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Is Falcons Receiver Julio Jones Better Than Ever?


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is Falcons receiver Julio Jones better than ever?


By Vaughn McClure

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If there were any doubts about how Julio Jones would perform coming off a second right foot surgery, the Atlanta Falcons receiver answer those doubts through the first three games.

Jones currently leads the NFL in receiving yards with 365. He is tied for third in the league with 23 receptions, and he also has three touchdowns.

Jones has a league-leading six receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field, according to ESPN Statistics and Information. He has been targeted 10 times in such a scenario and has a spectacular, 40-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown to his credit.

Fellow receiver Roddy White couldn't stop talking about Jones on Thursday.

"He's playing at a very high level," White said. "We're going to expect him to play like that every game. ... We're going to need it to get wins, especially when we go out there on the road and have to fight to get Ws. It's so hard to win on the road in the NFL.

"He's big, he's fast, and he's strong. I mean, you just don't see guys that are 225 (pounds), can run like he can and just get in and out of routes like he can. He's worked at it since the time he's been here; trying to get better each and every year. His concepts and grasp for the game, and understanding coverage and what defenses are trying to do to (him), is at a very high level right now. So, he's going to be a tough guard. It's going to be hard for anybody to guard him; how he's playing and how confident he is right now."

Jones draws comparisons to Detroit's Calvin Johnson, although Johnson typically is considered the league's top receiver.

"He's going to be the best wide receiver in this league, if he ain't already," White said of Jones.

As the Falcons prepare for Sunday's game at Minnesota, Jones' role will be crucial in terms of the offense getting off to a much-needed fast start. Jones caught two passes for 39 yards during last week's opening drive against Tampa Bay, which ended with Matt Ryan's 3-yard touchdown pass to Harry Douglas.

Jones talked during the preseason about how becoming physically stronger has worked to his advantage. He used a specific example.

"As far as being stronger, I can get in and out of my cuts easier because my quads are very strong now," Jones said Thursday. "Last year, they weren't as strong, so I was using more of my hamstrings. So now I'm able to explode out of my cuts and, therefore, get separation from DBs."

Jones, now in his fourth season, already separated himself as one of the elite receivers in the league.

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You saw improvement in him last season when Roddy was out/decoy and Gonzalez struggled a bit early. He was having to be more than a deep threat and began catching the intermediate stuff across the middle. He has picked up where he left off and Ryan trusts him more now too. Before it was always Roddy/Gonzo on 3rd down and redzone. That started changing last year too.

Just maturation for Julio. He has a great coach, and mentor in Roddy. He is right up there with Calvin. I would like to see him get better at those 50/50 balls/tough catches like AJ and Calvin are so good at.

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