Tough to keep up with Jones

  • By: Davd John
  • Last Updated: September 3 2012, 10:36 BST

Julio Jones looks set for a breakout year and should be backed to be the receiver to gain most yards in the NFL.

Julio Jones: Looks on the brink of a big season


2pts Julio Jones most regular season receiving yards at 18/1 (Blue Square, bet365).

2pts Victor Cruz most regular season receiving yards at 16/1 (Sky Bet, Coral).

You have got to love the chances of Julio Jones making a big splash in the NFL in 2012 so back him at 18/1 to be the receiver to rack up the most yards during the regular season.

The former Alabama standout is in his second year with the Atlanta Falcons and certainly caught the eye during his rookie campaign.

It is easy to argue that his first experience of the pros (like so many others) was not helped by the lengthy lockout as the game sorted out its finances, but he also suffered with a hamstring problem that saw him sidelined for three games in mid-season.

However, he still almost cracked the 1,000-yard barrier (959) and delivered five 100-yard games which included an 80-yard touchdown in the week nine victory over Indianapolis.

For a big man - Jones is 6-3 and 220lbs - he has tremendous speed to stretch a field and fans in the Georgia Dome will be licking their lips in anticipation that he can deliver those highlight reel plays on a consistent basis now back to 100 per cent health-wise.

The latter point certainly looks to be true as three pre-season outings have yielded 109, 41 and 90-yard displays at an average of 18.5 yards per catch.

There are two other salient issues to take into account which suggest Jones is set for the big breakout.

First-up, the Falcons have hired Dirk Koetter as their new offensive co-ordinator in the off-season and although they will remain keen to use workhorse running back Michael Turner, the development of a deep-ball dimension to use the speed of Jones will be paramount.

To that end, quarterback Matt Ryan has been on a conditioning programme over the summer to help boost his arm strength.

Secondly, Roddy White has been the go-to man for a number of seasons but some costly drops last year could see Jones usurp him as the number one receiver on the team.

Atlanta certainly mortgaged a big chunk of their future in their 5-for-1 trade in 2011 with Cleveland to get hold of Jones in the draft and now looks the perfect time for him to start repaying his part of the deal.

Familiar faces head the betting with market leader Calvin Johnson looking to follow-up his 2011 receiving title for the Detroit Lions.

Johnson surged to the top of the pile late in the day with two, 200-yard games from his final three starts, including 244 yards in that wild encounter against Green Bay in week 17.

Although, near to unplayable on his day, Johnson is just a 4/1 chance to go in once again.

Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson compete for second favouritism but although both are proven high-class operators, they do come with a significant question mark at the odds on offer.

Fitzgerald's chances have been hampered on the whole by the lack of quality at quarterback in Arizona since the retirement of Kurt Warner.

That looks like being an issue once again with punters having to weigh up whether to roll the dice and take a chance on John Skelton and/or Kevin Kolb proving themselves on a regular basis at this level.

Johnson topped the receiving charts in 2008 and 2009 but niggling injuries continue to blight his career and have seen him miss 12 games over the past two years.

He will be as delighted as anyone to see quarterback Matt Schaub back to full fitness but Johnson is now 31 and the wear and tear is taking a toll.

So it is 16/1 chance Victor Cruz who appeals as a second selection in this category for 2012.

He just scraped on to the New York Giants roster last year but then began a meteoric rise to a Super Bowl ring and a Pro Bowl appearance.

His 1,536 yards was good enough for third place overall and Cruz looks a legitimate candidate to take it all 12 months on.

The grounded and humble Cruz seems a rare commodity in the NFL these days - a player who participates for the love of the game rather than the resultant pay cheque.

Despite his stellar efforts, Cruz remains on his rookie contract and will be paid a trifling (in NFL terms) $540,000 for his efforts.

He turned up to training camps in fantastic shape and works hard on his fitness so it is easy to see why he has developed such a great rapport with Eli Manning.

To go with the work ethic and positive attitude, he seems to catch everything that comes in his direction and I have little doubt the financial rewards will eventually come his way.

Defences will be far more aware of his presence now - particularly after the departure of Mario Manningham for San Francisco - but Cruz has both the talent and approach to produce huge numbers once more.

  • Preview posted at 0945 BST on 03/09/2012.