The more I think and read about the Julio Jones pick, the more skeptical I become. Football Outsiders has created a statistical formula to analyze receivers and before the Draft, they wrote that Jones only came out as the 13th best receiver in the class ($) based on his college numbers. Anticipating the claim that Jones played in a run-first offense in a great conference and that it is to be expected that his numbers will be low, take a look at FO’s criteria:
The exact formula behind Playmaker is too complicated to get into here, but it is based on six factors:
• Receiving yards per game
• Receiving touchdowns
• Average yards per catch
• The team's yards per pass
• The team's passes per game
• The conference the receiver played in
In short, Playmaker accounts for both the style of the offense and the level of competition. Jones’s pedestrian numbers go into that system and come out with the projection that he’ll be a pedestrian receiver in the NFL. As FO acknowledges, their system is by no means perfect. We are simply talking about probability here. Combining the history of receivers taken in the top ten spots in the Draft and Jones’ numbers leaves us with the conclusion that the odds are against Jones producing at anywhere near the level that would justify his price tag.
Speaking of the list of top ten receivers, look at the college numbers of Jones and the three receivers who have lived up to their lofty draft positions as exceptions to the "don't take receivers at the top of the Draft" rule:
None of these four receivers played in pass-heavy spread offenses and they did not play with quarterbacks who would go onto success in the NFL. With that groundwork out of the way, there are two issues that jump off of the table. First, Jones’s yards per catch is lower than any of the three receivers on the list. Second, he caught fewer touchdowns. The touchdown issue is especially worrying when you account for the fact that Andre Johnson - the only one of the three whose TD total is close to that of Jones - only started for two years in college, whereas Jones started for three. Those 15 touchdowns look a lot more like Troy Williamson (13 TDs in three years as a starter at South Carolina) than they do Johnson & Johnson or Fitzgerald. Thus, we have to go on faith that Jones was a decoy for most of his time at Alabama and that he will thrive when he has Roddy White on the other side of the formation as opposed to Marquise Maze. I’d rather have more than faith in my corner when trading five picks for one guy.
One last thought: for the first time, I’m a little anxious for the NFL owners and the NFLPA to reach a deal. Previously, I was ambivalent about the prospect of a lockout eating some or all of the season. I do like watching NFL games, but on the other hand, a fall where college football doesn’t have the share the spotlight is an appealing thought. Now, I’m so interested to see how the Jones gamble pays off that I want a resolution so we can start getting reports on how the Falcons’ passing game looks in August.