Statistically, Julio Jones was among the top receivers in the entire NFL last year and even though it was just his second season, it earned him a great deal of respect around the league. In this year's NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2013 list, voted on by players, Jones landed at No. 26 on the list, the sixth-highest wide receiver on the list.
Jones hit a number of career highs last season, including his 10 touchdowns, the highest on the team. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection and perhaps shined the brightest in the playoffs. His 182 receiving yards in the NFC Championship game set a franchise record and his 11 catches tied him with Roddy White for the most in a single playoff game in franchise history.
Jones was one of four players from the Falcons offense on the list, and since he's already one of the top players at his position at the age of 24, it's fair to wonder how good Jones can be.
VOTE: Matt Ryan!(/team/roster/matt-ryan/7ba8774b-4091-4142-a4c1-1ae868594c2a/ "Matt Ryan")'s Top Option - Jones or White?
He's adjusted to the NFL enough already that he's trying new things in the offseason to get better and Falcons assistant head coach and wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie said he thinks Jones has a chance to be the best in the league.
A quick look at the second-year performances of the receivers ahead of Jones on the Top 100 says Jones is right where he needs to be on his way to the top. The players ahead of him are already considered to be the best and their placement on the list is warranted, but a comparison of the production in those players' second seasons to Jones' recently-completed second season shows there's little standing in his way if he keeps improving.
Last season, Jones caught 79 passes for 1,198 yards with his 10 touchdowns. He averaged 15.2 yards per catch and had 17 plays of 20 yards or more.
The receiver Jones will forever be linked to is his 2011 draft classmate, Cincinnati's A.J. Green. This year Green landed at No. 16 on the Top 100, the third-overall receiver. He finished 2012 with 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 13.9 yards per catch and he had 16 plays of 20-plus yards.
At the top of the list, and No. 3 overall, is Detroit's Calvin Johnson. In his second season in '08 Johnson had 78 catches, 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 17.1 yards per catch and had 21 plays of 20-plus yards.
Andre Johnson from Houston was the second WR on the list, No. 14 overall. In his 2004 campaign he caught 79 passes for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 14.5 yards per catch and had 18 plays of 20 yards or more.
At No. 21 is Reggie Wayne and although he was a first-round pick by the Colts in 2001, his production in the Peyton Manning-led offense was a little slower developing than the others on this list. In 2002, he caught 49 passes for 716 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 14.6 yards per catch and had 11 plays of 20-plus yards.
Larry Fitzgerald from Arizona was just ahead of Jones on the list, checking in at No. 22. His second year was in 2005 and he paced the Cardinals with 103 catches for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 13.7 yards per catch and had 27 plays of 20 yards or more.
Jones' 27 catches of 25 yards or more in his first two seasons ranks him third in the NFL during that time and his 18 TDs since 2011 ranks tied for ninth in the league.
Jones' second season stacks up among the best and for that reason he's deserving of a spot on the list. Time will tell if he's the best, but he's well on his way to being in the conversation.