As I wandered the streets today like a wandering wanderer, I pondered like a pondering ponderer. One of the things I thought about was the Falcon draft, as I do a solid ten hours a day, and what the Falcons will use their many choices on.
Then, bam! Up came reality with his cold brass knuckles, beating the shit out of me for not even briefly talking about wide receivers so far this offseason.
"How do you like having Laurent Robinson and Mike Jenkins competing to start, bitch?!" Reality shouted as he pummeled me. "Feeling pretty good about Joe Horn gimping down the field and complaining about your loud rap music?!"
So a black eye and a few broken blissful ignorance bones later, we're going to tackle wide receiver. I know Roddy White's sudden and unexpected emergence has made this less of a factor than in years past, but I'm going to break with the stated aim of breaking down less needy positions first and blowing this one out. Without further ado...
Vitals: Sharrod "Rowdy Roddy" White, 25, #1 Receiver
Breakdown: King of the Late Bloomers, Roddy went from delicate flower to machine gun toting Venus fly trap with kung fu action last year. He ended up with 1,204 yards and 6 TDs and was good for the league's 26th best Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement (aka, how much better was White than your average dub?) according to Football Outsiders. If that seems less than fantastic, consider that he spent most of the year hauling in passes from Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman. He was also so much better than any other receiver on the roster that it's not even remotely funny. The question isn't really whether he can do it again, but rather if he will. Will he?
I think he will. Stranger things have happened than spectacular one year blips, but White seemed to put it all together last year. He finally ran routes well and held on to the ball, the two things I spent an entire season ripping him apart for. More than that, he has the physical tools to continue to impress, and it's likely that the rest of the team is only going to get better around him. He's no Randy Moss, but White is a more than capable #1 guy and should continue to dominate puny cornerbacks next season.
Final Grade: A
Vitals: Laurent Robinson, 22, #2 Receiver
Breakdown: I'm positioning Robinson here more out of necessity than his deserving it, and this is really where the conflict comes from. I think L-Rob will end up being a pretty good receiver, but he's only 22 and managed to get a hand on only about half the passes thrown his way last year. If the Falcons had a legit #2 like D.J. Hackett or Wes Welker, Robinson would be pulling slot duty and learning the ropes. Because the team's biggest addition at receiver is likely to come in the later rounds of April's draft, L-Rob will be pressed into duty here.
There's still plenty to like, here. He's got good speed and is quick enough to lose his guy, but he's got to work on catching the ball and running routes. If he does, he could be the next Roddy White. If he doesn't, he could be the next...well, Roddy White two years ago. Ugh. I can't pencil him in for much more than 40 catches, 500-600 yards and 3 TDs, but that would be growth.
Final Grade: C+
Vitals: Michael "Oven Mitts" Jenkins, 25, #3 Receiver
Breakdown: I will keep saying this until Comrade Dimitroff throws me a frickin' bone here: Jenkins should be a slot receiver. Everyone knows his limitations as a starter by now, but it's his single terrific strength that makes him an attractive option here. He doesn't have the speed to breakaway from top-end corners, but he can post up all day long on safeties and #3 corners with his size advantage. Personally, I'd just march down the field with Roddy White and Michael Turner and toss it up for Jenkins. Year after year, he seems to have more value than he actually does because of a solid touchdown total. Reality, you heartless bastard.
Still, Jenkins could easily overtake Robinson with a good training camp and offers easily identifiable value. With a QB capable of standing upright, Jenkins could post 40 to 50 catches, maybe 700 yards and 7 TDs. I still think he's more likely to do that when his weaknesses aren't exposed to tougher corners.
Final Grade: C
Credit Atlanta Falcons Official Site
Vitals: Joe Horn, 23,730, #4 Receiver
Breakdown: Joe Horn joined Warrick Dunn last year in being completely fucking old. There's a good chance he'll bounce back somewhat this year, but I don't want the guy anywhere near a starting job when everyone else on the team is younger and probably better than he is at this stage in his career. I like him as a mentor and as a crafty veteran to spell Jenkins and Robinson, but his incredible plummet from above average to horrible last year isn't leaving me optimistic.
That doesn't mean I don't love you, Joe.
Final Grade: D+
Vitals: Brian "Chronically Injured" Finneran, Undead, No Roster Spot
Breakdown: I love Finn, but I'm afraid he's going to lose a limb or eat someone's brain during training camp. This team needs wholesale changes, and keeping a 10 year veteran who hasn't actually played a game in two years around isn't my idea of a good time. He should be replaced by whoever the Falcons draft at the position this spring, and I wish him well.
Final Grade: INC
Vitals: Adam Jennings, 24, #5 Receiver (?)
Breakdown: If the Falcons are standing pat at the position, then by all means, keep Jennings around. He looked okay in limited action at receiver. The picture above is what Jennings reminded me of when he was allowed to return kicks: a helpless goddamn baby bird. If the coaching staff thinks he can help out when the offense is on the field, then he'll be #5 receiver. Unlike last year, they won't be keeping him around for special teams.
Final Grade: D/D-
Analysis: If I seemed unduly harsh in this overview, it's because I'm really afraid that this receiving corps is a below average to average unit. Outside of Roddy White, there's nobody for opposing defenses to fear, and we suddenly don't even have Crumpler to draw coverage. The Falcons have to think long and hard about yet another mid-round draft pick being expended here. I'm hopeful that L-Rob will develop into a legit #2, which would do wonders for the passing game in general.
Let's not forget that this is a rebuilding team, though. If the Falcons re-do the line and suddenly have a running game without a passing game, I have a feeling that I'm not going to be the only Falcons fan who gets a beatdown from reality.