Let’s make something very clear – there is a difference between “most productive” (Antonio Brown) and “best at their position” (Julio Jones). These two distinctions rarely overlap, but it is possible that one player is the best at his/her position and also the most productive player in his/her respective league.
With that being said, Julio Jones is the best wide receiver in the NFL.
To illustrate this more clearly, let’s use Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan as examples. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ranks first in all-time points scored, third in total rebounds, and third in blocks. He also has played more minutes than any player in NBA history. By all accounts, he is the most productive player the NBA has ever seen. However, Abdul-Jabbar is rarely considered the best player of all time.
Why is that?
By contrast, nearly every “expert” chalks up Michael Jordan as the best NBA player we’ve ever seen. Michael Jordan is fourth in all-time points and third in all-time steals. In no other “major statistical category” does Michael Jordan crack the top ten.
So why do we consider MJ the G.O.A.T?
Most people cite his mental toughness, clutch, ability to take over games, perfect NBA finals record (6/6), intangibles, defense, and drive. MJ never settled. The top of the mountain wasn’t good enough.
How does this pertain to Julio Jones and Antonio Brown? You must first understand that there is a difference between “most productive” player and “best” player.
In Brown’s eight years since entering the league, especially the last four, he has been the most productive wide receiver on the planet and it isn’t even close.
Antonio Brown makes NFL history with yet another 100-reception season. pic.twitter.com/EIT5GQxdVp
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) December 17, 2017
He is the only receiver EVER to eclipse that mark. According to Pro Football Focus, the last three seasons have been extremely close when looking at overall grades per each receiver.
Antonio Brown vs. Julio Jones
Who’s the best in the league? pic.twitter.com/GMemCfwJQm
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 12, 2017
Obviously, this leaves out the 2017 season. However, over that three-year span, Antonio Brown grades out as a 92.4 and Julio Jones grades out as a 93.1. So, by Pro Football Focus standards, Julio Jones is the overall better receiver.
Additionally, Jones (for the third consecutive year) recorded over three yards per route run which is the highest in the NFL.
The most productive WRs on a per-route basis pic.twitter.com/yjzqoYmRiP
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 20, 2018
What this means is Jones records more yards per route run than any other receiver.
So why doesn’t Julio put up the same numbers that AB does?
Over the 2017 season, Antonio Brown averaged 11 targets a game while Jones averaged eight. Crazy enough, both receivers caught 61.8% of the passes thrown to them. Knowing that Jones records more yards per route run than any other receiver, think about the damage he would do if he averaged 11 targets a game like AB?
When all things are considered equal (coaches, quarterback, offensive line, running back, etc.), Julio Jones is the best option in the wide receiver department. Physically, he can do things that Brown cannot. He is a better run blocker, he is more physical in his route running, he has a bigger catch radius, he’s faster, and jumps higher.
While Brown has the edge in route running and soft hands, I’m not sure that he does anything else better than Jones.
If the NFL allowed for a free agent draft for the 2018 season, how is Julio Jones not the first wide receiver taken?