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Ex-Falcon Roddy White believes Julio Jones can catch Jerry Rice

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Roddy White knew his standing as the Atlanta Falcons' all-time leading receiver would be in jeopardy sooner than later with Julio Jones still on the roster.

But as Jones sits 381 receiving yards from surpassing White's franchise mark of 10,863, White has much loftier goals set for his close friend and former teammate.

"The pace that he's at right now, he can not only be the all-time leading receiver in Falcons history, to me he has enough talent to be the all-time leading receiver in the NFL," White said of Jones. "That's if he plays long enough."

Hall of Famer Jerry Rice is the league's all-time leading receiver with 22,895 yards. Rice, who retired at age 42, accomplished the feat in 20 seasons while playing 303 games. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald is second with 16,108 yards.

Jones, 29, snickered when told of White's thoughts about him catching Rice.

"I don't know what's wrong with Roddy, man," Jones said. "Jerry played, what, 20 years? You know what I'm saying? Jerry played a long time."

In the same breath, Jones seemed to ponder the thought as a very realistic challenge.

"What that says about Roddy is he knows the work ethic, everything I've been through, the way I work ... it's very achievable," Jones said. "But for me, I'm not a numbers guy. I didn't even know when you said that's next for me as far as surpassing Roddy. I didn't even know if I was close or not. I just play ball."

Jones, who has 10,483 yards through 108 games, has the highest per-game average for receiving yards in league history at 97.1. Rice averaged 75.6. So, essentially, Jones could break the mark by keeping the same average over 128 more games -- or eight more seasons. He would have to stay healthy, of course. Jones has dealt with his share of nagging injuries and played in only five games during the 2013 season after suffering a foot fracture.

The Falcons already announced intentions to address Jones' contract situation with two years remaining after making an adjustment to this year's salary.

"I can't tell you how long I want to play," Jones said. "For me, right now, I feel great. I still feel like I'm 17, 18 years old right now. I don't hurt. I can run. I can stop. I can do everything. I can do whatever I want to do. I feel great and I've played eight years. So if I feel like this, I know I can play at least eight [more] years.

"But with family and stuff like that, a lot of things happen. That's why I don't like to speak on stuff down the road. I'm one year at a time, and whatever comes."

Jones marveled about how Rice was able to play into his 40s and still have an impact. At age 40 in 2002, Rice caught 92 passes for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns for a Oakland Raiders team that went to the Super Bowl.

"Yeah, 22,000 is a lot," Jones said. "I have a lot of respect for Jerry Rice. The way he works, his work ethic, everything about him. He wasn't a guy who was going to wow you with his physical ability. But the way he works, he's going to outwork you. You're not going to outwork Jerry Rice. He's going to make you suffer."

Jones has developed a reputation for his relentless work ethic, too, on top of being blessed with tremendous physical size and incredible athleticism. The 2011 sixth overall draft pick, who achieved 10,000 receiving yards faster than any receiver in league history (104 games), reached another milestone this past Sunday when he became the first player in NFL history to post five straight 1,400-yard seasons. Jones leads the league with 1,429 receiving yards on 94 receptions, and that's despite drawing double-team attention regularly.

True to his usual modest self, the five-time Pro Bowler dismissed it as no big deal when asked what the accomplishment meant to him.

"Nothing," Jones said. "I'm trying to find a way to win. All that stuff is always nice, but I'm trying to find ways to win."

The 4-9 Falcons take a five-game losing streak into Sunday's matchup with the 3-10 Arizona Cardinals. With three games remaining, Jones would need to average 127 yards per game -- 17 yards better than his season average -- to break White's franchise mark this season. It's attainable with the Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the final three opponents. Jones' career-high for a game was 300 against the Panthers, and he's gone off for 253 against the Buccaneers and 189 against the Cardinals.

"Will he get the [franchise] record this year? Yes. Definitely," White said. "He ain't playing no world-beating secondaries where he can't catch no balls.

"Just him getting to 10,000 yards, that's a big feat, especially in this league. When you hit that mark, that means you're playing at a high level in the NFL. The guys that are on that list, frankly, a lot of them are Hall of Famers. To get to that point a good eight years into the league, that's a tremendous accomplishment."