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Is Julio Jones Still A Top WR?

  • The Draft Network
  • December 20, 2021
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The Tennessee Titans continue to struggle mightily on the offensive side of the ball. The absence of superstar running back Derrick Henry alongside elite receiver A.J. Brown has fatally wounded one of the league's most exciting units. The latest example of how badly quarterback Ryan Tannehill misses his playmakers was witnessed on Sunday as the Titans blew a double-digit second-half lead to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ultimately pulled out a crucial 19-13 victory. It goes down as Tennessee's third loss in their last four contests. Throughout that timeframe, Tennessee has fumbled an astounding 14 times, having lost seven of them. Including interceptions, Tennessee has turned the ball over 13 times in three defeats. It's not exactly a recipe for success.

But one player, in particular, has failed to meet expectations. Future Canton-bound receiver Julio Jones was acquired in the offseason in a blockbuster trade that saw Tennessee send a 2022 second-rounder and a 2023 fourth-rounder to Atlanta in exchange for the seven-time Pro Bowler. Jones was expected to form somewhat of a "Big Three" in Tennessee alongside Henry and Brown. It's been a disaster, as the 32-year-old Jones can't stay on the field and appears to have little to nothing remaining in the tank. 

Jones' presence was intended to make life difficult on opposing defenses, placing them in a "pick your poison" scenario between focusing their attention on the passing game (that also includes Brown) or trying to stifle Henry and Tennessee's record-breaking running game. With Henry and Brown both unexpectedly on the sidelines, the need for Jones to step up has been dire. Not only has Jones failed to elevate a banged-up offense by helping his quarterback, but he can't even stay on the field. 

Jones' first year in Tennessee feels an awful lot like his last in Atlanta. Recurring hamstring issues have plagued both his play and availability. In 2020, Jones was limited to just nine appearances in his final presentation as a Falcon due to the aforementioned hamstring injury. Tennessee's line of thinking when acquiring him was fair. An offseason to heal a common hamstring injury was enough for general manager Jon Robinson to take the plunge in a win-now window for his Titans. The trade has thus far backfired horribly. Jones' hamstring continues to sideline him at the worst of times. 

Jones spent the first half of the season entering and exiting games on a weekly basis. Tennessee eventually decided to shut Jones down. He was placed on injured reserve prior to Week 10. Jones then missed the next three games, as the new injured reserve rules indicate he must, and returned for a Week 14 date against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones was ultimately given four weeks to rest his hamstring, having missed the required three games, with Tennessee's bye week sandwiched in-between. Jones only made it through a game and a half before reinjuring his hamstring in Sunday's defeat to the Steelers. He was held catchless against Pittsburgh and recorded just 33 yards against the Jaguars in Week 14. 

All in all, Jones has appeared in eight of a possible 14 contests, but he’s struggled to see those games through from start to finish. He has just 25 receptions and 369 receiving yards to his name. He hasn't scored a touchdown in more than 400 days. Jones was never much of a touchdown scorer even in the prime of his career, but going 400-plus days without a score is rather appalling for anybody, especially a player of Jones' stature.

Where Jones and the Titans go from here is anybody's guess. He'll almost certainly miss Thursday's upcoming crucial contest against the San Francisco 49ers given the setback he encountered on Sunday. Placing Jones on injured reserve would end his campaign, being that a second stint on IR disallows a player from returning in the same season. Tennessee won't take that route unless there's zero hope he can return in time for the postseason. Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel will continue to "manage" Jones' reps in hopes of having him available for a playoff run to Super Bowl LVI.

It’s not all bad. Both Brown and Henry are expected back in time for the postseason, with the former set to return either this week against San Francisco or next week against Miami. All signs point to Henry being back for Tennessee's first playoff game. These two dynamite talents will usher the Titans forward. Offensively, Tennessee's postseason success will ultimately be determined by the overall effectiveness and health of Brown and Henry. They can no longer count on Jones to make any impact whatsoever.

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