Juio Jones is one of the two or three best receivers in the NFL, more or less indisputably. On the surface, his 2017 season was another workmanlike effort from a franchise great, as he reeled in 88 balls for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season. The 88 receptions were the third-highest total of his career, as were the 1,444 yards.
Yet 2017 may someday be remembered as one of Julio’s weakest campaigns, which tells you everything about just how good he is. The three touchdowns were his lowest total since 2013, when he only played in five games, and his 59.5% catch rate was the lowest rate since his rookie season back in 2011. He also had, depending on your count, either 7 or 8 drops, which put him among the top five in the league in that area.
Great receivers, of course, drop the ball. Roddy White famously alternated seasons of maybe 2-3 drops and leading the NFL in drops, and Jimmy Graham, Demaryius Thomas, and Marqise Lee, all quality options, were also among the league leaders in 2017. What made this year so odd for Julio was how many things went awry this year.
Matt Ryan was just 1 of 18 on throws to Julio in the end zone this year, including a memorable drop against the Panthers that would have won Atlanta the game. He was too often not a major factor in the red zone, and Steve Sarkisian struggled all year long to get him favorable looks there. That helps to explain the low touchdown total, and that more than anything made this an oddly unsatisfying year for Julio, who is probably a couple of seasons away from blowing by Roddy White for most significant franchise receiving records.
When you consider Jones’ struggles this year, and how close he was to having one of the best seasons of his career, there are very few red flags about his long-term viability. His physical skills did not seem to erode in any way in 2017, and there was no drop where you had the sudden and sickening realization that it was a play Julio couldn’t make. Like so many other Falcons, he just was more mistake-prone this year, and it marred an otherwise solid season from a great receiver. I fully expect his touchdowns to go up in 2018 and his drops to go down, and that should translate into a pretty phenomenal year is the rest of the offense complies.