Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback DJ Shockley says Julio Jones, whose tenure in Atlanta is likely winding down, would fit well in Baltimore because he’d help Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson take the next step in his development as a passer, but Shockley does offer one caveat about Jones as a potential trade target.
Jones has been in trade rumors for weeks now given the Falcons’ salary cap issues and the receiver’s large 2021 salary ($15.3 million), but for cap reasons, it always made sense for Atlanta to wait until after June 1 to trade Jones. That date is quickly approaching, and it’s now clear that Jones expects to be elsewhere soon enough:
Shockley, who was drafted by the Falcons in 2006 after playing at Georgia from 2002-2005, is now an analyst for the SEC Network and talks sports on his “Triple Threat” podcast. He says Jackson hasn’t had the luxury of working with a receiver like Jones so far in his career, making Jones a solid fit for the Ravens.
“Obviously there are a bunch of receivers in the league — there’s probably four or five — where you put them on any team and you say, ‘OK, they’re going to make that guy better,’ that guy being the quarterback,” Shockley said on Glenn Clark Radio May 25, noting that if Jackson is to emerge as a high-end passer, “you need an elite receiver on the outside that can win versus any coverage, versus any man-to-man coverage, versus any zone. Julio brings that to the table.”
The 32-year-old Jones has already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Falcons of all time. His 848 catches and 12,896 receiving yards are most in team history, and his 60 touchdown catches are second behind Roddy White. He has twice led the league in receiving yards (2015 and 2018) and has averaged more than 100 yards per game in a season five times (2013-2016 and 2018).
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jones would present the kind of target Jackson hasn’t had during his time in Baltimore — a proven, veteran receiver who commands respect from opposing defenses and can make contested catches in crunch time. Jones’ signature play as a Falcon came during Super Bowl LI, a game Atlanta eventually lost.
The play shows what Jones is all about, according to Shockley.
“There was no reason in the world Matt Ryan should’ve thrown that football because they had underneath and over-the-top coverage and he still goes on top of the defensive back and pulls that football down,” Shockley said. “There’s going to be constant double coverage, and when you get a chance to get one-on-one, he’s going to make you pay.”
One of the Ravens’ top priorities this offseason was improving a passing game that ranked last in the NFL in yards per game and was middle of the pack in terms of efficiency in 2020. As such, they signed veteran receiver Sammy Watkins and drafted wideouts Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace, and they’re hoping holdovers Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche take steps forward in their development.
Shockley says Jones would help out the team’s young receivers.
“One thing that I’ve noticed in his tenure here in Atlanta is whenever I’m at a game or whenever you’re watching, he’s constantly teaching the younger guys,” said Shockley, who added that “every single day when he comes into the room, he’s going to make [the Ravens’ young receivers] better with the things that he’s been able to do.”
Though Jones’ track record of production is unassailable, there are some concerns that his best days are behind him given his age and recent injury history. Though he played in at least 14 games in each of the last six seasons prior to 2020, he played in just nine games last season due to a hamstring injury.
Jones didn’t practice much the past couple of years in Atlanta, according to Shockley, but that didn’t pose much of an issue for the Falcons on game day because quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones had such a strong rapport from years of working with one another. That chemistry wouldn’t immediately exist between Jones and Jackson, Shockley explained, and because Jones would have to be on a pitch count during practice, it might be difficult to develop.
With that said, Jones would find a way to make it work.
“Rapport sometimes is overrated because you have some guys who need to practice but some guys like Julio are gamers. They will show up,” Shockley said. “They will be where they’re supposed to be, and when that ball’s around them, they’re going to make the QB look good or they’re going to make sure that that ball is not intercepted. Julio Jones is absolutely that type of player that when you put him on the field, he is going to be a factor regardless of if you guys had 30 reps or you guys had two reps.”
There’s also the issue of what it would cost to reel in Jones and fitting him under the salary cap. Atlanta reportedly wants a first-round pick in return for him, but it seems unlikely the Falcons will be able to get that. The Patriots, who are reportedly interested in Jones, are the current betting favorites to land the receiver.
But Shockley loves the fit in Baltimore, which is trying to keep up with Kansas City, Buffalo and Cleveland in the AFC.
“If you have a chance to bring in a transcendent player like a Julio Jones who can make your offense that much better instantly, why not go for it?” Shockley asked. “Yeah, you may have to give up some stuff on the other end, but at the end of the day, Julio Jones will give you a chance to win right now as opposed to what happens down the road three, four years when you’re thinking about draft capital or guys who can help you. Right now, Julio Jones gives you a chance to win in 2021.”
For more from Shockley, listen to the full interview here:
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