The Falcons paid a pretty hefty price to draft Julio Jones. I was a fan of the trade then, and after the former Alabama wide receiver showed what he was capable of in his rookie campaign, I’m convinced the trade was a good decision.
Although Jones missed three games (versus Carolina, at Detroit, versus Tennessee) and left two games early (versus Green Bay, versus New Orleans) due to hamstring injuries, he was still able to amass 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns. Jones led all rookie receivers in touchdowns. He was ranked third in receptions and second in yards.
The aforementioned leads me to my first reason as to why Jones will have a monster campaign this upcoming season: the presence of a strength and conditioning coach in the offseason. There were a plethora of hamstring injuries in 2011, and that’s largely in part to the uniqueness of this past season. The lockout disallowed any interaction between coaches and players in the offseason.
This season, Jones will benefit greatly from having strength and conditioning coach there to help prevent a hamstring injury.
Just as you would expect from any rookie, Jones had his mistakes. Easily, Jones’ worst game of the season was Week 13 at Houston – he had several drops (including a touchdown that would have tied the game pending the extra point try) along with a few mental lapses. One of those mistakes resulted in an interception.
Unfortunately, Matt Ryan and Jones weren’t on the same page with that interception. Ryan expected Jones to cut to the middle of the field; instead, Jones went outside, allowing Jason Allen to make the easy interception. Jones’ mistake segues perfectly to the next reason: minicamps and OTAs. These additional training sessions with teammates and coaches will allow Jones to build a solid rapport with Ryan, effectively lowering the chance of the two having a miscommunication on the field again.
Granted, I’m sure Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and the other veterans assisted Jones greatly in the player workouts, but there’s no denying how helpful workouts led by coaches would have been for Jones.
Thirdly, Jones isn’t a rookie anymore. He understands what to expect in the league. He understands what his coaches and teammates expect from him. He understands how the league works and, in his second season, the game should slow down tremendously for him. There’s no doubt Jones has all the physical ability in the world to become one of the league’s best receivers, and having key veterans such as Ryan, White, and Gonzalez to learn from can only accelerate the process.
My projection for Jones in 2012: 80 receptions, 1341 yards, 13 touchdowns.