Julio Jones, DeSean Jackson among top deep threats of 2019

Seeing DeSean Jackson rack up 104 yards on two touchdown catches made me think about the value of the deep threat in the NFL.

I learned firsthand that you really want to have a deep threat in your offense, not least because it's important to keep defenses honest. A credible deep threat will prevent defenses from making it virtually impossible to advance the ball with regularity by simply selling out to stop the run. When I was with the Dallas Cowboys, we leaned on receivers like Bob Hayes, who averaged something like one touchdown every 5 catches for us, Tony Hill and Drew Pearson, guys who had the speed to stretch the secondary.

Inspired by the highlight-reel catches made by Jackson and others in Week 1, I've put together my list of the top 10 deep threats in the NFL in 2019:

1) Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons made Jones the highest-paid receiver in the NFL last week -- and for good reason. He's a game-changer who has racked up 99 career catches of 25-plus yards in 112 career games, which works out to almost one big catch per game. Jones' explosiveness has contributed greatly to his prolific production; he's logged 49 games of 100-plus receiving yards, more than any other NFL player in the first eight years of his career in history.

2) Antonio Brown, New England Patriots

Brown's production in this area is not what you would commonly associate with a 5-foot-10 player, but of 31 deep-ball targets (a target depth of 20-plus air yards) last season in Pittsburgh, he converted a league-high eight into touchdowns, according to Next Gen Stats. Brown is a great route runner. Certain guys can run fast but can't cut smoothly, or they have to stop and gather themselves before they run crossing routes, but not Brown.

NOTE: A lawsuit was filed this week alleging Brown sexually assaulted a former trainer. Brown's availability is potentially dependent on the outcome of a league investigation into the allegations.

3) DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles

Jackson's monster Week 1 performance against Washington (eight catches, 154 yards, two touchdowns) should have been infuriating for fans of the Buccaneers, and especially for Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, who shipped Jackson out of town after he failed to develop a rapport with QB Jameis Winston. In his return to the franchise where he first made his name as a three-time Pro Bowler, Jackson demonstrated instant chemistry with Carson Wentz, connecting on touchdown tosses of 51 and 53 yards against another of Jackson's old teams, the Washington Redskins. Jackson is now second all time in touchdowns of 50-plus yards (including punt returns) with 31, trailing only Jerry Rice. He also leads all active players in catches of 25-plus yards with 129.

4) Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In 2018, Evans ranked second in the NFL with 26 receptions of 20-plus yards and posted six catches of 40-plus yards, tied for second most; he also tied for third with 14 catches of 20-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Despite a quiet, two-catch, 28-yard season opener, Evans should still have a chance to finish with the same kind of production playing in new Bucs coach Bruce Arians' vertical offense.

5) Odell Beckham, Cleveland Browns

At this point in their respective careers, Beckham's new quarterback, the Browns' Baker Mayfield, is a better deep-ball passer than Beckham's first quarterback, the Giants' Eli Manning. This should result in a spike in big plays by Beckham. He ranks just ninth in catches of 20-plus yards (74) since entering the NFL in 2014, but he should be considered a threat to score every time he touches the football. Of course, before he can touch it, Mayfield needs to get it to him first, and that won't happen as regularly as everyone might have once thought if Cleveland doesn't fix the offensive-line issues that helped sink this squad in Week 1.

6) T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

Between 2012 and 2018, Hilton recorded 94 total receptions of 25-plus yards -- the most in the NFL. His yards-per-reception mark of 16 is also the highest among all players with at least 400 receptions in that span. The big question in the immediate future is, can Hilton continue to enjoy that kind of success working with Jacoby Brissett as his full-time quarterback in the wake of Andrew Luck's retirement?

7) Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

After a long recovery from Lisfranc surgery that kept him off the field for most of the preseason, Brown quickly showed he was worth the wait on Sunday, recording touchdown catches of 47 and 83 yards in his NFL debut. Brown is the first player in NFL history with more than one touchdown catch of at least 40 yards in his first career game. His 83-yard TD was also the second-longest by a player in his first NFL game in the Super Bowl era. Brown should see plenty of deep opportunities in 2019, especially if teams continue to focus on stopping Baltimore's potent ground game.

8) John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals

If you knew for sure that Ross would produce like he did in Week 1 all year long, he would be at the second or third spot on this list. I know this is an awfully ambitious thing to say about a player who struggled to stay healthy and productive in his first two NFL seasons, but it's hard not to get excited about what we saw from him Sunday, with Ross finally looking like someone worth taking ninth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Speed has never been an issue with Ross; rather, injuries and a subsequent loss of confidence set him back. But it looks like he might be able to engineer a career resurgence under new coach Zac Taylor, who's already made it a point of emphasis to get Ross more heavily involved in the offense -- his 12 targets (which yielded seven catches for 158 yards and two scores) were a career high.

9) Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Hill led the NFL in 2018 with 27 catches of 20-plus yards and eight catches of 40-plus yards; he also paced the league in catches of 20-plus air yards (18). The two-time All-Pro probably won't finish with the same kind of gaudy stats in 2019 because of a shoulder injury that is expected to sideline him for at least a month, but he should be making a major impact for the Chiefs' offense as soon as he returns to the field.

10) Josh Gordon, New England Patriots

Not too long ago, New England's receiver group looked like one of the NFL's worst. Now, it's one of the strongest, with Gordon (returning from a suspension) and Brown joining Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett. In Week 1, Gordon snared a 20-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady and added another 44-yard grab earlier in the game, signaling he could top last year's unbelievable mark of 18 yards per catch.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.