Falcons' Jones more than possession receiver

Doug Farrar
Yahoo! Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will break down how 12 top 2011 NFL draft picks can immediately impact their new clubs.

Julio Jones(notes)

The Atlanta Falcons' trade with the Cleveland Browns to move from the 27th slot in the first round to the sixth – giving up a total of five selections in the 2011 and '12 NFL drafts – was unquestionably the biggest story of last month's draft. With that move, Atlanta selected Alabama receiver Julio Jones, the dominant receiver who played valiantly through the 2010 season with a broken hand and then tore up February's NFL scouting combine with a broken foot.

That said, the move to get Jones was curious to some, given the fact that he's seen as more of a possession receiver as opposed to a pure speedster. Based on most predraft evaluations – and backed by A.J. Green's(notes) selection two picks earlier – most didn't have Jones as the top receiver in his class. In addition, the Falcons' 48-21 playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers revealed a secondary that was torn to shreds by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes).

But Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff didn't believe that Atlanta's underrated secondary was the problem – the real issue was a receiver corps that offered a great deal in efficiency and sustainability but not enough in big-play threats. Dimitroff knew that Rodgers had been blowing up various NFL secondaries throughout the season, and that making a base judgment on one game is how personnel executives get fired. In addition, Dimitroff was smart enough to know that while his offense is full of playmakers in quarterback Matt Ryan(notes), receiver Roddy White(notes), tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes), and running back Michael Turner(notes), the team's inability to get downfield resulted in too many close games which should have been laughers. Atlanta ranked 15th in the NFL with 3,567 passing yards, but 31st in passing plays of 20 yards or longer (with 32) – only the woeful Carolina Panthers were worse (with 30).

Play diagram
Play diagram

Looking at Jones' Alabama tape shows far more than a player able to get yards after catch on short routes – the "possession receiver" term is pejorative in this case because there's so much more he can do. This was especially true in a narrow loss to Auburn last November – Jones caught 10 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown and proved that in an offense already stacked with talent, he could be the player to put that unit over the top.

Halfway through the first quarter of that game, the Crimson Tide lined up at their own 32-yard line with a three-receiver look against Auburn's Cover 2 defense. Like the Falcons, the 2010 Crimson Tide offense had enough weapons to make focusing on Jones difficult; Alabama also had fellow first-round pick Mark Ingram(notes) in the backfield.

As much of a threat as Jones looked to be on the play, Auburn spread its defense out against all three receivers and set multiple defenders to spy Ingram out of the backfield. At the snap, the cornerback covering Jones and both safeties gave a first look to Ingram, who was running a flat route. That split second was all Jones needed to blow by the cornerback – the defender wasn't going to catch up to Jones and his underrated speed. At the same time, the strong safety had to follow the tight end running a short seam route, and the free safety cheated to look at the slot receiver running a crossing route from right to left.

Put simply, Jones was the X-Factor – that one too many for the defense to handle – and that's what Dimitroff and the Falcons are hoping he'll be for them as well. Too often, Atlanta's 2010 offense resembled what would happen if you erased Jones from this diagram; the hope is that in taking that major gamble with five draft picks, the Falcons will cash in with a Super Bowl victory and an offense that is the envy of the NFL.

Doug Farrar is a writer for Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner blog and a senior writer for Football Outsiders.

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