In April the upcoming NFL draft will happen. This three day event can determine the success of each NFL team and make major roster upgrades at otherwise weak positions. In last year’s draft there was a blockbuster of a trade that will be hard to top in this year’s draft. Last April the Atlanta Falcons traded five draft picks to the Cleveland Browns in order to draft college standout wide receiver Julio Jones. After Jones’ first season in the league it is time to see if he made the immediate impact Atlanta was hoping he would and whether or not giving up so many pick was worth it.
Atlanta’s 2011 1st, 2nd, and 4th round picks and the 1st and 4th round picks of the 2012 draft was the price Atlanta paid to move up to Cleveland’s 6th overall pick in the 2011 draft. With that pick Atlanta took superstar wide receiver Julio Jones from the University of Alabama. Jones finished his career at Alabama with 2653 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns. Jones and A.J. Green of the University of Georgia were considered the best two receivers coming out. However despite having a successful college career Jones truly wowed people at the NFL combine. Jones, an otherwise considered average speed receiver, ran an astonishing 4.39 40 yard dash and jumped a combine high 11’ 3” (while nursing a broken foot). These eye popping stats and vertical threat could largely contribute to why Atlanta moved up so aggressively to obtain the rookie receiver. Like any argument, two sides exist as to whether or not this trade was a bust; now let’s explore those two sides.
Why Jones is a bust..
With five picks gone this trade is about as close as its gets when compared to the trade that resulted in the eventual pick of University of Texas standout Ricky Williams. While some may consider this pick a “sexy” pick with all of Jones’ upside, it was not what met Atlanta’s biggest needs. Atlanta’s needs this year are actually the same as last year’s needs because their needs were not addressed. Atlanta had weaknesses at offensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback. Wide receiver is actually a position that could be considered as having depth. If Atlanta had kept their original 27th overall pick they would have had the opportunity to draft Derek Sherrod out of Mississippi State who was considered the top offensive tackle. Rahim Moore, a free safety from UCLA, was also available. He made an impact on the Bronco’s defense, which was the reason why Denver was still in it late in the game and gave Tim Tebow the chances he had to win games. At the defensive end position Cameron Heyward and Jabaal Sheard was available. Not to mention the remaining four picks Atlanta would have had to draft improvements at each position. Instead of drafting to meet needs, Atlanta drafted who looked best. However despite his college stats and combine performance Jones had one glaring downside. He struggled with what could be the most frustrating thing of all for receivers and quarterbacks, drops. Jones’ biggest handicap was his potential to drop passes, and with the history Atlanta has had with receivers dropping passes that is a memory they do not need to revisit. Roddy White lead the league in dropped passes; therefore Atlanta does not need another receiver who is shaky at catching passes. That all being said, Atlanta picked the singular most talented player they could have but collectively they could have picked more talent at positions that are bigger needs.
At the number six draft pick Atlanta picked the most talented player available that has some of the biggest upside of any player selected in this draft. No other singular player could have possibly made as much as an impact as Jones did last year or will in the future. After proving how fast and explosive he was at the draft combine he proved he could be the perfect additional vertical threat to compliment Roddy White in Atlanta’s high powered offense. Adding Jones would deepen what could already be considered one of the NFL’s best receiving corps with future HOF Tony Gonzales and one of the league’s best receivers Roddy White. This would pull attention away from any one receiver and make it a death wish to double team any one of them because the downfield threat to score from anywhere. Jones finished with 59 receptions, 959 yards and eight touchdowns. Seven of those receptions went for 40+ yards with an additional two catches for 20+ yards. Not so bad for someone who missed three games with a hurt hamstring. This just goes to show that he does have the speed and ability to stretch the field. Just check the couple plays he had on Sportscenter’s Top 10 of the weekend for further proof. With that ability he drew attention and allowed for White to finish the year with 100 receptions, 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns. For all the talk people had about him dropping passes he made some spectacular catches as well, boosting his confidence which in turn decreases his chances of dropping passes. With all the potential Jones has he could hardly be considered a bust. After just one season it is hard to predict whether or not he is a bust but after his performance this year Atlanta fans can look forward to Jones making plays every year for years to come.