Clearly NFL training camps are right around the corner because the sportsbooks are starting to release 2015 player props. So let's take a look at Atlanta start receiver Julio Jones and his 5Dimes odds to lead the league in receiving yards.
Arguing The Best
Who is the best receiver in football right now? I think Detroit's Calvin Johnson certainly used to be and he's a future Hall of Famer; "Megatron" last season became the fastest receiver to reach 10,000 career yards. He did so in career game No. 115. He broke the record set by former receiver Torry Holt, who got to 10,000 yards in 116 games. I would have thought Jerry Rice held that mark. Johnson seems to be breaking down a bit, however. Since his monster 2012 season when he had 122 catches for a record 1,964 yards, he hasn't quite been the same. Johnson was limited to 14 games in 2013 and 13 last year, when he had only 1,077 yards.
Steelers fans might make the case that Antonio Brown is the NFL's best receiver. And he was spectacular last season, leading the NFL with 129 catches and 1,698 yards while adding 13 touchdowns -- just missing the receiver Triple Crown.
The Cowboys' Dez Bryant is also tremendous. He led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches in 2014 while adding 88 receptions and 1,320 yards. Bryant is about to become a very rich man. So is Denver's Demaryius Thomas, who caught 111 passes for 1,619 yard and 11 touchdowns in 2014. We have some rising superstars at the position in the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans. They were part of the greatest rookie class of receivers in league history, with Beckham winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
So there is some serious star power at the position, but if you are giving me the choice of choosing one receiver for my NFL team in 2015 and for the next few years, I'm taking Atlanta's Jones with my NFL picks.
Trade Has Paid Off For Falcons
It's usually dangerous to mortgage the farm and move way up in the draft -- just ask the Redskins how that deal with the Rams for the No. 2 overall pick and Robert Griffin III worked out. The Falcons moved way up to No. 6 in the first round of the 2011 draft to take Jones and that has worked out well.
If there's one knock on Jones, it's his durability. Specifically a worrisome foot injury that limited to only five games in 2013. In fact, Jones has played all 16 games just once, in 2012. He was in there for 15 games last year and set career highs with 104 catches and 1,593 yards (franchise record) while adding six touchdowns. Jones had 76 catches that went for first downs. Only Pittsburgh's Brown (85) had more. Jones also had 28 catches on third downs even though everyone knew the ball was going there. He had seven 100-plus-yard games, including a team-record 259 yards on 11 receptions at Green Bay. Jones might have broken the NFL single-game record of 336 yards by the Rams' Flipper Anderson if Jones hadn't left with a hip injury. He was totally unstoppable that night.
I think Jones has become the most feared deep threat in the NFL with his size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and speed. Obviously a receiver is often only as good as the players around him. The Falcons have a very good quarterback in Matt Ryan. The running game was terrible last season but should be better in 2015 with an upgraded offensive line and using Devonta Freeman and rookie Tevin Coleman in the backfield. That can only help the passing game.
Kudos to Jones too because while the two-time Pro Bowler is eligible for a big new extension, he's not going to hold out like Bryant has threatened.
"I'm not going to hold out for anything," Jones said. "My teammates need me. I'm being selfish if I'm not here and doing what I need to do."
The Falcons exercised the fifth-year option on Jones' rookie contract last season, meaning he will make $10.2 million this season. Jones will become an unrestricted free agent in 2016 if not signed to a new deal or hit with the franchise tag,
NFL Free Pick: Jones is the +600 second-favorite on NFL odds to lead the league in receiving yards. 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 (eight at home, one at New Orleans; there could be a 10th in Dallas depending on if roof is open).