Falcons Have Found ‘Julio Jones 2.0’

Julio Jones

Getty The Falcons may have found "Julio Jones 2.0."

Julio Jones left the Atlanta Falcons as the franchise leader in both receptions and yardage. Replacing a player of the two-time All-Pro’s particular talents was never going to be easy, but the Falcons may just have found an updated version of Jones.

That’s the verdict of one NFL insider who believes Atlanta’s offense boasts an “absolutely sensational” weapon in the passing game. This dynamic pass-catcher is already setting a pace that could see him post “All-Pro” numbers by the end of the season.

Falcons’ New Julio Jones Shows ‘Dominance’ in One Area

Rookie Drake London is the new Jones, according to Jordan Schultz, who applauded the eighth-overall pick’s “flat-out dominance in the red zone, his precision. His releases. His ability to high-point the football.”

Schultz also offered a prediction for what London’s stat line will look like: “110 catches, 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns.” It’s easy to believe Falcons head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot would jump at getting that level of immediate return from the player they used a top-10 pick to select this year.

Numbers like those would also showcase London’s potential to become the kind of playmaking force Jones was during 10 seasons with the Falcons. The sixth player drafted in 2011 began his NFL career with 54 catches for 959 yards and eight scores.

Jones thrived early because of his size and strong hands, qualities London is already using to gash defenses at this level.

London Delivering What Falcons Expected

The early numbers are impressive enough. London began his debut campaign with five catches for 74 yards against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and followed up with eight more grabs for 86 yards and a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams.

More than the stats, London is delivering what receivers coach T.J. Yates said the Falcons wanted, per ESPN’s Michael Rothstein: “a big, physical receiver who could play inside the numbers.”

Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone have wasted no time using London and his 6’4″, 213-pound frame on in-breaking routes. The second play in this compilation of London’s catches against the Rams shows the big-bodied wideout work a slant underneath then break tackles and fight through traffic between the hashmarks:

The Falcons know how to use London’s size  across the middle, but the next step in making him more Jones-like has to involve turning the rookie loose vertically. That’s where London’s height, athleticism and cross-over skills will give him an advantage and produce the tough catches.

Making the difficult grabs is something that comes naturally to London because of his experience in another sport, according to Rothstein: “It’s a trait many tall receivers possess, but one London has already begun to master. His basketball background — he was a walk-on for USC’s basketball team as a freshman — helped, too, because of the similarities between boxing out for a rebound and bodying up one of those hated cornerbacks in the end zone.”

Expanding London’s route tree can help him reach the level Jones performed at for the majority of his Falcons career. Injuries eventually slowed the seven-time Pro-Bowler’s run of dominance until he was traded to the Tennessee Titans in 2021, a one-season experiment that ended with the 33-year-old catching on with Atlanta’s NFC South rival the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Playing in the same division will give Jones a front-row seat to watch the receiver already being primed to succeed him as the Falcons’ main man. That’s what Smith and Fontenot are hoping Jones sees, but they’ll also know it’s not too early to slow down the hype train.

London’s obviously a talent, one surrounded by some useful weapons, including tight end Kyle Pitts and all-purpose running back Cordarrelle Patterson. So before he can think about emulating Jones, London needs to stay focused on complementing Patterson and Pitts while exploiting any spaces they create for him.

Then the Falcons will win some games this season.