We’ve established that Matt Ryan is building a strong case for a ticket to Canton someday, with numbers that stack up remarkably well against the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Bray, and Brett Favre through nine seasons. With an MVP award, a Super Bowl berth, and remarkable durability working for him, he’s certainly got a legitimate shot at the honor someday.
There is one other Falcon who can be mentioned in the same breath as the Hall of Fame, and that’s Julio Jones. It goes without saying that #11 is one of the most naturally gifted receivers in NFL history, but he’s also had the production to this point that can and should put him in the conversation down the line, well after he’s finished shattering every franchise record the great Roddy White currently holds.
Is Julio really on track for a spot in Canton? We crunched some numbers, and the answer is yes...kind of.
Where Julio stands
Julio’s case is complicated immediately by the fact that he’s a wide receiver. While he doesn’t have the media’s obvious distaste for Terrell Owens to deal with, or the prospect of the kind of borderline production that has doomed so many receivers over the years, it’s still not going to be easy for him to get in.
Let’s pit Julio against one of the best receivers of all-time and a surefire Hall of Famer, Randy Moss. Today, Julio has about half of Moss’s career receiving yardage, fewer than a third of his touchdowns, and more than half his number of receptions. Where was Moss after six seasons, compared to Julio, and where did Owens stand?
Randy Moss (96 games): 525 receptions, 8,375 yards, 77 touchdowns
Terrell Owens (92 games): 412 receptions, 6,170 yards, 59 touchdowns
Julio Jones (79 games): 497 receptions, 7,610 yards, 40 touchdowns
The first thing you’ll note is that Julio has played 17 fewer games than Moss, thanks to injury. The second thing you’ll note is that had Julio played those 17 games, he’d be well ahead of Moss’s receptions and yardage pace at this point, though it seems likely he’d still be well behind in TDs. This is a more passing-friendly era than Moss started his career in, but you’d be hard-pressed to take anything away from Julio.
Now take a look at Owens, who would almost certainly be a Hall of Famer today if he didn’t famously feud with the media over and over again in his career. He began his career even earlier and in an even less passing-friendly environment, and his career didn’t really start to take off until his fifth year in the NFL. Even with those caveats, he still played in 13 more games than Julio through six seasons, and Julio is still way ahead of his receptions and yardage pace, though again behind in touchdowns.
What can we learn from this? With several truly great receivers across the NFL today, Julio will likely have competition for Canton, and his low touchdown numbers figure to work against him in the end unless the Falcons magically start targeting him more in the red zone. Even so, if you figured a dinged-up Julio can play at least 79 games over the next five or six seasons before he hangs it up, his final numbers at his current pace would look like this:
Julio Jones, Hall of Fame guy: 994 receptions, 1,520 yards, 80 touchdowns
Those numbers put Julio right in Moss’s ballpark, slightly behind Owens, and well behind both players in terms of receiving touchdowns. A ring or two for the Falcons would help his case, but even those historically great stats (and some of Julio’s legendary grabs) might not be enough to push him all the way to Canton in today’s environment. In all likelihood, Julio will need to have a longer, healthier, or even more insanely productive career to land in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done.
That said, I’m not going to bet against that outcome, not when Julio has the vast majority of his production over the last three seasons, and not with the Falcons looking like an offensive juggernaut again in the near-term.