FLOWERY BRANCH — Julio Jones seems to have little doubt that the Atlanta Falcons’ offense can return to its prowess from a season ago. But he’s not predicting new breakout players or magnificently different approaches in the offense.
Jones shared a few of the items his receiving corps has been working on this offseason. And while improving an offense that scored 33.8 points per game sounds thrilling, Jones’ news didn’t carry a lot of oomph to it.
He did, however, shed some light on a hot topic.
One of the bigger off-the-field questions from the offseason revolved around an historically prolific offense and how it would react to former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving for San Francisco. Could new OC Steve Sarkisian come in a keep pace, and what changes would he make.
Everything the team has said makes us think not much will change with Sarkisian. New wrinkles, not new schemes and sets.
One of those new wrinkles, according to Jones, is about new roles for a few receivers.
Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel combined for 1,232 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through the air last season as the Nos. 2 and 3 pass-catching threats behind Jones. With 33 first downs (second on the team behind Jones) and an 11.1 yards-per-catch average, Sanu was the short- to medium-route option that moved chains.
Gabriel caught six touchdowns and averaged 16.5 yards per catch. He was an over-the-top threat any time he ran a route.
“Those guys can be the best receivers in the league at what they do,” said Jones on Saturday. “For him [Sanu], he’s already great at something. He’s just got to work at other things now, like deep threats; being a deep threat, which he can do. Last year we didn’t show a lot of that for him.”
Six of Sanu’s 59 receptions were for 20 yards or greater; his long was 59 yards.
“Taylor Gabriel,” Jones continued, “his thing is, he’s a deep-ball threat for us. He needs to work on smaller, intermediate routes.”
Almost 23 percent of Gabriel’s receptions (35) went for 20 yards or greater.
If Sanu can turn into a deep-threat option and Gabriel can run and churn yardage on shorter routes, opposing defenses may have trouble adapting. That’s the point, per Jones.
“Everybody, we’re all just trying to work on everything and not have a weakness,” said Jones. “[We’re tyring to avoid] ‘Oh, when this guy is in, he’s just a go-ball runner.’
The Falcons enjoyed 13 different receivers hauling in touchdown passes in 2016. Sarkisian may not be reinventing the wheel by asking Sanu and Gabriel to learn how to flourish at different route depths, but he’s is adding more variances to an offense that was the most versatile in the league.
[Listen to the entire interview with Julio Jones by clicking above.]