Julio Jones is living, breathing magic. There simply are not many receivers in the long history of the NFL who make you feel like they can do anything, but Julio does, no matter how many times we find ourselves fretting over his feet or the minor injuries that keep him out of quarters, halves, or even full games.
So it’s absolutely natural that someone would talk about Julio hitting 2,000 yards. In case you’re wondering, that’s never happened in the rich history of the NFL, with Calvin Johnson (1,964) and #11 himself (1,871) coming closest. It’s extremely obvious that if the Falcons force-fed Julio targets and he stayed healthy all year, he could make a real run at that magic number, and probably exceed it. He has that kind of talent.
But while it’s fun to talk about idly, the odds are against it happening in 2017, and that’s actually a good thing for the Falcons. Even Julio doesn’t view it as a priority, however much I’m sure he’d like to own that particular record for perpetuity.
"I don't think about yardage. It's all for fun," Jones said. "It's definitely for fun. They obviously want to see somebody do [2,000] because, obviously, it's never been done. And it's a lot of talk about it. Any guy of my caliber, you know, can potentially put up those numbers. But at the end of the day, we're one game at a time. Whatever the defense gives us, we're going to take it."
In 2015, when Julio had 1,871 yards and a bonkers number of targets and receptions, Matt Ryan had arguably his worst year as a pro. The Falcons were just establishing their kickass running game that year, but the bigger issue was that Julio was far and away the best receiving option, and the team leaned on him far too heavily. There were mitigating factors there—the first year of Kyle Shanahan’s offense was a difficult adjustment for Ryan, he threw several red zone interceptions thanks to poor decision-making and a lack of compelling options—but that over-reliance on Julio mattered.
Fast forward to 2016, when Julio’s target share went down considerably, he cashed in nearly 500 fewer receiving yards, and the offense flourished. Teams intent on stopping Julio were hurt in a million different ways, and Julio still got his because of his incredible talent and some favorable matchups, including his 300 yard effort against the Panthers. He’ll get those opportunities again—there are some genuinely cornerback-starved teams on the docket, including the Bears—but I’m not sure he’ll get the volume necessary to break the single season record.
This is a long-winded way of saying that the offense functions best when Julio is the top dog, but the team doesn’t prioritize targeting him over other options who are either clearly open or have favorable matchups. That makes it virtually impossible for Julio to get to 2,000—though never count the man out—but as we saw in 2016, it’s the best way for the Falcons to generate the lights-out offensive production that fuels a Super Bowl run.