I could probably write “Julio Jones” and end the slide there, but there is a bit more to the Falcons receiving core that’s worth looking at. First, obligatory Julio stats. In 2017 Jones caught 88 passes for 1444 yards and three touchdowns, which nearly mirrored his previous season in 2016. Jones cemented himself as an all-time great in 2015, when he caught 136 passes for 1871 yards and eight touchdowns.
Not much more needs to be said about Jones, who routinely punishes the Buccaneers and has seared his memory into the brains of Buccaneer fans everywhere. What about his teammates?
Atlanta has been searching for a legitimate paring for Jones ever since Roddy White left the team. They paid big for Mohamed Sanu before the 2016 season, but he’s been more of a compliment than a true threat to punish defenses. In his two seasons with the Falcons, the receiver who throws a freakishly good deep ball has produced a 653 yard season and most recently a 703 yard season. Sanu is a fine receiver who most teams would love to have, but with him operating mostly out of the slot, a void remained out wide opposite of Julio Jones.
In the first round of this year’s draft, Atlanta made its most pronounced attempt yet at fixing that problem and getting a partner for Jones. The team selected Alabama’s Calvin Ridley with the 26th overall pick, which almost seemed like an automatic pick when they came up on the clock. Much like Mike Thomas in New Orleans, Ridley was severely under utilized at Alabama and likely would have put up monstrous stats at a more pass heavy school. This selection should not make Buccaneer fans excited.
Ridley is a polished route runner who should be able to separate from a lot of NFL corners early into his rookie season. He’s just the type of receiver who can make an early impact, and I expect him to see a lot of targets with Julio Jones wrapped up in blanket coverage.
The rest of Atlanta’s receiving core is made up mostly of “just a guy’s”, but they don’t need much more than their starting three. Jones, Ridley and Sanu will keep cornerbacks on their toes, and I’m not particularly looking forward to watching the Bucs attempt to cover them.