Jones had 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season. Edelman had 98 catches for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns. In the playoffs, Jones has 15 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns. In the Pats’ playoff wins over Houston and Pittsburgh, Edelman had 16 catches for 255 yards and one touchdown.
“Both of them are really good blockers,” Quinn said. “Both will do the dirty work to get their matchups going. Past that, Julio has the size and length to go up top. That’s different. Both of them are unique and really true to their styles. Both offenses use them in that way.”
The two took different paths to NFL stardom.
Jones, a big-time recruit coming out of high school in Foley, Ala., went on to star for the Crimson Tide. The Falcons traded five draft picks to move up 21 spots in the 2011 draft to select Jones sixth overall.
His college experience helped to shape Jones’ professional approach.
“Just playing under Coach (Nick) Saban, he had us prepared all the time for big games like this,” Jones said. “You can’t take any short cuts. It’s a process. You have got to put the work in and don’t make the game bigger than you and the team. You just have to continue to keep putting the work in one day at a time.”
Edelman played in junior college before landing at Kent State, where he was three-year starter at quarterback for the Golden Flashes.
He was selected in the seventh round of the 2009 draft and converted to a wide receiver. He would advise kids to take his circuitous route to the pros if asked.
“I would tell them to go out and try and find their talent,” Edelman said. “If it is their dream, ignore noise, ignore what everyone is going to say and think about what you have to do to make your craft as best as possible. Put the effort in and you’ve got to be relentless. If you really want it, you got to go out and get it. So that is what I would say to them.”
The Falcons suspect the Patriots will attempt to take Jones away from the offense.
“Julio understands the team part of that,” Falcons assistant head coach/wide receivers Raheem Morris said. “He understands that his team has to be there for him. He understands that his time will come. Everybody spends time trying to take him out of the game but, you know, he needs very few plays to be explosive.”
Morris pointed out that during the regular season, Jones followed up a 16-yard game versus New Orleans with a 300-yard game against Carolina.
“If it falls on Julio’s shoulders, he’s ready for the challenge,” Morris said. “If his guys step up, he’ll have the same level of excitement as if he won the game.”
Jones is expecting to face New England cornerback Malcolm Butler at times.
“Malcolm Butler is a great cornerback,” Jones said. “For me, this game is bigger than me and him. It’s the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.”
He anticipates that Butler will get some help from a safety for part if not all of the game.
“It’s something I’ve been dealing with a few years since I’ve been in the league,” Jones said. “Guys have been doubling me. They try to take me away.
“We have a great ball club here and I have a great (wide receiver) cast with (Mohamed) Sanu, (Taylor) Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson, Eric Weems and Justin Hardy. Those guys can step up and make plays.”
Edelman has had to win over his toughest critic: quarterback Tom Brady.
“I think it is just what we are passionate about,” Edelman said of his relationship with Brady. “We both love our families, football and when you combine those and the hours that we put in together, (a personal relationship) is just going to naturally happen, I guess. That is how that goes.”
While Edelman is the Patriots’ top receiver, Chris Hogan had 180 yards receiving against Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.
“We definitely have a bond,” Edelman said. “We have a room that has a group of guys that like to work, that are dedicated to making their craft better. Not just with receiving and catching, but competing within the run game.
“So anytime you have those types of guys together, that is kind of how we want our room. Every guy in that room is a team guy. Mentally tough, physically tough and you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Edelman knows the Falcons want to slow him down and will be looking to level him on his crossing routes.
“I don’t necessarily really focus on that,” Edelman said. “I focus on not what they feel or where their pride is going, but where their mind is going towards the game and how they are going to react to things we do.”
In retrospect, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff would make the trade for Jones again in a split second.
“Look, in the end, here’s what happened. We were in a spot where we knew that we wanted an extremely explosive football player that was going to potentially keep defenses on their heels, whether he caught four balls or whether he caught 14 balls,” Dimitroff said. “I had a really good relationship with (former Browns GM) Tom Heckert at the time. I’m a firm believer in this league, you can’t get deals done if you don’t have a good working relationship potentially with other general managers.
“We talked a lot about it and the compensation again was stout. I knew that and I was ready for it. The organization was ready for it. Luckily (team owner) Arthur Blank was ready for it and it was an organizational decision.”
Dimitroff contends that Jones is one of the best, if not the best, player player in the league.
“We love watching him on the field every game we get an opportunity to see him,” Dimitroff said.