2013 All-Prisco Team: Julio Jones leads pack at skill positions
In the first installment of his All-Prisco Team, Pete Prisco talks with Falcons WR Julio Jones, one of the NFL's elite skill position players.
There are certain guys who are just my type of guys. They're young, they're often fast and they tend to do the things that sometimes only film study can reveal. This week I'll be sharing with you some of these players as I present my All-Prisco Team 2013. For more on what I mean, you can read this.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones has a great vertical jump, but if you really want to get a rise out of him call him a one-trick pony, a deep threat, and not much more.
Even though that's not what I believe, before I could even get a question out about his deep speed and ability to catch the long ball, Jones' head was moving side to side, and his expression told how he truly felt about that notion.
"I don't know why they think I am just a deep threat," Jones said. "I think I am an all-around guy. I can catch a slant. I can catch a cross. I'm pretty good at the deep ball. But I am pretty good at everything. They just say I am good at the deep ball because we score a lot on it."
Jones averaged an impressive 15.2 yards per catch last season and had five pass plays of 40 yards or longer. That helps contribute to the idea he is a deep threat. But if one is to look closer at his 79 catches last season, you will see so much more. Jones is right. He can do it all.
That's why he's one of the receivers here on the All-Prisco team. He fits the age requirement at 24. He's big (6-3), can run, has great body control and he has the strength to knock defensive backs off of him as he fights for the ball.
'The thing that is kind of scary about Julio is that he has the size, the speed and has the ability to make circus catches with one hand," said Falcons running back Steven Jackson . "But he has also has the mental toughness to go across the middle of the field."
The Falcons made a bold move during the 2011 NFL Draft to trade to up in the first round to land Jones. At the time, I thought maybe they gave up too much to do so, but with the way the game is played now, and the way the Falcons are constructed, Jones is a must.
He teams with Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez to give the Falcons one of the best 1-2-3 pass-catching combos in the league.
"It's hard to take one of those guys away without the other opening up," quarterback Matt Ryan said earlier this year.
It starts with Jones. His ability to get separation is what opposing defenses fear the most. Jones said he had a conversation at the Pro Bowl with safety Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks , who gave him a heck of compliment.
"Their objective was to take me out of the game," Jones said. "And let Roddy, Harry, Tony and anybody else beat them. They weren't going to let Julio Jones beat them. I will still go do my part, regardless of the coverage that they play. I trust my teammates that they will win their one-on-ones. So I will still do my job to help."
Here's a look at what Jones is talking about on a play from that game. You can see Jones (yellow circle) lined up in the right slot. Roddy White is in the blue circle on the left side, outside Harry Douglas . At the snap, Jones ran a post-corner route. He took two defenders, corner Richard Sherman deepened in zone coverage and Thomas was over the top. Even extra defensive back Winston Guy sunk too deep in zone coverage because of Jones, creating the lane to throw to White on the cross.
But let's not fool anyone. Jones is much more than a decoy. And, like he says, much more than a deep threat.
Here's a look at him catching a crossing route against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons lined up Jones on the left side. The 49ers showed zone and stayed in it. At the snap, Jones ran hard at corner Tarell Brown , made it look like he might be running an outside route, then snapped it back inside, which put pressure on safety Dashon Goldson to make the play. Goldson actually made a decent move on the ball, which was behind Jones, but Jones used his powerful hands to take it away and turn it into a 23-yard gain. Were it not for a great hustle play by linebacker Patrick Willis (blue x), Jones would have scored.
Even if Jones doesn’t like the idea of his being considered just a deep threat, it is what he does as well as any player in the game. Here's a look at an 80-yard touchdown catch against Tampa.
Jones was lined up on the right side against Leonard Johnson in man-press coverage. At the snap, Jones took an inside release and ran a 9-route -- a go route -- against Johnson. As you can see by the first picture, Johnson ran with him for 35 yards. But with the ball in the air, Jones separated with his great speed. He gathered in the pass, Johnson missed a diving tackle, and it was an 80-yard touchdown catch. Moral of the story: If he's even, he's leavin'.
As if Jones wasn't already good enough, he's added some weight to get stronger. And he understands the offense better. The Falcons will move him around more, which should help keep some of the doubles off.
"The game has slowed down for me," Jones said. "It's all about practice. It's just like catching the ball a lot. When you do that, it becomes second nature to you. That's what's happening in the offense. The repetitions in the offensive scheme and just knowing the whole offense. Last year, I played X and Z. Now I can play X, F, Z and a little Y."
And not just by running streaks down the sideline either.
Here are the rest of the skill players on the All-Prisco team:
QB- Aaron Rodgers , Green Bay Packers (29) -- There is no better quarterback in the game right now and he is just now hitting his prime. Rodgers can do so many things. Some evaluators think he holds the ball too much, but I think that's a plus. He makes plays when he does that, allowing things to open up down the field. Yes, he takes some sacks because of it, but it's worth it. Rodgers has a great command of the passing game. His arm is outstanding and he does a great job of anticipating receivers coming open. He's the only player on this list older than 26. But that's OK for the quarterback. They can play a lot longer than other spots.
WR -- Dez Bryant , Dallas Cowboys (24) -- At 6-2, 222 pounds, he is a physical player who isn't afraid of a challenge. In 2012, he caught 92 passes for a 15.0 average and showed off his physical tools. His run after the catch is as good as anybody's. He is so strong that he can shake off tacklers. He did a better job in 2012 of running the right routes, which earned him the confidence of Tony Romo . He also was better late in games, which was a problem early in his career. In his fourth season, he is just now hitting his stride. He has the potential to be one of the top receivers, along with Jones and A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals .
WR/ST -- Randall Cobb , Green Bay Packers (23) -- Cobb had his breakout season in 2012, totaling 2,342 all-purpose yards. Yes, he's a return man. But what really excites is his ability to make plays in the slot. He is fast, knows how to run routes, and can run away from defenders. Rodgers has a knack for making good receivers look great. This kid might be great. Can you imagine that combination in years to come? The only real knock on him is size, but he plays tougher than his 5-10 height would lead you to believe. He can handle press coverage.
RB -- C.J. Spiller , Buffalo Bills (26) -- Spiller averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season, the same as Adrian Peterson . But he had 141 fewer carries. It's a shame the Bills didn't use him more. They will this season. And they should. He is a perfect back for what I would have my team do. He is an "air" back, which I think you have to use in this up-tempo world of the NFL. Spiller is also a capable receiver out of the backfield, and has even lined up as a receiver at times. He is a tough cover for any linebacker or safety or even a nickel corner. If used right, he is one of the most dynamic players in the league.
TE -- Jimmy Graham , New Orleans Saints (26) -- Graham was bothered by injuries last season, which cut down his production, but he is still an ideal tight end for the way the game is played. He is a great Red Zone weapon, but he is also a tough matchup in the middle of the field. He can get vertical and he runs good routes. He isn't a great blocker, but he battles in there and can hook the end. I just love the dimension he would bring to an offense. Blocking is for tackles and guards and centers. If I need to block, I'll just put in an extra lineman. I want my tight end capable of catching passes. Lots of them. And Graham is that guy.
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