NFL Rookie Watch: Julio Jones
The Falcons traded five draft picks to move up and select Julio Jones in NFL draft
Jones has skills and the opportunity to become primary target behind Roddy White
In three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Jones caught only 15 touchdown passes
Good things come with a price. For the Atlanta Falcons, the right to select Alabama's Julio Jones required a down payment of five draft picks -- two first rounders, a second rounder and two fourth round selections -- and what's expected to be a sizable financial commitment. Still, it was worth the investment for team officials. Said general manager Thomas Dimitroff, "We talked all offseason about becoming more explosive offensively ... this is about continuing to build confidence in this team, build confidence in the firepower of an offense that believe is headed in the right direction. An aggressive move for us, but one we felt was right at this time in the stage of our development."
In short, the goods were simply too good for Atlanta to ignore.
At the combine, Jones ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash, registered a 38.5-inch vertical, and posted the best broad jump (135.0) of any receiver prospect -- jaw-dropping numbers for a 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver. He possesses a chiseled physique like T.O. and seems comfortable working every route in the playbook.
For three seasons Jones had SEC coaches wiping sweat from their brows; now the idea of Matt Ryan throwing moon balls to Jones has NFC South opponents concerned. It should have fantasy owners drooling ...
Dissecting the depth chart: The Falcons have been desperate to find another quality starting wide receiver for some time; Jones should slide past Michael Jenkins with little trouble. And it helps Jones' cause that Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez is slowing down. Of course, with ball hog Roddy White firmly planted as the team's No. 1 receiver, fantasy owners should be concerned by how many looks Ryan can afford to give his first-year weapon (White has been targeted an average of 157 times over the past four seasons). After Jenkins, the team also has 2008 draft pick Harry Douglas (45 career catches) and 35-year-old Brian Finneran, neither of whom should present much of a challenge.
Just the stats: Last season, Jones caught roughly one-third of Alabama's completed passes (78) and had more than twice as many receptions as any other receiver. Still, in three seasons he caught just 15 touchdowns, and had just one game with multiple touchdown grabs. His biggest games came last season against Tennessee (12 catches for 221 yards) and Auburn (10 for 199). The Crimson Tide also utilized Jones as a rusher in 2010, with a 16.9-yard average on eight carries (two scores).
Projection for 2011: 35 receptions, 575 yards, 8 TDs.
2010 rookie comparison: Dez Bryant
Bryant added a big, physical presence to Dallas' arsenal and took flight by midseason before an injury shortened his rookie campaign. Jones is bigger, faster and every bit as explosive.
Interesting fact that won't help you: As a junior at Foley High School, Jones caught 75 passes and scored 20 touchdowns. As well as he performed in football, he was just as outstanding in track, and was named Alabama's 2006-07 Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
What he's worth: For his big-play ability alone, Jones is worth a serious look in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. Although his catch and yardage numbers may be limited by the presence of White, it seems clear the Falcons moved up to draft Jones for a reason. He brings instant fireworks, and could develop into a solid No. 3 fantasy receiver in most leagues.
Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.