NFL  

How Will the Falcons Replace Julio Jones?

How Will the Falcons Replace Julio Jones?
Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons warms-up prior to the game against the New Orleans Saints. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

We have seen the last of Julio Jones in a dirty bird uniform, he made that clear during an on air segment with FOX’s Shannon Sharpe last week. Jones claimed to not know he was on live TV after he had said “I’m outta there,” in regards to Atlanta. 

Now that it’s post-June 1st, Jones should be headed to a new home any day now. The Falcons’ asking price for the seven-time Pro Bowler is a first-round pick, plus a player. This could be way too high for several teams the Falcons have spoken to who might not have a first to offer, but they could settle for a second round pick.

While there is no clear indication as to where Jones will end up or what Atlanta will get in return, top sportsbooks do know that the Falcons will be just fine without him. 

The Falcons Replaced Jones in the Draft

This year’s NFL draft was heavily focused on top quarterback prospects and tight end Kyle Pitts was the first non-QB to go at No. four overall to the Falcons Pitts, out of all 259 players selected, was considered this year’s draft “unicorn.” He finished the 2020 COVID-19-plagued season dominating the field with 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games. He is not so much a blocking tight end as he is a pass catcher and with his massive frame and abnormal 4.4 speed, he should be a matchup nightmare against anyone on the field.

Tight end Hayden Hurst #81 of the Atlanta Falcons makes a catch . Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP

In addition to Pitts, the Falcons have tight end Hayden Hurst who should be joining him on the Field as new head coach Arthur Smith is a big fan of running two tight end formations.  Hurst posted a career-high 56 catches for 571 yards and six touchdowns and 88 targets last season and we should expect an even better performance from him in 2021, according to Smith. 

“Hayden’s done a nice job, day-to-day, and Hayden’s a really valuable member of this football team. We have high expectations for Hayden and he knows that,” said Smith during this week’s press conference. “Very pleased with Hayden’s maturity and what he’s brought day in and day out thus far.”

Aside from Pitts and Hurst on the field, the Falcons are also set with rising star wideout Calvin Ridley ready for another breakout year.

Calvin Ridley’s Time to Shine

The Falcons exercised Ridley’s fifth-year option last season which means the club will pay him $11.1 million next season, which is now fully guaranteed. Since being drafted in the first round of the 2018 draft, Ridley has proven himself to be an effective receiver. He finished the 2018 season leading all rookies in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He also led all rookie wideouts in receptions.

During his 2019 campaign, Ridley showcased an impressive season before he was placed on the injured reserve at the end of the year. Impressing the best sportsbooks, through 13 games in 10 starts, he reeled in 63 catches for 866 yards and seven touchdowns.

Calvin Ridley #18 of the Atlanta Falcons carries the ball. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP

While he expected to reach 1,000 yards in 2019 but couldn’t, he made it a goal to do so in 2020. Ridley went above his goal this past season, playing in all but one game and posted 90 catches for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns.

Over three years in the NFL, Ridley has recorded 217 receptions, 3,061 yards, and 26 touchdowns. He has also proven that the Falcons passing game can still be top-notch without Julio Jones as Matt Ryan’s No. 1 option. Jones will be missed throughout the state of Georgia and beyond, but it’s a new era for the Falcons’ franchise and Ryan will have plenty of other weapons to work with, despite the All-Pro’s absence.