Offshore Sportsbooks give Antonio Brown and Julio Jones equal odds to lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2017 – neither of whom is a stranger to that achievement; Brown led the league in 2014 and Jones in 2015. Jones finished second in that department last year behind TY Hilton. The Atlanta Falcons wide receiver finished the 2016 season with 83 receptions for 1,409 yards – his third straight season with more than 1400 yards even though he missed two games – and six touchdowns. His 17.0 yards per reception and 10.9 yards per target were both career bests. Nonetheless, Jones could have his best season yet in 2017 thanks, albeit indirectly, to Steve Sarkisian.
Sarkisian took over as offensive coordinator for the Falcons in February following Kyle Shanahan’s appointment as the 49ers’ new head coach. Whenever there is a change in OC quarterback Matt Ryan falls back on his favorite target. For example, when Atlanta replaced Mike Mularkey with Dirk Koetter in 2012, Jones posted 1,198 receiving yards on 79 catches in his sophomore NFL year – earning him his first Pro Bowl nomination. The one things standing in Jones’s path – and the Falcons as a whole – is that dreaded Super Bowl hangover. Speaking of which, he only had four targets throughout the championship game – so will definitely enter next season with the proverbial chip on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, Brown had his fourth straight and fifth career 1,000-plus yard season in receiving yards and finished fifth in that category with 1,284. While Jones may be the best WR in the NFL, Brown is the highest paid one in the league. On February 27, he signed a new five-year extension deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers worth $68 million with a $17 million annual price tag. As Andrew Luck can attest, however, being the highest paid player in a certain position doesn’t make you the best at it.
Despite the above, and pace sportsbooks, the receiving game has changed and a longshot can make a killing provided he positions himself in the right place at the right time. Case in point, TY Hilton started last season with +3300 and wound up becoming the fifth Colt to to lead the NFL in receiving yards with 1,448 – which is actually a low figure, so it was most likely a case of Brown and Jones having a bad year than Hilton having a great one. Moreover, the last player to lead the league in receiving yards in back-to-back seasons was Calvin Johnson in 2011-2102.
Having established that, offshore sportsbooks give brand new New England Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks the same odds this year that Hilton had last season, and could very well become the new favorite target of arguably the best – and inarguably the sexiest – QB in the history of everything; Tom Brady. Cooks finished the 2016 season with a career-best 1173 yards but like Jones he could be gearing towards his best year yet, with the difference that the latter’s targets will be coming from Matty Ice – who as good as he is (and he is pretty damn good) is not Brady.