A bicycle is a simple little machine. At its essence, it’s just two connected wheels, some gears and pedals, and some handles for steering. Its simplicity has nothing to do with its effectiveness, however, as the humble bike is one of the most loved and most used means of conveyance in the entire world.
I know this is starting like a book report, so let’s get to the heart of it: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have been a bicycle built for two ever since Julio entered the NFL in 2011. They’ve been moving in the same direction at a brisk clip that entire time, wheeling their way quietly and efficiently through the history books, and now they stand here in late 2020 in the enviable position of being one of the greatest quarterback/wide receiver duos ever. Period.
“Okay,” you say, your voice rising several octaves in an indication that you are about to be annoying, “but I’m not sure Ryan and Julio belong anywhere near the discussion of the best duos ever.” Wrong. The two have the sixth-most touchdown connections in NFL history, and that’s actually their worst ranking all-time. They’re second all-time in completed passes/receptions, trailing only the phenomenal Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison connection, and they’re gaining in every category, albeit more slowly in touchdowns.
This production didn’t happen by accident, and it didn’t happen because Ryan only throws to Julio Jones. Over Julio’s career, he’s been sharing the field with capable tight ends (Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, Austin Hooper, and Hayden Hurst), quality second fiddles (the great Roddy White, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley), and pass-catching backs (Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman).
Jones and Ryan have made this happen regardless because Ryan is an underrated deep ball thrower with an accurate arm and a discerning eye for when a frequently double-teamed player like Julio might get open, and Julio has maybe the best blend of size, speed, work ethic and smarts of any receiver in NFL history. It works because they’re gifted and because they’ve forged the kind of connection that allows for greatness, and because they’ve played together for such a long time now.
I don’t know if Ryan and Julio will surpass Harrison and Manning across the board—the chances are good they won’t catch them in touchdowns, at the very least—but they will absolutely go down as one of the greatest quarterback and wide receiver duos ever. Like the simple and noble bicycle, those two have been rolling and will keep rolling for a long time yet.