Julio Jones: The 71.25 Million Dollar Man

After a stellar 2014 season in which he posted career-highs in receptions (104) and receiving yards (1,593), Julio Jones established himself as one of the top receivers in the NFL. His herculean effort earned him a hefty five-year contract extension worth $71.25 million on August 29th, securing the 26 year old through his prime, but is the Falcons’ young star worth such a huge investment?
There is no doubting the physical ability of Julio Jones. His imposing stature (6’3 220 lb), uncanny athleticism (4.39 second 40 yard dash), and crisp route-running make him one of the league’s best young talents. While he has the ability to score from anywhere on the field, he lacks the ability that matters most – availability.
The two-time pro-bowler has missed 15 regular season games thus far in his young NFL career, including the majority of the 2013 season due to a lingering foot injury originally suffered after the 2011 NFL combine. Injuries have caused Jones to miss at least one game in every NFL season except for 2012, where he tallied 1,198 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
PREDICT2-julio-jones-falcons-HANISCH.vresize.1200.675.high.75Julio Jones wasn’t the only premier wide receiver cashing in this offseason. After years of negotiating and franchise tags, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas agreed to five-year $70 million extensions with the Cowboys and Broncos respectively. Both receivers were selected in the 2010 NFL Draft (one year prior to Julio) and have long been in the elite wide receiver discussion. However, both receivers’ contracts pale in comparison to Julio’s deal in both total and guaranteed money. Jones is guaranteed $47 million, which is $2 million more than Dez and $3.5 million more than Demaryius. While the young Falcon has put up some gaudy statistics, the question remains – Is the Falcons receiver more deserving of the money than his “more proven” counterparts?
To find out, one must look at the numbers. Jones has less receptions and yards than his fellow receivers, but that is to be expected from someone who entered the league a year later. However, there is a staggering difference in the amount of touchdowns. While Dez Bryant (56) and Demaryius Thomas (41) excel in the end zone, Julio is only responsible for 26 touchdowns. An explanation for Julio’s lack of touchdown production might be the fact that Atlanta’s offensive line has been in shambles the past couple years, or that Roddy White commanded his fair share of targets. While Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas have three seasons with 10 or more touchdowns, Julio Jones has only accomplished that feat once. In fact, Bryant has three more receiving touchdowns in the past two seasons than Jones has in his career. While Julio has missed significant time due to injuries, Dez and Demaryius have not missed a game in the last three seasons. However, the one area in which the Falcons’ star stands alone is yards per game. Julio Jones has 4,330 career receiving yards in a total of 49 games, which averages to about 88.4 yards. Not only is that statistic impressive, it’s the highest yards per game average in NFL history!
I am one of those people that is under the assumption that it is not within a team’s best interest to tie up over $14 million a year of their cap space to a wide receiver. For example, the last three Super Bowl champions– the Patriots, Seahawks, and Ravens – reached the ultimate goal without marquee wide receivers. I believe there is more parity between receivers than there is among quarterbacks and defensive backs. However, with the king’s ransom they had to pay to trade up to the 6th overall pick to select Julio in the 2011 NFL Draft, it was a foregone conclusion that the 26 year old would factor in the Falcons’ plans going forward. Julio Jones possesses once-in-a-generation talent, and though he has had an injury-riddled past, the statistics show he can be well worth the investment – if he stays healthy.

*Statistics obtained from NFL.com

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