IRVING, Texas – Like many of you, I found it interesting that, when the NFL Network ran last week's segment of its Top 100 players, Julio Jones was voted ahead of Dez Bryant. The Falcons' star made the list at No. 13, while Bryant came in just behind at No. 15.
I have to admit that I had not studied much Atlanta tape from last season, so my views of Jones were only from those highlight shows that run after the games each Sunday night. With that in mind, I decided to grade some tape and judge the rankings for myself.
In both players you see a passion and love for the game in which they play. They compete no matter what the score is. They play with an extreme physical and mental toughness that other receivers don't have.
Jones shows more foot quickness and initial burst, which helps him in his separation while running routes, especially up the field. Where Bryant is equal to Jones is when routes are run inside -- such as slants or crossing underneath.
When there is no separation -- this is when Bryant has an advantage, because he is more accomplished making the contested play. Bryant is simply stronger when he has to deal with a defender in tight coverage and is more likely to come down with the ball in those situations.
Both players can be devastating finishing runs with the ball in their hands in the open field – so I would say that their physical strength is equal. Both have outstanding body control and balance, but where Bryant gets Jones is his ability to play the ball in the air.
There were snaps where Jones had opportunities to play over the top of a defender and he was unable to leap and judge the ball in flight, which gives Bryant an edge.
When it comes to route running and consistency of it, Jones has the advantage. Right now he has a much better feel for how to work defensive backs and set them up to get open. The best example of this I saw was when both receivers faced Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals last season. Peterson can be a handful to deal with due to his athletic ability and physical style, but Jones did a much better job of breaking him down and hitting him for some plays.
I realize that Bryant didn't have the advantage of his quarterback playing in the game, but he also didn't generate the space in that game that Jones was able to gain.
In the area of natural hands and the ability to catch in them, I give the nod to Bryant. Both receivers have shown the ability to be clutch and extend for the ball no matter where they are on the field, but Bryant's catch radius is better than Jones'. There were more of those special, adjusting plays in his game.
A play that stands out to me was against the Ravens where Matt Ryan threw a vertical route along the right sideline where the ball came down a little short. It was a play that I had seen Tony Romo throw dozens of times to Bryant and nine times out of ten he would come down with the ball. Jones was unable to make that play and in other games had some adjustment problems.
There was a point early during my study where I blurted out to David Helman and Nick Eatman that I thought the players were right in having Jones over Bryant – but the more I watched the less I believed that.
Both Dez Bryant and Julio Jones are dynamic players, but in this case the NFL players that voted Jones over Bryant for the show in my opinion missed the boat.