Good luck keeping up with Jones

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley gets a helmet bump from Julio Jones after his first NFL touchdown back in September. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley gets a helmet bump from Julio Jones after his first NFL touchdown back in September. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons Pro Bowl wideout stacks numbers, and shells out wisdom

Calvin Ridley is talking about Julio Jones, the mentor, and the Falcons rookie wide receiver explains how his elder teaches.

“Where I’ve got to be on my landmark to get him open, and there might be a route where he’s got to be on a landmark to get me open,” Ridley explains.

That odd word fits.

But much as Jones often deflects coverage away from his teammates, he doesn’t much care to talk about all his landmarks even as he keeps piling them up.

A couple games ago at Green Bay, he became the first NFL player to stack together five consecutive seasons of 1,400 or more receiving yards.

Last Sunday against the Cardinals he went for 82 more – with a touchdown – to become just the fifth player in league history to put up three seasons of 1,500 or more.

No wonder he was just tabbed to his sixth Pro Bowl.

Jones, 29, doesn’t seem impressed by that, nor that he’s just the fourth NFL wideout to put together three seasons combining 100 receptions and 1,500 yards.

He has 100 and 1,511 to land on these serious lists, the first one with Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Antonio Brown and Andre Johnson, and the second one minus Rice – who nonetheless is the only NFL player with four seasons of 1,500 yards.

Jones, though, deflects, and keeps it present tense when asked what all this fancy stuff means to him.

“Nah, man. For me, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities that I was given,” he said before practice on Thursday. “But my success comes from the offensive line doing a great job blocking, and Matt (Ryan) getting opportunities to go out there and make plays. . . .

“I understand you can play really good by yourself, but you can’t have success by yourself.”

With the Falcons scuffling to a 5-9 record, there probably hasn’t been as much talk around the league about Jones as there might be if the team were in the playoff hunt.

But some of this stuff is ridiculous.

Jones leads the NFL in receiving yards this season, and if he hits his per-game average of 107.9 in the final games at Carolina and Tampa Bay, he’d land on 1,737 yards, which would rank seventh in league history behind the record 1,964 that Calvin Johnson bagged for the Lions in 2012.

Jones’ 1,871-yard season in 2015 ranks No. 2, and his 48 career games with 100 or more receiving yards is No. 1 among active players.

Falcons fans may have come to expect such absurdity from the eighth year wideout, but head coach Dan Quinn actually still finds ways to be surprised by No. 11.

Since his hiring in 2015, Quinn’s never seen Julio finish with fewer than 83 receptions and 1,409 yards, which he did in 14 games in the Super Bowl season of 2016. In the coach’s first season in Atlanta, the former Alabama star put up career highs of 136 receptions and 1,871 yards.

“I had known he was really just a good player and had a lot of respect for him having coached against him. I thought he didn’t [get] the appreciation for how good he was and how explosive he was, so when I got here I was like, ‘Whoa! That would have definitely kept me up later,” Quinn explained.

“But at the end of it, what everyone has seen on the field, is how he goes after it at practice. The intent that he has on the practice field and the full speed reps that he took because those are the things that people don’t get to see.”

Actually, Jones’ work does not go unseen.

Ryan sees it all the time.

“I mean more so than anything, he is extremely consistent day to day. He has an incredible desire to be the absolute best player that he can be,” the quarterback said.

“I think even more so than all of his physical talent, I think that’s his strongest attribute is his willingness to work at all things, to take care of his body, to have his mind right and to have his physical skill set dialed in, week in and week out.”

Jones is not one to preach, but he’ll counsel on call and occasionally impart wisdom to younger receivers like Ridley and fellow rookie Russell Gage Jr.

It’s his way of paying forward.

“When I first came in, Roddy (White) had me. I took a little bit from (tight end) Tony Gonzalez,” he said. “Just at the end of the day trying to be me, finding my way, just taking what they know, some veteran guys having a lot of success in the league and incorporating it into my own lifestyle, and the way I play and my views and things like that.

“My role on mentoring the younger guys is we need everybody. ... It doesn’t matter their role, what year they are . . . and what they think of themselves. You’ve got to let them know we need everybody. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you’re a rookie,’ or ‘You play offensive line or fullback’ or something.”

Ridley, who has 56 receptions for 699 yards and eight touchdowns – compared with Jones’ rookie numbers of 54 receptions, 959 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games – takes counsel from Julio, and studies the way he goes about his job.

Hey, that’s a good guy to listen to and watch, given that Jones’ 10,565 career receiving yards aren’t far behind White’s franchise record 10,863 on 123 more catches.

The man can go deep on topic.

“He basically helps me learn when I need to do more, and when I don’t need to do more, when I’m trying to get open and when I’m trying to get somebody else open,” the rookie said. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever seen running full speed on all his routes.

“Say you got a go route, and he doesn’t look back until he gets to a certain [depth]. He’s very consistent at that, and that’s really, really, really, really hard to do.”

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