Try to find historical comps for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and suddenly you’re looking at some of the best wide receivers in the history of the NFL.
Jones, against whom the New England Patriots will match up in Super Bowl LI next Sunday, is just 27 years old and already has four Pro Bowl and two first-team All-Pro selections on his resume. He’s totaled 497 catches for 7,610 yards with 40 touchdowns in just six NFL seasons. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Jones ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash during his pre-draft workout with a ridiculous 6.66-second 3-cone drill, 38.5-inch vertical leap, 11-foot, 3-inch broad jump and 4.25-second short shuttle.
The Patriots undoubtedly will have to double- and sometimes even triple-cover Jones in the Super Bowl. The entire Patriots secondary will have its hands full with him and must study him closely.
He won’t necessarily dominate the Patriots despite his elite skill, size and athleticism, however.
We looked at how the Patriots have fared against receivers like Jones since Bill Belichick was hired as head coach in 2000. We narrowed down the receivers they’ve faced to first-team All-Pros or Hall of Famers who are 6-feet or over because those are the receivers they treated most like Jones. The Patriots, for instance, wouldn’t treat a receiver like Demaryius Thomas as seriously as Jones.
Here are all of the players on that list: Jones, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Herman Moore, Muhsin Muhammad, Chad Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Torry Holt, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Josh Gordon.
The Patriots have allowed an average of five catches, 68 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game with a 56.6 percent catch rate to those 19 players who span 89 games. The Patriots are 66-23 in those matchups.
Included, of course, are players before and past their prime. So we took out games when players were rookies and years removed from All-Pro and Pro Bowl-caliber seasons. Using those criteria, the Patriots allowed 5.6 catches, 78.8 yards and 0.48 touchdowns per game with a 58.4 percent catch rate. The Patriots are 52-18 in those games.
Then we looked at the postseason.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Patriots have fared much better against receivers, using those same criteria, in the playoffs, when they’ve allowed 4.9 catches, 62.4 yards and 0.083 touchdowns per game and a 53.2 percent catch rate.
The Patriots have only allowed one playoff touchdown to any first-team All-Pro receiver standing 6 foot or taller. The Patriots have only allowed two 100-yard games to such players. Muhammad caught four passes on 10 targets for 140 yards with a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and Owens caught nine passes on 14 targets for 122 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Patriots held Harrison, Wayne, Holt, Brown and Rice to games under 50 yards.
The Patriots are 10-2 in those contests.
The Patriots actually have a higher winning percentage, using all criteria, when playing these elite wide receivers. It’s not just a myth that Belichick is a master of taking out a team’s best weapon.
Jones had a 300-yard game against the Carolina Panthers this season. The most yards the Patriots have allowed to a receiver since Belichick took over was 180 to Thomas in 2012. He didn’t make the list because of a lack of first-team All-Pro selections. Muhammad has the most receiving yards the Patriots have ever allowed in a playoff game. There have been 123 receiving performances of over 180 yards league-wide since 2000, and Belichick and the Patriots have given up none of them.
It will take a group effort, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Jones neutralized despite having 15 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns in two games this postseason.
Thumbnail photo via Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY Sports Images