Julio Jones vs. Josh Norman: Who wins on Sunday?


Julio Jones, Atlanta’ great wide receiver, will face Carolina’s cornerback Josh Norman, who has had a breakout season for the Panthers on Sunday. Who wins?

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Julio Jones has been one of the two highest graded wide receivers along with Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown all year long. Jones sits atop the wide receivers rankings with a 98.5 grade, slightly ahead of Brown’s 97.8 entering Week 14.

Jones has already eclipsed the 1,000 receiving yards threshold in 2015, but will have his toughest man-to-man challenge of the year when he has to go up against the vastly improved cornerback that is Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers.

-= Related: Atlanta Falcons: NFC Power Rankings, Week 14 =-

Norman boasts a 91.3 grade and has been an emerging star in the lethal Carolina Panthers defense. His name is becoming as synonymous with it like linebackers Luke Kuechly and former Georgia Bulldog Thomas Davis.

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Quarterbacks have a passer rating of 39.9 when throwing in Josh Norman’s direction. For a while it was statistically better to spike the football every down than to target Norman’s side of the field. Pro Football Focus marks him as the second most valuable impending defensive free agent of the 2016 class, behind only the Denver Broncos’ passing rushing beast that is outside linebacker Von Miller. He grades out at 92.2 through Week 13.

In a clash of the titans out on an island in Charlotte, North Carolina, who gets the best of the other in 2015: Atlanta Falcons lethal wideout Julio Jones or Carolina Panthers shutdown corner Josh Norman?

This season, Josh Norman has only had to go against two of PFF’s Top 10 graded wideouts so far. Norman’s Panthers at 12-0 obviously beat DeAndre Hopkins‘ Houston Texans (No. 5) and Allen Robinson‘s Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 10). He has yet to face the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones (No. 1) and the New York Giants Odell Beckham, Jr. (No. 8).

Realistically, Josh Norman’s last four assignments of 2015 are going to stand as his most difficult. Julio Jones twice, Odell Beckham, Jr., and either Vincent Jackson or Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Outside of the Bucs previously and the two talented wideouts in the AFC South, Norman hasn’t gone against the crème de la crème of NFL receivers .

What aids Norman is that the front seven of the Carolina Panthers is absolutely ridiculous. The things that Kuechly and Davis do at the linebacker for Carolina is second to no one and the Panthers almost always have a ferocious front four. 2015 is no different. Where Carolina is typically exposed defensively is in the secondary and teams would often take advantage of that. Now that Josh Norman is playing out of his mind, that further complicates how opposing offenses choose to attack the Panthers.

Are the Atlanta Falcons going to beat a team in the Carolina Panthers that hasn’t lost a regular season game in over a calendar year on the road in a major NFC South rivalry game? Probably not, but with how reliant Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is on Julio Jones in the passing game should give Julio the slight edge on Sunday in Charlotte.

Could Norman pick off Ryan at least once? I’m expecting it, but Jones will get his catches on Sunday. Julio Jones’ unique ability to stretch the field vertically, possession receive, and make plays with his feet in space, make him a one-of-a-kind wideout in the NFL today.

Next: Matt Ryan: Can he recover or is he on the decline?

Sunday will mark the first of two great man-on-man matchups between the Atlanta Falcons’ star wide receiver and the Carolina Panthers’ cornerback on a meteoric rise like no other. Expect both players to grade out well on Sunday according to Pro Football Focus. Julio Jones may have the better day against Josh Norman on Sunday, but that won’t decide the game for the Falcons. Atlanta is a major underdog to Carolina on the road in Week 14. Rise Up!