Last week, ESPN's NFC South writers held a roundtable to discuss whether or not Julio Jones could reach 2,000 receiving yards in 2016 — an achievement no one has ever completed in the NFL. Jones came close last year, tallying a career-high 1,871 yards, and as someone still in his prime, the 2,000-yard plateau isn't out of reach for the three-time Pro Bowler.
None of the ESPN scribes predicted Jones would hit that milestone, although Jenna Laine (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) and Mike Triplett (New Orleans Saints reporter) conceded it's possible. Carolina Panthers reporter David Newton took a harder stance, saying, "That's a pretty tall order, so I'll go with no. Make that heck, no."
Newton's prediction may not be rosy, but it's logically sound. This is not because Jones isn't physically capable of such an accomplishment. Rather, it's because of the unusual circumstances he faced in 2015.
Last year, Matt Ryan targeted the star wideout 50 more times than any other year since they began playing together. Jones, unsurprisingly, finished atop the league in that category. Only three WRs (Rob Moore, Herman Moore, Marvin Harrison) have ever been targeted more in a season, according to Sporting Charts.
Given how rare it is to get that many opportunities, the odds are already stacked against Jones. We also have to consider the changes coming to Atlanta's offense. Mohamed Sanu, a physical receiver who is expected to rack up numbers in accordance with his new contract, should take some pressure off Jones. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper, despite just two years of college experience, has the raw tools needed to be a productive pass-catcher — especially in the red zone.
And Justin Hardy, who impressed during limited action as a rookie, figures to take on an important role as someone who can effectively work from the slot and move the chains. These three should allow Ryan to distribute the ball more evenly, which, as Kyle Shanahan explained in December, is better than leaning on one option.
"In the right scenario, a guy can get (2,000 yards), but you hope it doesn't happen, because you'd like to spread it around and be a little bit more balanced," Shanahan said. "But if we were committed to get him 2,000 yards, I mean, Julio can do that. That isn't necessarily a good thing, though, when it comes to wins and losses."
All factors considered, it'll be extremely difficult to pull off this feat. But when it comes to a talent like Jones, record-breaking performances are never impossible.
"The thing about it is it doesn't come up all that often because Julio's such a team first, humble guy that you would never hear it from him, but like I've said before, nothing's out of the realm of possibility with him," Ryan said. "He's such a stud and is capable of making so many plays that if it were to happen it'd be awesome."