HOUSTON - As it turns out, Odell Beckham Jr. will get a chance to be at the Super Bowl for the first time. Unfortunately for the Giants’ flamboyant receiver, who makes as much news with his behavior as with his catches, it will be as a television analyst.
Instead, the best receiver to make it onto the field for Sunday’s Super Bowl LI between the Patriots and Falcons will be Julio Jones, whose understated demeanor is the opposite of Beckham’s.
Call him the anti-Beckham.
“I think he has a different personality,” Cris Carter, himself a charismatic receiver during a Hall of Fame career, said of Jones. “What he’s seeking from being an athlete, he’s seeking to be the best and compete against the best.”
Not that Beckham and others in the “Hey, look at me” mold, including Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, don’t want to be the best and compete against the best. But Jones prefers to go about his mission in a much more muted fashion. He’s not big on endorsements and doesn’t engage in social media with the same intensity and frequency as Beckham and Brown do. He communicates more with his play, not his Twitter account.
“I don’t know what those guys do when they are off the field,” Jones replied to a question about avoiding the controversy that surrounds Beckham and Brown. “But for me, throughout the season, I just want to be with my brothers. We’re just bonding, doing things together.”
Carter said it started with Jones at a young age.
“It started in high school when he was a top player, a five-star, and he decided to go to Alabama,” said Carter, an NFL analyst and talk show participant for Fox Sports. “He took the hardest road compared to a lot of guys who take the easy road and go someplace where they’re gonna throw the ball a whole bunch. He decided to put his talent into the hands of Nick Saban, and I think that speaks to who Julio is. Given today’s age, with what we’re going through with a lot of negative publicity for wide receivers, Julio is totally the opposite.
“He’s a lot like Calvin Johnson, a lot like Larry Fitzgerald, as far as being the hardest worker in the building,” Carter said. “He’s the first to get there and the last to leave. He’s a consummate pro and has improved steadily as he’s been in the league.”
The Falcons swung a blockbuster trade to get Jones in the 2011 draft, with general manager Thomas Dimitroff moving up 21 spots to No. 6 overall — against the advice of his former boss Bill Belichick. “Thomas, I’m just telling you as a friend. I wouldn’t do it,” Belichick told Dimitroff, a former Patriots executive, according to Michael Holley’s book, “War Room.”
Belichick didn’t think it was worth trading two first-round picks, a second-rounder and two fourth-round choices over two drafts to get a receiver. Even a receiver with Jones’ upside. But here are the Falcons, one win away from their first Super Bowl trophy, and here is Jones, proof that Dimitroff’s gambit was worth the price.
The 6-3, 220-pounder is on a Hall of Fame trajectory through his first six seasons, with 7,610 yards, 40 touchdowns and an astonishing 96.3 yards per game. In two playoff games this season, he had 15 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s really just football,” Jones said of his focus. “You have to take care of yourself, eat right, get your proper rest, and everything will take care of itself.”
His teammates love the vibe.
“When you think about a player like Julio, you don’t think his work ethic would be as good, but he works as hard as a practice squad dude,” receiver Taylor Gabriel said. “That pushes everybody else to work hard, too. It helps.”
“He’s definitely quiet, but he leads by example,” running back Tevin Coleman said. “He’s always getting his teammates prepared. It takes a lot of character for him not to be as selfish and not worry about himself. He’s a team player, and you have to respect that.”
The bottom line about the soft-spoken Jones, according to Coleman: “His game speaks for itself.”