Last season, Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones recorded the second-most receiving yards in NFL history.
He’s on pace to do even better this season.
After piling up a league-high 1,871 yards in 2015, Jones has a league-high 830 yards this season. That puts him on pace for 1,897 yards — and a threat to Calvin Johnson’s record 1,964 yards in 2012.
Lord only knows what Jones is capable of doing against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Without Sam Shields and Damarious Randall and probably without Quinten Rollins, the Packers figure to go into this showdown at Atlanta without their top three cornerbacks. That’s not good news when going up against perhaps the league’s most dominant individual performer.
“The thing when I think about Julio Jones is he’s a really gifted man that has come into the league with all of those natural abilities but he doesn’t just rest on the abilities that he has,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said on Thursday evening. “He’s worked extremely hard to become a better receiver and that’s why he’s an elite receiver.
“A lot of guys come into this league with great ability and they rest on their natural ability. He hasn’t done that. He’s a guy who’s come into this league, learned how to run the complete route tree, plays extremely hard, he blocks, he can get in and out of breaks, catch the ball away from his body. Just really impressed with the way that he has come in the league with so much ability and worked hard to become an elite player.”
Then came the money line.
“I think he’s a top-five player any position in this league. Not talking about receiver. Any position. He’s an elite player.”
The Falcons famously paid a king’s ransom to get Jones. In the 2011 draft, Atlanta sent its first-, second- and fourth-round picks (Nos. 27, 59 and 124) as well as its first- and fourth-round picks in 2012 to Cleveland to move up to the sixth overall pick to select Jones. He has been worth every pick and every penny. His 97.7 receiving yards per game ranks second in NFL history. With a big day against the Packers’ secondary backups, Jones could become just the second player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards in the first games of the season.
With his unparalleled combination of size and speed, strength and jumping ability, Jones has been nothing short of dominant. He torched the Panthers for 12 receptions for 300 yards in Week 4, the Seahawks for seven catches for 139 yards in Week 6 and the Chargers for nine catches for 174 yards in Week 7.
“This guy can go deep and go up and win the jump balls and make an awful lot of big plays,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “All you have to do is look what the guy has — what, 800-and-some yards already? You just see every game, he shows up and makes big plays.”
Among players with more than 20 receptions, Jones leads the league with 20.8 yards per reception. He’s a premier big-play threat with his league-leading nine receptions of 25-plus yards. And yet he’s second among receivers in yards after the catch. During his Wednesday conference call, quarterback Matt Ryan talked as much about Jones’ unselfishness and team-first attitude as he did his prodigious athleticism.
“He’s just a great athlete, man,” said one of those backup-turned-starting cornerbacks, Demetri Goodson. “I’ve never seen anybody like him, period. He’s big, he’s fast, he runs great routes, he’s strong. Just the total package.”
It’s that total package that seems like an impossible matchup for the wounded Packers to contend with on Sunday. That’s no knocking who’s left standing in Green Bay’s secondary. Jones is an impossible matchup for just about every defensive back in the league.
“He has the whole package,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He has size, strength, speed. He gets in and out of his breaks. I think anytime you have unfortunate opportunity to coach the Pro Bowl — you’re obviously there because it didn’t work out — you get to be around great players. You really have an appreciation for why they’re there. He’s definitely a big-time player.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.