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Super Bowl LI: Why Bill Belichick told the Falcons NOT to draft WR Julio Jones

The Patriots head coach told the Falcons front office to draft a different receiver. Here’s why.

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones has a pretty solid claim to being The Best Wide Receiver in Football, but if New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had his way, Jones wouldn’t even be a member of the Falcons.

In Michael Holley’s book War Room, Belichick told Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff to not trade up and draft Jones, but instead select a different player.

“After some general draft conversation, Dimitroff and Belichick get into the specifics of the Falcons-Browns trade,” Holley writes.

“‘Thomas, I’m just telling you as a friend,’ Belichick says, ‘I wouldn’t do it.’

“Belichick has a couple good reasons for his analysis and he’s willing to share. He often says that the primary job of a receiver is to simply get open and catch the ball, and he doesn’t like what he sees from Jones in either department. He thinks the receiver struggles to get open on intermediate routes, doesn’t play as fast as his superb timed speed suggests, and too often displays inconsistent hands. There’s also the issue of value. When Belichick began studying the 2011 draft, he saw great depth at the receiver position. Why go all-out for someone like Jones when you can likely have a Jonathan Baldwin, who, as far as Belichick can see, is just as good if not better than Jones? If Belichick wanted even more insight on Jones, he could always ask the receiver’s head coach, Nick Saban, the two-time national championship winner who was Belichick’s first defensive coordinator in Cleveland. But Belichick had seen enough on his own without going to Saban for an additional report.”

Woof. Belichick gets pretty much everything wrong here in his evaluation of Jones.

  1. Jones is currently one of the 10 best receivers in the NFL at generating separation.
  2. Jones also ranks in the top 10 in most yards before the catch (min. 30 receptions), meaning he’s producing down the field.
  3. Jones flashes his hands by ranking in the top 5 of contested catches and only dropping 2.3% of his targets this year.
  4. Even Belichick has to admit that Jones has incredible playing speed, calling the Falcons “either as fast or faster than probably what the average speed of their position is in the league.”
  5. Former Patriots VP of player personnel Scott Pioli did what Dimitroff didn’t and listened to Belichick’s advice. Pioli selected Baldwin 26th overall for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2011 Draft. Baldwin lasted just two years in Kansas City before he was shipped to the San Francisco 49ers. Baldwin lasted three years in the NFL.
  6. Baldwin has 607 career yards and 2 career touchdowns. Jones has 559 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns if you combine his two most productive games in the NFL.
  7. How can Belichick not ask Saban about a prospect? Shouldn’t that be #1 on his to-do list of scouting an Alabama player? If Belichick lets himself get talked into drafting Jermaine Cunningham after a conversation with Urban Meyer, why the heck is he not talking to Saban?

This is all a pretty revealing study into Belichick’s scouting of receivers. Sure, his idea of “value” makes sense because the Falcons gave up an arm and a leg to draft Jones, and the Falcons went 18-30 from 2013-15 after having poor depth. But the Falcons are on the up-and-up and they’ve been able to supplement their drafting with quality additions in free agency, and the missing draft picks are in the rearview- and now they have Julio to play with.

And while Dimitroff clearly trusts Belichick’s scouting ability, there’s something to be said about the receivers the Patriots drafted with early picks prior to the 2011 draft. The stretch of Bethel Johnson (2nd round, 2003), Chad Jackson (2nd round, 2006), Brandon Tate (3rd round, 2009), and Taylor Price (3rd round, 2010) is not something for Belichick to hang his hat upon as a talent evaluator.

The Falcons clearly made a better evaluation of Jones’ talent, even if the ultimate trade value might not make sense. I’m sure the Falcons are happy to have Jones on their roster right now, and Jones will want to make sure Belichick knows his 2011 scouting report was rubbish.