Julio Jones to the 49ers?
Once upon a time, Kyle Shanahan was merely in his thirties coordinating the Atlanta Falcons offense. In Shanahan’s Falcons tenure, Shanny helped orchestrate an NFC Championship victory, fuel the non elite quarterback Matt Ryan to win an MVP, and create historical wide receiver success for the legendary Julio Jones who obtained 1,871 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. Shanahan is now driving the engine for the San Francisco 49ers and he’s missing the elite explosion that he once had, particularly at wide receiver.
The 49ers head coach has impressive weapons on his offensive unit, but these aren’t “well established” or elite commodities. Brandon Aiyuk will likely be a 1,000 yard WR, but he’s not near the caliber of a Top 5 WR or a player that will attract consistent double coverage. Deebo Samuel is an exciting component to the offense with his yards after the catch ability, but he’s carried injury issues in his first two years in the league. The 49ers truly hold two explosive and promising WRs with Aiyuk and Samuel, but these aren’t wideouts that can be 1,300+ yard profiles or 12+ touchdown players.
When the 49ers aren’t an avalanche of injuries, they could return to the playoffs with their current weapons on the perimeter and even Jimmy Garoppolo at QB. Yet, the 49ers are built to and are aimed to obtain the Lombardi trophy now. We’ve witnessed the 49ers fall short to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, largely due to the offense stalling in the second half. The 49ers divisional rival Los Angeles Rams also engineered a masterful season performance with modest weapons, only to oust three points in a Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. The 49ers need to add the final piece to the puzzle — the Falcons All-Pro WR that can take the offense to the next level and provide a spark against “cream of the top” competition.
Jones is still a very high-end wide receiver for the Falcons. Jones recorded 1,677 receiving yards in 2018, then produced 1,394 yards in 2019, and Jones averaged 85.7 YPG from his nine games in 2020 — which equates to 1,371 yards in a 16 game slate. Jones’s 16 game estimated yard tally last season would have placed him sixth in the league behind Davante Adams/Calvin Ridley who notched 1,374 yards. Jones also had a very impressive 75% catch rate last season, which was a personal career-high. In the red zone, the superstar WR has been a force over the past few seasons, as well — Jones produced 14 receiving touchdowns between 2018 and 2019 (career-high over a two-year span). Jones still has the juice, catching ability, and mentality to be elite at 32 years old.
The 49ers have the cap space to reel in an expensive asset like Jones. They currently sit ninth in the league in cap space (roughly $18 million). The 49ers are not in a rebuild mode for drafting Trey Lance. Lance will be the favorite to start if he digests the playbook well, so the rookie will be an upgrade over Jimmy G — who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl. Lance and a healthy roster can revive the 49ers and return the team back to winning the playoff dance. Shanahan just needs to add a familiar sprinkle on top of his motivated roster and let the rest of the league be in awe.