Julio Jones vs. Calvin Ridley: Who will have the bigger season in 2021?

Julio Jones has been traded from the Atlanta Falcons to the Tennessee Titans. He now pairs with A.J. Brown to give Tennessee one of the most formidable wide receiver duos in football. But in Atlanta, Jones coupled with Calvin Ridley to provide the Falcons with one of the best pair of receivers in the NFL. So, let’s compare Jones against his former partner in crime.

Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers in NFL history

Jones has enjoyed an incredible career, and he’s the prototype wide receiver. There is a strong argument that only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss should rank ahead of Jones on the all-time greatest wide receiver list.

No one in history has averaged more receiving yards per game than Jones. In fact, it isn’t even close. Calvin Johnson’s second-best 86.1 yards per game over his Hall of Fame career is still drastically behind Jones’ 95.5. And think about this — Jones played many of those 135 games dealing with injuries (usually to his foot) and coming in and out of the game or even leaving early.

The Falcons moved all the way up in 2011 to draft Jones

In the 2011 NFL Draft that was loaded with high-end talent, the Falcons moved all the way from the 27th selection in the first round to No. 6 overall because they were so enamored with the University of Alabama superstar. That aggressive decision obviously worked out well for the Falcons.

Again, Jones is the prototype at the position. At his Combine, he measured in at just under 6’3″ and weighed in at 220 pounds with a robust build. His 40-yard dash time was below 4.4, but how about this: Jones posted a 42″ vertical jump and an 11’7″ long jump with a broken bone in his foot!

What are the Titans getting in Julio Jones?

Jones went on to enjoy an amazing career, but what is he right now as a player?

We know that injuries have been an issue for Jones for some time now. But we also must give him credit for consistently playing through pain. He might not have the pure blazing speed he once did, but Jones is still a very powerful long strider. Even at 32 years old, he is capable of pulling away from defenders in the open field.

He is a stellar route runner with sure hands and the ability to set up defensive backs. Jones is also fantastic after the catch and scores a lot of his touchdowns from a long distance. Speaking of touchdowns, it is a little odd that he has only reached double-digit receiving touchdowns once (2012) and has just 60 career receiving touchdowns total on his résumé.

Despite his size and excellent leaping ability, Jones never stood out as a top jump-ball receiver. But that might be the only facet of receiver that Jones wasn’t amongst the best in the league. And yet, while he isn’t quite at that level right now, Jones isn’t all that far off.

The question for the Titans is just how much football will they get out of the future Hall of Famer, and will that output exceed what they paid for him in future draft capital and salary cap space?

Calvin Ridley is ready to be Atlanta’s WR1

Ridley, another great Alabama receiver, was Atlanta’s first-round pick (26th overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft and is now entering the prime years of his NFL career. His body type doesn’t resemble Jones’, but few do.

Ridley is much leaner and not the power player his Falcons and Crimson Tide predecessor is. Nevertheless, Ridley has terrific speed and even better body control. He is an elite route runner and already a master craftsman at using subtle movements to set up defenders. Ridley changes speed very well and makes the stem of his route look the same no matter what he is running.

Ridley proved he can do it without Jones

Since entering the league, Ridley has been very impressive. On the one hand, he’s also had the benefit of having Jones on the other side of him.

Generally, every defense focused on doing what they could to shut down Jones instead of rolling coverages in Ridley’s direction. Still, Ridley kept improving and broke out in 2020. He excelled even when Jones was out of the lineup and finished the year with 90 catches for 1,374 yards and 9 touchdowns despite missing one game.

Moreover, Ridley was double-teamed quite a bit over the course of the season. That includes a zero-reception performance against the Green Bay Packers in a game that he shouldn’t have even dressed for.

Ridley was exceptional in all areas of the field and is a much better deep threat than many tend to realize. He is an elite separator vs. man coverage or zone. There is little doubt that Ridley can handle being a true No. 1 receiver. Furthermore, Matt Ryan and the entire Falcons’ offense should benefit from the massive mismatches that their new first-round receiving threat, Kyle Pitts, will instantly provide.

Hopefully, Ridley goes on to have even a semblance of the career that Jones has made for himself. But what if we had to pick just one of these great wide receivers today? For right now — and this might not hold up for much longer — Jones is still the superior player of the two. But barely.

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