The best receiver in the NFL will be on the league’s greatest stage Sunday in Houston as Julio Jones and the Falcons face the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Jones’ status as the league’s top pass catcher could be debated alongside a select few wideouts, but the numbers don’t lie. His 109.1 yards per game over the past four seasons are tops among his peers. Ditto for his targets per game (11.1), and his 7.3 receptions per contest in that span were a close second to the Steelers’ Antonio Brown.
Jones, who turns 28 on Friday, never was more dominant than against the Panthers in Week 4. He torched the defending NFC champions for 12 catches, 300 yards and a touchdown to become the sixth man to gain at least that many receiving yards in a game.
But Jones isn’t the only threat in the receiving corps. Mohamed Sanu caught 65 passes for 705 yards and six touchdowns in the 16 regular- and postseason games the pair played together. Taylor Gabriel increased during the season’s second half, giving Atlanta three capable receivers alongside superb pass-catching running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
The Patriots’ positional group isn’t as flashy, but they’ve proved just fine for Tom Brady to target.
Julian Edelman is far and away the top weapon now that Rob Gronkowski, the league’s best tight end, is sidelined. Since Gronk went down in Week 12, Edelman has been targeted more than twice as often (83) as next closest teammate Chris Hogan (39). For his part, Hogan leads the team with four touchdowns — two in the AFC Championship Game — and 17.6 yards per catch since losing Gronkowski.
New England uses running backs James White and Dion Lewis to catch passes as well.
Martellus Bennett is one of the better receiving tight ends in football despite being second-best on the Pats to Gronk (when healthy). He’s a more of a threat than his Falcons counterpart, Austin Hooper.
BY THE NUMBERS
Patriots TEAM Falcons
Julian Edelman NAME Julio Jones
8 SEASONS 6
18 GAMES 16
114 RECEPTIONS 98
182 TARGETS 149
75.6 YDS/GM 103.5
11.9 YDS/CATCH 16.9
4 TDS 9