Why the Julio Jones trade made – and still makes – sense

We haven't yet seen the best of Julio Jones, but this was a hint. (AP photo)

We haven't yet seen the best of Julio Jones, but this touchdown was a hint. (AP photo)

Flowery Branch – Reaction to the Falcons’ leap of 21 slots to grab Julio Jones last April was swift and damning, and the criticism has regained traction as the team approaches the 2012 draft without a first-round pick. Now as then, the argument against the move can be stated this way: “You can’t trade five picks for a wide receiver.”

And here’s where I make like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” when his older (and dumber) brother Sonny insists you can’t shoot a New York City police captain even if he is in cahoots with the knife-wielding Sollozzo. Patiently Michael lays out the reasons why, just this once, you could. Here’s where I tell you why dealing for Julio Jones was, contrary to popular belief, altogether right and proper.

1. Because the Falcons didn’t want just “a” wide receiver. General manager Thomas Dimitroff coveted either A.J. Green of Georgia, taken by Cincinnati with the fourth overall pick, or Jones of Alabama, plucked by the Falcons two spots later. “Those two wide receivers are the kind that only come along every few years,” Dimitroff said this week, which suggested he doesn’t see one as good in the 2012 draft class. (Asked if he did, he declined to answer.)

The belief in some circles was that Jones is a talent on the order of Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, often identified as the NFL’s finest receiver. Of Jones, Dimitroff said pointedly: “He’s without diva-like qualities” — an appraisal that wouldn’t apply to many top-shelf wideouts.

2. Because Jones was as good as advertised. He missed three games because of injury, but caught 54 passes for 949 yards and eight touchdowns. In one half against Indianapolis, Jones made two astonishing plays — a diving end-zone catch between defenders so improbable it was first adjudged incomplete and an 80-yard runaway on a simple slant — that validated the Falcons’ exalted appraisal.

Dimitroff on Jones’ rookie season: “It was very good and encouraging with much upside. If he hadn’t been hurt, he’d have had 1,200 or 1,300 yards.”

3. Because this wasn’t a move just for 2011. Roddy White turned 30 in November. The Falcons saw in Jones a wideout who would first serve as 1A to White before becoming No. 1 himself. If Jones helped win a Super Bowl as rookie, great — but he didn’t come with an expiration date of Feb. 5, 2012.

The Falcons’ offense did improve statistically: From 16th-best in total offense in both 2009 and 2010, it was 10th-best last season. Still, this sleek offense didn’t manage a point in its playoff loss against New York on a day when Jones had seven catches for 64 meager yards. But surely new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will feel a need to incorporate Jones more fully.

4. Because not trading for Jones wouldn’t necessarily have yielded a defensive upgrade. Consensus held that the Falcons had to bolster their D in the 2011 draft. Had they kept the 27th overall pick, they wouldn’t have spent it on a defensive end. Said Dimitroff: “All the ones we liked were gone.”

Six defensive ends were taken in the first 24 selections. (Cameron Jordan, who went to New Orleans at No. 24, started 15 games as a rookie but managed only one sack.) With an eye toward defensive ends, the Falcons had sought to move up between the 15th and 20th pick — but possible partner Jacksonville traded up to No. 10 and took quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Had the Falcons kept the other two 2011 picks they sent to Cleveland — the draft’s 59th and 124th overall — and used them on defenders, there’s a chance neither might have become more than a rotational player. There was never a chance Jones wouldn’t start Game 1 of Year 1.

5. Because the pain of not having a first-round (or a fourth-round) choice in 2012 is eased by knowing Jones is under contract. NFL scouts value the draft pick above all else. Still, Dimitroff  balked at a suggestion that in making the Jones trade he’d gone against his nature. “My background is in scouting,” he said. “But I am a GM.”

As such, he looked hard at his roster and made this determination: “We already had [defensive] guys who were better than those we were going to get in the draft. We determined that this was the time, more than any other, to make a bold move.”

Conclusion: The trade for Jones shouldn’t be viewed so much one player for five players but one singular talent over five draft picks — none of which was guaranteed to contribute immediately, three of which wouldn’t fall in the first 50 of their respective drafts. It was a heavy cost, but to secure this particular player it wasn’t outrageous.

Asked if he’d do the Julio Jones deal again, Dimitroff said: “Categorically, yes.” And just for the record, Capt. McCluskey and Sollozzo wound up dead. Michael Corleone shot them.

By Mark Bradley

148 comments Add your comment

spotman

April 20th, 2012
8:23 am

[...] as threatened, is my take on the whole Julio Jones issue: I thought it was a good move then and [...]

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2012
8:27 am

You underestimate yourself, spotman.

Kudos.

Truth

April 20th, 2012
8:31 am

This decision is rock solid. Julio will be one of the top WR in the league this year. He is a stud.

chalkdawg4

April 20th, 2012
8:31 am

Good read – good analysis.

RM

April 20th, 2012
8:33 am

I’m still not sold. They really gave up a lot and they could really use a 1st round pick this year. If they had kept their pick last year they could have drafted the fast WR that went to the Ravens, right? I think he’s as good as Julio.

DC

April 20th, 2012
8:36 am

Very good article MB. Lets hope Julio has a breakout year!…Now lets get back to the braves shall we…(and not a Chipper jones article) hah

David

April 20th, 2012
8:38 am

RM,

Torrie Smith is not as good as Julio. As fast, sure. As good? Not a chance. Julio is much more of a complete receiver. I don’t even think it’s close.

DePort

April 20th, 2012
8:41 am

Atlanta fans always complain cause our teams never make any shocking moves.. and the one time we finally did it .. you still comeplain about it. … WHAT CAN ELSE CAN WE DO??

GeorgiaDawg93

April 20th, 2012
8:42 am

What people, and columnists forget, is that the Falcons all but said that trading the picks for a wide receiver was giving them the player to make it to the Super Bowl THAT SEASON. We know how that turned out.

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
8:44 am

Julio Jones will be better than Roddy White.

It was the right move.

RM

April 20th, 2012
8:44 am

Torrey Smith had 50 catches, 841 yards and 7 TD’s as a rookie. Very similar stats to Julio and that’s on the Ravens, who typically run first. Just sayin… I’m not knocking Julio, I think he’s going to be a very good one. But it would be nice to have a 1st round pick this year…

BBQ MAN

April 20th, 2012
8:45 am

Lon Stotts

April 20th, 2012
8:47 am

How is Julio a “singular talent” if he was the second receiver drafted in his class? True, he is one of the most athletic freaks filled with athletic freaks, but he has shown a proclivity for drops, both in college and in the big leagues (I look at the Texans game). I’d say that’s the most important attribute a receiver can possess, and I still question Julio’s hands.

Also, “if he hadn’t been hurt” is becoming far too common a refrain when referring to Dimitroff draft picks. He had an injury history in college (so did AJ, I concede).

For me, the jury’s still out on Julio– it was a bold move, no doubt, but in my eyes he’s not this slam dunk Pro Bowler everybody is guaranteeing. Potential? Loads. But there are too many high picks to count who flaked out of the NFL after being labeled as major potential players. I’ll keep my fingers crossed with Julio.

oldbird

April 20th, 2012
8:47 am

Probably the only good 1st round pick of T.D.’s career, even if we gave up a little too much.

Lon Stotts

April 20th, 2012
8:48 am

most athletic freaks *in a league* filled with athletic freaks

Painful truth

April 20th, 2012
8:53 am

This is the problem when it comes to fans in this town…We can not see the forrest for the trees….The trade for Julio, while not the worst, was no where near the great trade that is being portrayed here….New Orleans seems to be able to consistantly find top flight WRS in later rounds and on the street for that matter…The D needed upgrading last year and it did not happen and now you are in the same positin again this year. Mega trades like that are made to pay dividends in the playoffs…not to look good against 0-14 teams in the regular season. Had those catches been made vs the Giants, you would have a point….Had he done something to change teh games vs NO you would have a point…But he had his best games against the Bucs, Panthers and Colts…. teams that were a combined barely won 10 games combined….Big times trades are made to help you compete with teh elite, not to make you shine when you play the also rans……

Boyd Dowler

April 20th, 2012
8:58 am

Good analysis Mark, I just hope JJ stays healthy.

david

April 20th, 2012
9:00 am

This was a mistake that will be revisited every year until Jones is cut or traded. Being from Alabama I know Jones has a history of taking games and plays off. What is the over/under on drop passes this year for Jones. I won a bet last year with a over /under of 12 because I took the over. Great talent that does not like to get hit. As the league see this they will start to take advantage of him.We will never know how 5 other players could have done but I wish we had this trade back. I bet there is not a GM out there will give you 5 pick for Jones which tells you everything!!!

Saldiven

April 20th, 2012
9:04 am

Way to to the company line, Mark.

It doesn’t change the fact that 4-5 picks for a wide receiver is never a good bargain. Regardless of his talent level, no wide receiver in history (with the possible exception of Jerry Rice) has ever had sufficient impact on a game, week in and week out, to warrant that much investment.

There is a reason that none of the other highly respected and successful NFL GMs make this kind of move for a wide receiver.

LMAO

April 20th, 2012
9:06 am

“Being from Alabama I know Jones has a history of taking games and plays off.”

PMC

April 20th, 2012
9:12 am

I love that you went Michael Corleone here. Love it!

Hubie Fratello

April 20th, 2012
9:18 am

He’s a great player and I’m glad he’s on team. Wish they had traded Dunta instead of this year’s first rounder.

Bill

April 20th, 2012
9:18 am

JJ will be like Chipper Jones. Braves skip the top pitcher in draft (whats his name now) and took C Jones..now look at CJ career..HOFer. Julio Jones will be the same . He will have a great career and Falcons will never regret
taking him. After all both have the same last names JONES! Go Falcons
and Braves…

Chad

April 20th, 2012
9:19 am

I’m still happy as can be with the trade for Julio, I just hope TD has a good draft this year. Go Falcons

Skip Carey

April 20th, 2012
9:20 am

T.D. made the trade with the notion that Julio was the “missing piece” of a team and that the trade would lead the Falcons to a Super Bowl. We all know how that worked out last year and the Falcons don’t look like a SB contender to me this year either. If you base the trade on the fact that Julio was supposed to/will lead them to the promise land than I have to say that it was a failure. Too many holes in other places on this team

T-Bone

April 20th, 2012
9:20 am

Yeah, but . . . we still don’t have a 1st-founder this year.

I contend that we don’t need a 1A receiver. Maybe those days are over. Look at Green Bay, New Orleans, etc. Maybe the way to go is with 4-5 B+ receivers rather than 2 (expensive, and trust me, in a few years Jones will be expensive) A+ receivers.

We have to build the D.

T-Bone

April 20th, 2012
9:21 am

should be 1st-rounder

Drew Woodson

April 20th, 2012
9:22 am

Saw what you did there, Lon. Nice.

JSS

April 20th, 2012
9:23 am

Mike Wallace was a third round pick, Cruz was a undrafted free agent… There are wise buyers, and then there are the Dimitroff Falcons!

Skip Carey

April 20th, 2012
9:23 am

Julio will have an outstanding carrer and is an amazing player. He’s just not going to be the one to lead the Falcons to a Superbowl. Now, if Matty “Noodle Arm” Ryan could throw a half way decent deep ball then I might be singing a different tune.

Matt

April 20th, 2012
9:23 am

No player is worth 5 picks. This team has more holes in it than a spaghetti strainer. THey will be lucky to make the playoffs this year.

PMC

April 20th, 2012
9:26 am

Adding to your reasons Mark, they were working on getting a free agent DE at the time too. They did address that problem by getting Ray Edwards

Last season’s failures were brought on more by injuries than any flawed GM work. Mike Johnson is supposed to be the RG, he couldn’t beat out Reynolds because of his injury and was lost for the year. Ray Edwards played hurt all year. Sam Baker has been hurt or ineffective most of his career.

With an average to poor pass blocking line, the Falcons moved up from near last to the middle of the pack in deep plays…. um, yes Julio Jones was a HUGE addition to the team.

The old, Run run NFL doesn’t apply anymore. The rules are passing league focused. For the Falcons to get into the top 10 to get a WR they were going to have to give up a lot. Julio Jones fits the Falcons franchise system goals as well as any other player on the team.

They just have to get some help at left tackle this year and they need to find more playmakers on defense, whether that’s internal or external remains to be seen.

The Walrus

April 20th, 2012
9:26 am

Point #3 has been my pain point to all of the naysayers since last April.

We now have our QB of the future and our WR of the future. Not how I’d prefer to build the team (that would be start with the OL), but we have an exceptional talent at WR now.

JSS

April 20th, 2012
9:27 am

I guess what pick Greg Jennings was? Hmmmm…

PMC

April 20th, 2012
9:34 am

TD never made this trade believing that Julio Jones was the final piece of a super bowl team. That’s never been what he’s articulated to anyone. That point was made by a bunch of hack guessers sitting behind a desk entertaining those of us interested enough to watch a bunch of guys in suits doing a school yard chore of picking sides prior to a game.

I’m as critical of TD not finding the pieces I feel the team needs as anyone, but you are freaking nuts if you don’t think he did that to the best of his ability last year. You cannot fill every hole in an off season. EVERY team has holes. Some playuers get hurt, some players underperform. That’s football, it’s not playstation.

The guy has built a very very good football team that has underperformed in the playoffs for a variety of reasons, but the fact remains… the guy is pretty darn good at his job.

jay

April 20th, 2012
9:37 am

“Mike Wallace was a third round pick, Cruz was a undrafted free agent… There are wise buyers, and then there are the Dimitroff Falcons!”

That’s a pretty dumb argument JSSSSS. Arian Foster was undrafted so should Trent Richardson be passed up in the first round? Last time I checked Calvin Johnson was picked 1st. Maybe the Lions should have went bargain basement, yeah right. Tom Brady was picked where, but the Skins trade up for a QB? Gimme a break. They made the trade because it was can’t miss. They didn’t trade up for someone who should have been picked in the 3rd round or who would have gone undrafted.

Najeh Davenpoop

April 20th, 2012
9:43 am

“Torrey Smith had 50 catches, 841 yards and 7 TD’s as a rookie. Very similar stats to Julio and that’s on the Ravens, who typically run first.”

His quarterback throws a much better deep ball, though. And about 30% of those stats came in one game against the Rams.

Julio is easily worth the #6 overall pick. He is easily better than Smith. Bradley’s article makes this clear. The question is whether he was worth five draft picks to this team. The Falcons are not so talented at all the other positions that acquiring better across-the-board depth wouldn’t have benefited this team more, especially if they could have gotten a WR who was 70% as good as Jones at their original spot (someone like Smith, Jonathan Baldwin, or Greg Little).

PMC

April 20th, 2012
9:56 am

Agreed Najeh. That’s where the trade really hurt last year and this year fixing holes.

The lack of opportunity to add another quality OLB, and DE, perhaps a free safety and I’m not sure how they start the year without addressing left tackle.

That opportunity cost is why I feel the trade was not made for last just year. I kind of felt it was the other way around where he was looking too far ahead. The offensive and defensive schemes were not really a fit for the talent they have now and that was apparent from game one in Chicago to the playoff failure in NY.

GeorgiaDawg93

April 20th, 2012
9:57 am

Jay, you make the argument for us. Thank you.

maurice

April 20th, 2012
9:57 am

TD will never be able to satisfy bandwagon fans. Go Falcons!!!

BOB

April 20th, 2012
9:57 am

The fact that both of the AJC’s “main” sportswriters opined on the topic on consecutive days makes me wonder if there is internal heat being generated inside the Falcon’s HQ. With the less than joyful fan reaction to the last three playoff games, is there a growing momentum to find a scapegoat(s) ?

foodfight

April 20th, 2012
10:00 am

War Eagle. Glad we have him. He is scary when he is on the opposing team.

Eric

April 20th, 2012
10:11 am

Jimmy Smith was still available. You take him and you don’t spend $10 mil on Brent Grimes. Dereck Sherrod and Gabe Carimi were both available. Then you’re not trying to get an OT at 55 this year.

I like Julio and think he’s going to be a great player for the Falcons. It’s not his fault TD crippled the team by gutting depth through the draft, and there is no way he’s worth what the Falcons paid – particularly with the holes they have. I have no idea how anyone could look at the Green Bay loss and think “We need to get more explosive on offense!” Instead of, “Man, our defense sucks.”

section322

April 20th, 2012
10:13 am

@DePort….You hit it right on the freakin nail! Falcons fans complain no matter what! We make no moves you complain…we make an aggressive move you complain.

jay

April 20th, 2012
10:14 am

GDAWG- Not sure what your argument is. I guess you are in the camp of getting a bunch of marginal players. This team needed a real talent on the offensive side of the ball. Roddy is getting older. Turner is all but used up. Tony G is retiring. TD has that out of the way and at a low cost. We still have plenty of time to add marginal players.

Supes

April 20th, 2012
10:16 am

Torrey Smith is a one trick pony…fly patter, go route…Julio Jones is the complete package. Next

J-Bone

April 20th, 2012
10:18 am

Hey, Lon Stotts……the drop youre referring to in the Texans game was would have been a “spectacular” catch. It was not a short easy toss. He had two defenders on him and still nearly made the play. I challenge you to find a receiver who makes that play consistently. Oh, and one more thing……I bet he makes that catch next time.

J-Bone

April 20th, 2012
10:23 am

Also, HE WAS A ROOKIE LAST YEAR PEOPLE! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM HIM!?

Painful truth

April 20th, 2012
10:30 am

“HE WAS A ROOKIE LAST YEAR PEOPLE” LOL

So were AJ Green, and Torrrey Smith and Randall Cobb……