win at Seattle.

"He's impressive," said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who's seen a lot of receivers come and go – or, more accurately, come and go nowhere during his NFL career. "He's very good with the ball after the catch, he's big and strong, and I think he runs good routes. You can see why they gave up a lot to go get him."

A lot, indeed. They gave up five potential front-line players to get him. The Falcons, even after posting the NFC's best regular-season record last season, aren't exactly a finished product, so it's not like they didn't need the help. The Packers obviously drove home that point in the postseason, and the Falcons haven't exactly gotten out of the gates quickly at 2-2. Their interior offensive line has been a mess, with Ryan having been sacked 13 times. Their secondary isn't any better than it was when Rodgers completed 31-of-36 passes in the playoff game, with opposing quarterbacks at 68.3 percent this season.

Still, it's clear why the Falcons made the move. He fits perfectly with an offense filled with powerful players at the skill positions, with Capers quick to note the blocking skills of Jones and fellow receiver Roddy White. The Packers' defense smothered Atlanta's passing attack in the playoff game by taking away Pro Bowl receiver White and Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez.

The Falcons didn't have a complement for those two that day. They do now.

"I'll tell you what, Jones is really good," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "I remember looking at him out of high school. Him and A.J. (Green, the No. 4 overall pick by the Bengals) came out of high school at the same time and he's just so big and fast. He's very explosive after the catch. He has a one-arm balance where he can catch a hitch route, know he's going to get hit to the legs because people don't hit him up high, he can one-arm balance and get around. He's very mean, he's tough. He's a real smart kid."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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