Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has a bright future in the NFL. To keep from jeopardizing that future, the Falcons need to make sure the second-year wideout is completely ready to return before pronouncing him ready to resume his starting role.
Jones injured his ankle in the first half of the team's loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 10, also the squad's first loss of 2012. He came back in the second half and finished with four catches for 75 yards and no touchdowns.
Right now, he's a game-time decision for Sunday.
With the state of ankle injuries always a driving force in team's medical training, the Falcons can afford to be patient with Jones' injury. They can't afford to rush him back and risk re-aggravation.
The Falcons will take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11. The Cardinals are 4-5, a sinking ship without Kevin Kolb and losers of five straight games after their improbable 4-0 start to the year.
They don't need Jones to beat the Cardinals, and even if the worst was to happen and the Falcons were to lose, an 8-2 record through Week 11 certainly won't have any baring on this team's ability to make the playoffs.
Atlanta needs to follow the protocol from another emerging star in this league—New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
The third-year man from Florida is considered to be an integral piece of the Patriots offense, yet hasn't played since October 21. Still nursing an ankle problem that has kept him in and out the lineup, he's just now up to running full speed, per Mike Gambardella.
If Hernandez doesn't play this week, he'll officially have missed more games than he will have played. And that's not a bad thing for the Pats, who've managed a 6-3 record without him despite all the problems in the secondary.
For Jones, it should be about getting healthy. For the Falcons, it should be about recognizing when competitiveness turns into stupidity. Every good player wants to be out there for his team, despite the long-term risks.
Now that Atlanta is in a Super Bowl-type position, it needs to think long term. It can start with Jones, who should rest his ankle if not fully healthy. Atlanta needs the big guns to run the table, and Jones is the biggest X-factor on this team come playoff time.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R and a member of the site's Breaking News Team.