Atlanta Falcons: 15 best first-round picks of all-time
Julio Jones is the best wide receiver in football today. Some may argue that guys like Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown might be better, but only Jones remains with the team that drafted him. Atlanta actually had to trade up to get him at No. 6 in the 2011 in a deal with the Cleveland Browns.
Entering the 2011 NFL offseason, Atlanta was coming off a strong 2010 campaign, but one where the Falcons were embarrassed at home in the NFC Divisional Round by the Green Bay Packers. To put it bluntly, Atlanta lacked a downfield presence in the passing game. Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White were sensational as possession receivers in the middle of the field, but Matt Ryan didn’t have a deep threat he could trust to really open up the Atlanta vertical attack.
Enter Thomas Dimitroff. In his fourth year on the job, Dimitroff made the boldest move of his career as an executive. He gave up five picks to get to No. 6 to take Jones out of Alabama. The idea was that one of two elite receiving prospects would be available around the top-five. A.J. Green went No. 4 overall out of Georgia to the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones came to Atlanta at No. 6. The rest is history.
Jones nearly had 1,000 receiving yards as a tertiary receiving option as a rookie in 2011 behind Gonzalez and White. Atlanta made the NFC playoffs in his first two seasons with the club. As a second-year player, Jones made his first of six career Pro Bowls, as the Falcons made it all the way to the NFC Championship game before blowing a 17-point halftime lead to the San Francisco 49ers at home.
2013 would be a rough year for Jones. Despite averaging well over 100 yards receiving that season, Jones broke his foot in a Monday Night Football defeat to the New York Jets in Week 5. His season was lost and Atlanta sunk to 4-12 on the year. Jones bounced back resoundingly in 2014 by making the Pro Bowl and having over 1,500 yards receiving.
Then in 2015 with Kyle Shanahan as the Falcons’ new offensive coordinator, Jones’ level of play would reach an elite level. Jones led the NFL with 136 receptions and 1,871 receiving yards in 2015. He made his third trip to the Pro Bowl, earning First-Team All-Pro honors for the first time of his career.
Jones backed up his elite 2015 campaign with another First-Team All-Pro season in 2016. He led the league for the second straight year in yards per game, as Jones helped lead a historic 2016 Falcons offense all the way to Super Bowl LI. But then, 28-3 to happened. It’s a shame, as Jones made the greatest catch of his career in the second half that should have sealed it for the Falcons versus the New England Patriots down in Houston.
In the two years since Super Bowl LI, Jones has made two more Pro Bowls and two more All-Pro teams, this time of the Second-Team variety. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 2018 with 1,677 and it was the third season he led the league in receiving yards per game. At over 10,000 career receiving yards, Jones will surpass White’s franchise record for most ever by a Falcon in September. Having just turned 30, Jones is absolutely on track to be Canton bound when he does decide to call it a career.