Watching from the sidelines during his team’s first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Julio Jones looked relatively at ease. As a younger player, he might not have been as calm. He’d have wanted to show the Atlanta Falcons that he belonged, that he was worth all the draft picks they hemorrhaged to get him.
However, now, on the verge of superstardom, he knows what he’s capable of and the Falcons do to.
Coming off his first Pro Bowl and a 79-catch season, Jones is one of the best wide receivers in football. He’s a perfectly sculpted 6-4, 225 pounds, and he’s delivering on the promise he’s shown since high school, where he was one of the top recruits in the country before committing to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
We rarely give credit to stars who live up to the potential, but in the Internet age, where we see kids begin to achieve fame in high school, only to find themselves buried on the depth chart at a place like USC and then out of football three years later, it’s impressive to see Jones doing what he has done. From YouTube highlight video star to NFL star.
And, chances are that star is only going to get brighter.
After a very respectable rookie season starting opposite fellow Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver Roddy White, Jones improved in nearly every conceivable way. He’s tightened up his route-running, he looked more explosive after the catch and his concentration level improved dramatically.
He looked more comfortable in the Atlanta Falcons offense and started to develop his own chemistry with Matt Ryan. With White on the other side and Tony Gonzalez stretching the seam, the Falcons passing attack was one of the most dynamic in the league, and had their running game not taken a prohibitive step back with Michael Turner’s heavy load over the past four seasons finally catching up to him, they would have been even more explosive.
This year, they’ve got Steven Jackson — who has had an excessive load of his own over the last nine years in St. Louis, but is still fresh off a 1,000-yard season — and if the running game is back on par, the Falcons ‘O’ could be looking to take it to the next level. That’s because Julio Jones looks poised to take his game to the next level, as well.
In a training camp interview with Deion Sanders, Julio Jones said all the right things. “Roddy is still our No. 1” and “Tony is the greatest tight end of all-time”, but as last season went on and team’s started to shade Julio’s way in fear of his big play ability, Jones continued to deliver with four of his 10 TD catches coming in the final four weeks of the year.
For nearly a year and a half, Julio Jones got by on being bigger, stronger and faster than anybody he lined up against. But now… now he’s beginning to understand the nuances of playing the position.
He showed a variety of slant releases against Deion during that aforementioned interview that told a story of a man who is beginning to understand coverage manipulations and how to beat them. He’s learned to use his size to lean and create space at the top of his breaks. He gets it.
Julio Jones is beginning to out think defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. People have always said, if Jones figured out that aspect of his game, he’d be nearly unstoppable and 2013 could be that year for the former Alabama star.
Julio Jones has already arrived as a star, that’s why he sat against Cincinnati, but he looks like he could be more than just a Pro Bowler in 2013. He looks like a superstar in the making.