In early December, the Pro Bowler developed a serious case of "turf toe" (sprained toe) that forced him to miss two games. It could have also sidelined him when the team needed him the most: the playoffs.
Instead, Jones had two of the best games ever in the postseason.
What caused the sudden improvement? In an Instagram post to his 500,000 followers, the wide receiver seemed to suggest that a pair of headphones made by Halo Neuroscience improved his strength, explosiveness and dexterity. The photo, posted on Dec. 19, shows Jones wearing the headphones, which have foam spikes designed to accelerate neurons in the brain's motor cortex, a practice known as "neuropriming."
During his rehab, Jones contacted the company to inquire about the high-tech headphones, and Halo sent him a pair complete with a Falcons logo and his jersey number, 11. But the Instagram post caught Halo's team by surprise because Jones isn't paid to endorse the product.
"Julio reached out to us because he knew that there was a neurological piece to help him get back up to full strength," Halo's athlete relations chief Kane Russell told me. "The way I see it is that you have a nutritionist who helps you with your diet, you have a personal trainer to help you with your muscles. Hopefully we can be that guide for the brain."
Experts, however, still aren't sure devices like Halo improve performance.
"More rigorous research needs to be done," said Amy Yotopoulos, mind division director at the Stanford Center for Longevity. "At this point, there's no evidence that this actually works."
Training gadgetry has no shortage of fans among elite athletes. Jones' teammate and quarterback Matt Ryan uses the NeuroTracker, a TV-size device that he says has helped him sharpen his cognitive skills. Cleveland Cavaliers sharpshooter Kyle Korver says a portable brain monitor called the Versus headset improves his focus during training. The Dynavision, a whack-a-mole-like device, tests athletes' motor skills by seeing how many flashing lights they can touch on a screen.
More than 50 pro and college teams use Halo Sport headphones.
If it's unclear whether the headphones helped, there's no debating that Jones was outstanding in the playoffs and helped the Falcons reach their first Super Bowl in nearly 20 years. During the NFC title game on Jan. 22, Jones hauled in nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns as the Falcons savaged the Green Bay Packers 44-21.
The Instagram shoutout is another piece of the Jones puzzle. On the field, he's a commanding presence. But off the field, he's quiet, especially when compared to Pro Bowl counterparts like the Pittsburgh Steelers' wideout and Facebook Live pitchman Antonio Brown and the Dallas Cowboys' loquacious receiver Dez Bryant.
In fact, Jones is only speaking to the media at the Super Bowl this week because it's required by the NFL. Players who don't meet with the media risk heavy fines and public relations gloom on the sport's biggest stage.
On Sunday, we'll get a chance to see how much Halo has helped Jones. He told reporters on Thursday he's playing against the four-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
"I'm definitely going full-go," Jones said, "I'm flying around."
Just how valuable is Jones, 28, to his team? He was the only wide receiver in the NFL this season to average 100 yards per game during the 2016 regular season (he finished second in the league with 1,409 receiving yards). And he's the only player in league history to have two playoff games averaging at least 180 yards and 2 touchdowns per game.
He vows that he's not going to let the excitement surrounding the Super Bowl affect his play on Sunday."I'm just looking forward toward the game," Jones also told reporters Thursday. "I don't care what's going on around the Super Bowl. My job is to prepare to get ready for this game."
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First published Feb. 3, 5:49 a.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 5 at 8:30 a.m. PT: Adds more info on Jones' record and a new quote.
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