INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 19, 2015) – When Vontae Davis sizes up his next challenge, he doesn’t simply see Julio Jones, the Atlanta Falcons’ transcendent receiver.
The Indianapolis Colts’ Pro Bowl cornerback sees what amounts to an amalgamation of the best at the position. He already has dealt with the New York Jets’ Brandon Marshall, Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins.
“He presents a different challenge,’’ Davis said. “All of them are different receivers, but as far as specimen, by far he is the most specimen out of all of those guys.’’
Jones’ tale of the tape: 6-3, 220 pounds. His 40-yard clocking at the 2011 NFL Scouting combine: 4.39.
“He’s the total package,’’ Davis said. “Brandon Marshall (is) not as fast. He’s Brandon Marshall’s size with Sammy Watkins’ speed.”
“Like I told you, he’s a creative player. If you ask me, he’s probably all those guys in one.’’
And he’ll undoubtedly be Davis’ responsibility much of the time when the Colts visit the Falcons Sunday.
“At times there’s a situation where we’ll have Vontae shadow him,’’ defensive coordinator Greg Manusky acknowledged Thursday.
En route to being named to his first Pro Bowl in 2014, Davis almost exclusively was stationed on the right-side of the defensive formation. He ended the season having not allowed a touchdown pass in 24 consecutive games.
But since his breakout season, Davis frequently has been assigned the opponent’s top receiver threat.
Sunday, that’s Julio Jones.
“It’s a challenge,’’ Davis said, who’s had two interceptions during an uneven season while dealing with concussion, groin and foot issues. “You compete against the best, it brings the best out of you.’’
Rest assured, Jones’ body of work places him at or very near the top of the NFL’s receiving class. He ranks No. 1 in yards per game (114.3), receptions per game (8.8) and receptions (80). He’s No. 2 with 119 targets, 1,029 yards, 50 first downs generated and, perhaps most impressive, 392 yards after the catch.
Jones is on pace for 142 catches, which would fall 2 shy of eclipsing Marvin Harrison’s single-season record, and 1,829 yards, which would be the third-highest total in NFL history.
Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan is in the midst of a productive season – 2,702 yards, 12 touchdowns, a 92.4 passer taking – and it’s largely a result of his reliance on Jones. One-third of his attempts have been directed at the 2011 first-round draft pick and his passer rating when targeting Jones is a healthy 107.4.
“Those two probably work the best I’ve seen out of quarterback and receiver combination,’’ Davis said.
Like Davis, coach Chuck Pagano considers Jones a daunting task.
“The guy is a rare, rare talent,’’ he said. “Combination of height, weight and speed. For a long guy, he runs excellent routes. He can get in and out of breaks. He can beat you on shallow crossers, run away from you, run after the catch, can beat you at the line of scrimmage, take it deep.”
“It’s all hands on deck, so to speak, to just try to contain him because nobody has really had an answer for him yet.’’
The respect flows in both directions.
“It takes a certain kind of corner to know that he’s going to matchup with one guy the whole game and being comfortable playing both sides of the field,’’ Jones said of Davis. “I just think it’s his heart (that) sets him away from other corners in the league.’’