Atlanta missed the playoffs in 2015 but there was one huge bright spot on the team: receiver Julio Jones, who had the best season at his position in franchise history. Can he top it in 2016? Jones has a total of 1,750.5 yards on NFL odds.
Nailed Jones To Lead NFL In Receiving In 2015
I'm happy to eat some crow when I'm wrong about a projection -- I'm right more than wrong or I probably wouldn't be employed by SBR. But I'm going to brag when I'm really right!
Last summer, I previewed Jones' season. His individual totals weren't out as of that writing, but he was the +600 second-favorite on NFL odds to lead the NFL in receiving. Here's what I wrote that late June 30, 2015 day: "If you guaranteed me that Jones would play all 16 games, I would jump on that. It also helps the Falcons have nine dome games."
Well, Jones did lead the NFL in receiving yards with 1,871. That's not just a team record but the second-most in NFL history, trailing Calvin Johnson's 1,964 with the 2012 Detroit Lions -- Megatron, incidentally, surprisingly retired this offseason. He also has Atlanta ties, having played his college football in downtown Atlanta at Georgia Tech.
Jones barely edged out Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, who was the betting favorite on the prop entering the 2015 season. Brown finished with 1,834 yards. Thus Jones and Brown combined for more receiving yards than any other wide receiver duo in a season in league history with 3,705 yards. The 49ers' Jerry Rice and Rams' Isaac Bruce previously held the mark with 3,629 yards in 1995. Johnson, Jones, Rice (1,848) in 1995 and Brown are the only four guys in league annals to reach 1,800 yards.
Also, Jones and Brown tied for the league lead with 136 catches apiece, tied for the second-most in a season ever behind former Colts wideout Marvin Harrison's 143 in 2002.
Jones also finished with eight TD catches. He had nine games of at least 100 yards, oddly each coming in three-game stretches: Games 1-3 vs. the Eagles (141), Giants (135) and Cowboys (164); Games 8-10 vs. the Buccaneers (162), 49ers (137) and Colts (160); and Games 14-16 vs. Jaguars (118), Panthers (season-high 178 in the Falcons' upset of unbeaten Carolina) and Saints (149). Jones totaled 34 receptions in Atlanta's first three games, an NFL record by any player in a team's first three games of the season. His worst game of the year was in a blowout win over Houston when Jones had only four catches for 38 yards.
So what to expect from Jones this year? That total of 1,750.5 yards on NFL picks is really high considering it has only been topped five times. Jones is also +350 with the Steelers' Brown to lead the NFL in yardage.
One thing you always have to worry about with Jones is health. Last year was only the second time in his career he played all 16 games. The Falcons should throw plenty again with Matt Ryan under center. Atlanta attempted 621 passes last year, which was the eighth-most in the NFL. Jones will have a new No. 2 receiver opposite him as the Falcons released all-time franchise receiving leader Roddy White this offseason and signed Mohamed Sanu from Cincinnati. Sanu is used to playing in the shadow of a former SEC star who was a high first-round pick in 2011. That would be the Bengals' A.J. Green, the No. 4 overall pick out of Georgia. Jones, from Alabama, went No. 6 that year when the Falcons traded way up to get him.
Again, I do believe it helps any receiver/quarterback when they play their home games in the comforts of a climate-controlled dome as the Falcons do. This will be their final year in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons will face some of the best defenses in the NFL this season: the Panthers (home and away), the Broncos (in Denver), the Seahawks (in Seattle), the Packers, the Cardinals and the Chiefs (all in Atlanta). Those were all Top-10 defenses against the pass in 2015.
Free NFL Picks: I'm a huge fan of Jones, but that total's just too high. Go 'under.' And I don't believe he wins the yardage title again.