Julio Jones quickly became one of the most exciting players in the National Football League during the 2011-12 season. During his time at Alabama, Jones had earned the reputation of being the offensive firecracker and that didn't change when he stepped onto the field for the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons mortgaged their immediate draft future before the 2011 NFL Draft to select Jones with the sixth overall pick, and it is still too soon to know for sure if it was worth it, but if Jones can continue to play like everyone knows and expects, the Falcons will be winners for a long time. How did his opening season go and what can Atlanta fans expect to see in 2012?
As a freshman and sophomore years at Alabama, Jones was a key part of the offensive scheme, but he wasn't the main weapon. He made 58 catches in his first season and 43 in his second while scoring eight total touchdowns. As a junior, he exploded when he was one of the main receiving threats, catching 78 passes for 1,133 yards for seven touchdowns. He also proved to be a threat in the rushing game every now and then, averaging 16.9 yards per carry with two touchdowns.
The Falcons were unsuccessful in their attempt to move up in the draft to select A.J. Green, so they gave the Cleveland Browns five picks to move up 21 spots for the right to get Jones. While many people questioned the move, the Falcons knew they needed another star wide receiver to line up opposite to Roddy White and Jones was the guy.
In his first season, he started 13 games - missing three to injury - and made 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 17.8 yards per catch and often kept the Falcons third-and-long drives alive with big catches.
Jones wasted little time adjusting to the speed of the NFL and could easily finish the season as one of the top five receivers in the league. He has great hands, amazing speed and an unreal awareness of his surroundings on the field. I wouldn't be shocked to see Jones become the No. 1 receiver in Atlanta by the end of the season, especially if White continues to struggle with dropped passes.
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Hobson Lopes is a fan of the Atlanta Falcons, thanks to Deion Sanders and can be followed on Twitter @HobsonLopes.
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