With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Alabama receiver Julio Jones, who made an impact with the Crimson Tide from his time as a true freshman in 2008 through his junior season in 2010. In three full seasons and 39 games, fighting through injuries in his final two years, Jones amassed 2,604 yards and 15 touchdowns on 176 receptions in an offensive system that was fairly run-heavy. He also ran for 103 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts, returned 12 punts for 130 yards, and seven kickoffs for 162 yards. Jones is a player for whom stats don't tell the whole story – and that's true on the good and bad sides.
Pros: Has the size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and toughness to be a nightmare after the catch and a dynamic blocker. Thick and muscular player who uses a lethal combination of jukes and stiff-arms to get upfield after catching short passes. Will not go down upon first contact, especially on deep passes where his adversaries are defensive backs – it will take at least one form tackle to take him down when he's going full-speed, and probably more. Will accelerate in intermediate areas and just bowl people over. Surprising second-level burst for such a physical player. Has no fear when it comes to crossing routes in heavy traffic; he'll instigate contact in those situations more often than not. Will make the tough catch with defensive backs draped on him, especially in the end zone. Good downfield blocker. Tough player who has proven an ability to not only play through injury, but play well.
Cons: Jones has always been an inconsistent hands catcher, leading to more drops than his talent should allow. It's an odd trait considering how his hands seem to get better the more he's under threat to take a hit. And though he can impress with his short-area speed, he's not a true downfield burner – he'll have to take a little off and set himself on jump balls – though he could excel in the right kind of vertical offense. Doesn't yet run tight cuts in short areas, but he's improved greatly as a route-runner through his Alabama career. Physical style and injury history would seem to be a worrisome combination against better and stronger defenders at the next level.
Conclusion: Jones would have put up much more prolific numbers in an offense that was more pass-friendly, but he didn't help himself with an inconsistent ability to catch the ball. At the same time, his toughness, determination to make more out of plays after the catch, and willingness to do the little things, added value beyond the numbers. Jones has the pure athleticism to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, and after working out a few technical kinks and adjusting to more complex coverages, his future should be very bright.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois| #20 - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State | #19 - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland | #18 - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue | #17 - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama | #16 - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa | #15 - Tyron Smith, OT, USC | #14 - Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri | #13 - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College | #12 - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn| #11 -- Cameron Jordan, DL, Cal| #10 - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri