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Looking back on Julio Jones’ stellar Falcons career

The trade of the franchise all-time receiving leader marks the end of an era in Atlanta.

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He glided down the middle of the field in Indianapolis all alone. Five Colts defenders were chasing, but the distance between him and the many men in pursuit gradually expanded. He crossed the goal line to give the Atlanta Falcons a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, but all you could think of watching him about was the rare talent who donned #11 for the Falcons.

That contest during the rookie season of Julio Jones back in 2011 was the stage where Jones officially announced how dangerous and unique he is as a receiving talent. It was a telltale sign of what was to come, foreshadowing the dominance of the best receiver in franchise history.

In surprising fashion, the Atlanta Falcons pulled off a draft day trade with the Cleveland Browns in 2011 that allowed the team to move from 27th overall to sixth to snag someone eventually turned out to be the greatest Falcon in team history. It was a move that was met with some criticism at the time yet, as the years unfolded with Jones in Atlanta, it proved to be one of the best strategic moves made in the NFL Draft over the last 20 years or so.

So now we’re here in the present day. Jones is off to Nashville, Tennessee to line up alongside A.J. Brown, Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans. A result of a trade being executed on June 6th which sent Jones, along with a 2023 sixth-round pick, to the Titans and in return, sent the Falcons a 2022 second-round selection as well as a 2023 fourth-round pick. Left in the wake is a Falcons organization that is ushering in a new age in rapid fashion. Over the last nine months, Atlanta has moved on from a former head coach/general manager tandem, hired a rookie head coach and rookie general manager, made a top five selection of a potential game-changing weapon on offense, and now turned the page on a franchise and city icon.

But I digress. This is all about Julio Jones and how the future Hall-of-Famer was dazzling in his ten seasons for the franchise, the Falcons fan base and the city of Atlanta.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The final season for Jones in Atlanta was a relatively short one, unfortunately, with Jones only playing in nine games thanks to a nagging hamstring injury that he suffered in week two against the Dallas Cowboys. An injury that lingered all season long. He was only able to post 771 receiving yards and three touchdowns and it was difficult to ignore that Jones was likely playing on the hamstring more than he actually should have at times during the season. It was a rare sour note to end a marvelous career for the Foley, Alabama native.

But the memories that Jones leaves behind are copious and spectacular, to say the least. Like the time that Jones made this spectacular over-the-shoulder grab against Tampa Bay in 2014.

Or how about the time he marched into Lambeau Field and posted 259 receiving yards on Monday Night Football? A performance against a Green Bay defense that almost carried the Falcons to victory in a six-point defeat.

The image of Jones streaking down the sideline against the Carolina Panthers in 2016 as he posted 300 receiving yards is still eye candy to a large portion of the Falcons fan base, as is the breathtaking catch over Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in a 2015 home game to help end the Panthers’ undefeated season. Sure, Jones often played banged up during most of his career, but for ten seasons, Jones put fear in the hearts of defensive backs and admiration in the eyes of Falcons fans near and far whenever he stepped on the field. There’s a reason most of his peers in the NFL recognized him as the best in the game.

As an opposing defensive coordinator, you had to show reverence to his overall ability, or else you were left wondering how on earth your guys got burnt so badly. The departure of former Falcon great Deion Sanders did not sit well with many and still doesn’t sit well all these years later. As Jones makes his way to the AFC, this will undoubtedly be a similar situation, one that Falcons fans will have a hard time moving past.

On game days, Julio Jones was more than just a very good player with an unmistakable jersey number. He was a prototype. A model of a receiver that produced a blueprint for younger receivers behind him to carefully study. Describing Jones as special falls short. Labeling him as a superstar seems sufficient enough on the surface. Defining him as a legend is probably more fair, but it’s hard to sum up a career like his in just one word. Considering what Jones brought to the Atlanta offense for ten seasons, his legacy left a lasting mark, and a franchise that has had its share of great receivers will likely never see someone quite like Julio again.

Truthfully, the day of Jones no longer rocking the Falcons logo was inevitable. Some may not have seen his departure in this manner, but the writing has increasingly been on the wall. But make no mistake, for his spectacular career in Atlanta, Julio Jones was everything the Falcons hoped he would be when they made that historic rise up the draft boards in 2011.

For that, we thank you, Julio.