Flowery Branch – Dumb ol’ Thomas Dimitroff messed up. He thought he’d traded up 21 spots to pluck a No. 2 receiver. Turns out he hooked a No. 1.
Actually, the Falcons’ general manager knew full well what he was doing, but it was convenient to label the deal that left this team with Julio Jones as “21-spots-and-five-draft-picks-for-a-No.-2-wideout.” Had Jones’ ceiling been that of a No. 2 but never a No. 1, Dimitroff wouldn’t have made the trade. And now, four games later, we see the prescience therein.
Through two games and three quarters, the Falcons’ offense had been nothing special. Then the thought seemed to occur: “Hey, we moved up 21 spots to draft this guy! Why don’t we throw him the ball?” And nothing special became something very special.
Over the past five quarters, Jones has caught 16 passes for 222 yards. That’s No. 1 receiver stuff. Which isn’t to say he’s the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver. He’s not — yet. He will be soon enough.
And that, if you happened to read the fine print on the 21-spots-up-and-five-picks-gone move, was always Dimitroff’s plan. The Falcons didn’t want just any wide receiver: They wanted Julio Jones or A.J. Green, who was gone one pick ahead of Jones. They wanted a receiver who could offer immediate assistance and a down-the-road succession plan.
Roddy White, the incumbent No. 1, turns 30 next month. (We sometimes forget that White, by his admission, spent his first two NFL seasons not working hard.) White has had four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and is, by tight end Tony Gonzalez’s estimation, one of the three best wideouts — Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Houston’s Andre Johnson being the others — in the business. That said …
Good as he is, White isn’t the talent Jones is. He’s bigger — 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds to White’s 6-foot and 211 — and stronger. White is more possession receiver than downfield playmaker: His longest catch over his past 29 regular-season games is for 46 yards. Jones had a 49-yarder in his third professional game.
Said Gonzalez: “Right now I wouldn’t say [that Jones is the Falcons' No. 1 receiver] … Both of them are No. 1 receivers. They work well off each other. There’s no doubt this can be the best receiving tandem in the NFL.”
And let’s not forget the Canton-bound tight end. “I’m the one who’s going to get lost in the shuffle,” Gonzalez said, smiling. Then: “But that’s the best thing that could happen. Defenses can’t bracket me.”
White sometimes feels feel duty-bound to live up to the standard of No.-1-receiver-as-raging-diva. Last December he got into a Twitter fight with Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints; more recently he has averred that the Falcons “were a better team” that the 2010 Packers, who beat the Falcons by 27 points en route to winning the Super Bowl. (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, overreacting, has called this “borderline disrepectful.” Guess who the Falcons play Sunday night.)
By way of contrast, Jones works hard at saying nothing. (The Falcons love him for other reasons, but also for this. Mike Smith and Matt Ryan are the world champs at saying nothing.) “I never say anything to defenders,” Jones said Wednesday, and then he admitted he hadn’t been awestruck to see Philadelphia cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the absolute best, matched against him in his second pro start.
Jones: “I really don’t know who I’m locked up with in a game.”
The young man from Alabama plays with a focused fury, and — since you asked — he was that way before the furious Nick Saban got hold of him in Tuscaloosa. “That’s just how I am,” Jones said.
He doesn’t care who’s shadowing him. He doesn’t care how many catches he has. (Jones had two that night against Philly, but one of them — a third-down conversion when the Falcons trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter — was the game’s biggest play.) He just plays.
Other big-time rookies might have made a stir about needing to be The Man overnight. Jones seems thrilled to be sharing the same locker room as the big-timer Roddy White and hasn’t grasped that he’s a big-timer, too. He hasn’t noticed that he’s in the process of transforming a team that went 13-3 last season. He thinks he’s no better than sub wideouts Harry Douglas or Eric Weems. He’s wrong.
By Mark Bradley