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The Great Falcons Roster Breakdown, Wide Receiver Edition

Welcome back to another compelling addition of the great roster breakdown, where readers and erstwhile bloggers Dave the Falconer and tlozwarlock go over the roster as currently constructed with a fine-toothed comb. Last week we discussed running backs and based on your votes, came to the conclusion that the position deserved a solid B. No shame in that.

This week, we're delving into the wide receiver depth chart, with a post headlined by Spencer Maddox, who provided an insanely detailed and well thought out analysis of the position. As usual, that will be followed by the brilliant brain bullets of DTF (tloz is up to his neck in day job this week), so set aside some time and join us for the breakdown. You'll be glad you did.

All the good stuff is after the jump, folks.

Spencer Maddox writes:

Roddy White: 85 receptions, 1153 yards, 13.6 yards per reception, 11 TDs

It’s hard to say anything about Roddy White that hasn’t been said on this site and many others before, but in summary the prevailing thought is that he is an excellent receiver and a legitimate number one target for Matt Ryan. A young receiver to grow and mature with his young quarterback. His 11 touchdowns this year were tied for 4th best in league, that along with being 13th in the league in yards, and 10th in receptions provide objective evidence for these sentiments. There was a seemingly significant worry amongst Falcons fans prior to the season that the comforts of a new contract, the effect of a hold-out, and the added attention to be paid to him from opposing defenses would hurt Roddy’s production significantly in 2009; if not regressing back to the 2005 and 2006 levels of meager production. And it looked like those fears were going to come true when he had only 119 yards and 1 TD through the first three games. The reasons for these struggles are unclear (aka no significant injury, Matt Ryan played, they didn’t go against a top flight defense) but could be contributed to several minor factors possibly including: a shaky Matt Ryan to begin the year, defenses focusing more on Roddy while seeing exactly how big of an impact Gonzalez would have, and a conscientious decision by the Falcons to try and get the ball to Gonzalez early and often to quickly implement him into the offense and build comfort between him and Ryan. The rest of the season, however, reminded us all just how good White can be. His numbers were very inconsistent yardage wise ( for example he had 210 yards against the 49s, 56 the next week against Chicago) but he got into the endzone 10 times in the last 13 games which vaulted him to top 5 in the league in TDs for the season. He consistently came up big when the Falcons needed him to, if Gonzalez was having difficulty getting open in one game Roddy was there to pick up the slack. So while the arrival of Gonzalez certainly cut into his production (most likely in the areas of receptions and yardage rather than touchdowns) he had an excellent year overall.

The Falcons paid Roddy White in the offseason to be a number one receiver for a long time and he did not give them or any fan a reason to doubt that decision. He could certainly improve in the offseason, he continues to have some problems with drops here and there, but I look for Roddy to just continue what he has been doing for the last several years in 2010. One thing that cannot be overlooked is the fact that he has played and had at least one reception in every game of the past three seasons. At a position that is often associated with nagging injuries and diva personalities he has proven to be a tough, reliable, hard worker who shows up every game ready to let his play do the talking and this is something that should be valued a great deal by Falcons fans and a point of pride for the organization.

2009 Grade: A-

Michael Jenkins: 50 receptions, 635 yards, 12.7 yards per reception, 1 TD

The number that jumps out when looking at Michael Jenkins’ statistics for this season is an ugly one: 1 touchdown. There is no way to sugarcoat the fact that he simply did not get into the endzone as much as is expected for a number two receiver. However, it could be seriously debated that Jenkins was not Matt Ryan’s number two target this year. That distinction belonged to Tony Gonzalez (and sometimes even Roddy White was secondary to the future Hall of Famer) and Jenkins was often the third choice for Ryan. Now, whether that is due to the actually gameplan of the Falcons or simply Matt Ryan’s seemingly unlimited comfort and confidence with Gonzalez is unknown. When you get past that one number (TDs), and the truth remains that Ryan looked to Gonzalez a great deal in the red zone, this season looks remarkably like the last two statistically for Jenkins. He had 50 receptions in 2008 and 53 in 2007 accounting for 777 and 532 yards respectively, numbers that don’t look very different from this year at all. So while his touchdown numbers were down from previous years (3 in 2008 and 4 in 2009) there was not a significant drop-off in most of his statistics in 2009. And that is the probably the troubling part for most fans and coaches. Jenkins is 27, entering his seventh season and by all accounts should be in his prime. If anything his numbers should have gone up this year with defenses paying him less attention due to the threat that Gonzalez brings. Subjectively, just watching the game, it seems like Jenkins is capable of much more and I am left wondering what the Falcons could be if he matched his enormous physical potential with on the field production. This feeling of untapped potential is what drives fans, and probably coaches, crazy.

But are we correct in thinking that he SHOULD be (as opposed to COULD be) more? I thought so until I checked

around the league a little. In the 2004 when the Falcons drafted Jenkins 29th overall there was only one, surefire number one receiver taken: Larry Fitzgerald. The other receivers that panned out pretty well include Jenkins, Bernard Berrian, Roy Williams, and Devery Henderson along with a few others. Looking at those players statistics for this year reveal numbers all very similar to Jenkins. In short, he is right about where he should be, at least when compared to others from that draft, at this point in his career. Falcons fans need to realize that Michael has probably reached his maximum statistically with the offensive scheme and personal that are here now. He is a league average second or third receiver and I wouldn’t look for that change much soon (especially with the return of Harry Douglas next year). He is going to have drops and missed routes but he will also have that momentum changing play just as often, and that is not something lost on even the most casual observer.

2009 Grade: B-


Marty Booker: 16 receptions, 181 yards, 11.3 yards per reception, 1 TD

Marty Booker was brought in by the Falcons during training camp after the knee injury to Harry Douglas to fill the third wide receiver position. He did so in a completely unremarkable, borderline acceptable way. The truth of the matter is that there was a reason no one had picked up Booker late into the summer, he is old and past his prime. This is not really a knock on him (I certainly haven’t played in 1 NFL game, much less 157 like Marty) but more of a statement of fact. The Falcons knew what they were most likely getting out of Booker and felt like they would be able to get by. With the addition of Tony Gonzalez plus bringing back Roddy White and Michael Jenkins the Falcons seemed to assume that there would be plenty of targets for Matt Ryan to throw to. So Booker did not have an essential role to play and although he made a nice play here and there (a few third down conversions come to mind) the offense could have used a more significant threat coming out of the slot. Often defenses could key on Gonzalez coming over the middle on 3rd downs and another possession-type receiver would have been invaluable. So, Marty, thanks for all you did this year, it was appreciated and I hope you find a place to play next year if you so desire. I just am hoping it’s not with Falcons.

2009 Grade: C


Brian Finneran: 11 receptions, 111 yards, 10.1 yards per reception, 0 TD

Poor Brian Finneran, who by suffering his third season ending knee injury of his career during the Washington game this season has officially earned the title of Most Unlucky Falcon Ever. He wasn’t having a great year statistically before the injury mainly due to lack of playing time and Gonzalez becoming a primary red zone target in the situations where Finneran used to be at his best and most valuable. He has resigned with the Falcons for next season although it remains to be seen what kind of impact he would have, if any, after yet another serious knee injury.

2009 Grade: INC

Eric Weems: 6 receptions, 50 yards, 8.3 yards per reception, 2 TDs

In only his second year on the team Eric Weems proved to be an excellent return man and showed good quickness and elusiveness as a wideout. His 30 yard TD reception against the Cowboys was certainly the highlight of his season from a receiving standpoint. I like him on this team as a burner, stretch the field type and hope the Falcons continue to develop him in that way.


2009 Grade: INC

Thoughts:

When looking at the Falcon’s receiving corps, it would be easy for an outsider to view this group as Roddy White and some other guys. Those of us who hold the Falcons near and dear to our heart (and if you are reading this blog and don’t count yourself among this group the truth is that you fall into this category whether you admit it or not) would be quick to sing defend our boys and sing the praises of Michael Jenkins’ freak measurables, Brian Finneran’s sure hands and Mary Booker’s wily verteran-ness in addition to the domination that is Roddy. Unfortunately, upon looking closely at actual on-field production, the outsider might make us look like Falcoholic drinkin’ fools. It should be noted that the Falcons have an unusual situation when it comes to receiving, they have Tony Gonzalez. And while he doesn’t count as a receiver for the purpose of this review, his importance in the passing game must be remembered when looking at production from receivers. Factoring his statistics into the equation makes the team receiving numbers not look nearly as bland as it does when you disregard said statistics.

That being said, there is a lot of room for improvement from the receivers starting with finding a slot/ third receiver that can consistently perform across the middle. This unit is still very young and bringing back Harry Douglas next year will help tremendously fill that role. I don’t really think the Falcons should look to free agency for anything at receiver besides to fill out the roster as needed. One thing I would love to see in the draft is for Comrade Dimitroff to use one or two of our lower picks to trade up and grab Jordan Shipley if he is available in Round 2 (and definitely if he is there in Round 3). He would be an excellent addition in the slot and would take some of the burden off of Tony Gonzalez on third down.

tlozwarlock writes:

Dave the Falconer writes:

Though it was a slightly off year for a couple of our receiving options, this portion of the depth chart was pretty good in 2009. It promises to get better when Harry Douglas returns. If the team can improve anything—and really, outside of lasagna with cream cheese, when is something so good that you can't improve it—it would be lower on the depth chart, where cagey veterans currently lurk. As always, my grades cover the 2009 season only.

WR Roddy White, Starter: For the second year in a row, Roddy White made an appearance in every game. For the third year in a row, he caught at least 80 passes and exceeded 1,000 yards. For the first time in his career, he exceeded 11 touchdowns. To put that into some kind of perspective, in his first two seasons combined he managed less than 1,000 yards, 3 TDs and 59 catches. Quite the transformation.

Simply put, White makes the offense go, alongside Turner (when he's healthy) and Tony Gonzalez. Considering Gonzo's probably only got a couple of seasons left in him and Turner takes a pounding as our starting back, he's probably the most integral long-term piece of the offense outside of Matt Ryan. Given his numbers, he almost certainly should've been a Pro Bowl lock last season, too. All this despite questions of how Gonzo would cut into his numbers.

And yet this wasn't White's finest season. His catch rate was only 52%, notably lower than guys like Donald Driver and Sidney Rice, and he has never fully shaken the bad case of dropsy that's plagued him throughout his career. Can you blame some of that catch rate on Matt Ryan being erratic? Sure. Do you also have to account for White's mishaps? Sure do.Based on some of Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, he's ranked down in the low 30's for wide receivers based on efficiency and effectiveness adjusted for a full season.

But despite that, make no mistake: Roddy White is among the top 10 or 15 wide receivers in the NFL. He's a cornerstone of the franchise and a guy who is extremely effective in the red zone, something any future versions of the Falcons' High-Scoring Offense (TM) will need to make use of. If White can conquer some of those lingering issues with his hands, he'll only get better. I'm not going to be the one to doubt that he can and will.

Reasonable projections for 2010? Something similar to 2009 with a better catch rate, so we'll say 75-80 catches, 1,200 yards and 10 TDs.

Grade: A-

WR Michael Jenkins, Other Starter: Say what you will about Michael Jenkins, but he's a damn fine blocker. Such a good blocker that you can almost ignore the fact that he has some glaring weaknesses as a wide receiver.

First, the good news. In 2009, Jenkins continued to selflessly throw himself in the path of charging defenses and block like he always has, and that makes him an integral part of this offense. He also hauled in 50 passes in 15 games and caught....well, one touchdown. But it was a good one! It was the sort of generally average season we're used to seeing from Jenkins, given a boost by his additional value outside of catching passes.

As a receiver, though, I think we've got to start accepting the fact that this is as good as it gets for Jenkins. Many predicted Gonzo would cut into his looks, but he was still targeted on 90 pass attempts and came up with a slightly-better-than-White 56% catch rate. What went down substantially was his yardage from a year ago, and he either dropped or was unavailable for a few red zone pass attempts, utterly mind boggling when you consider that at 6'4" he can probably reach straight up and exceed the jumping height of most of the league's mighty mite cornerbacks. With his size he ought to be at least our #3 option in the red zone, and yet Eric Weems caught more touchdown passes than he did. That's less than ideal.

Frankly, none of this is going to change. The coaching staff values Jenkins as a blocker too much to take him out of the game all that often, so he'll continue to line up opposite Roddy White and get a few passes a game tossed his way. With Douglas returning from injury he ought to see a drop in targets, but 40+ catches for 500-600 yards and a pair of touchdowns sounds just about right. Say what you will about Michael Jenkins, but he's awfully reliable. He's just not great.

Grade: B- as a receiver, A as a blocker

WR Harry Douglas, Backup: It's not worth dwelling on what Douglas might have done in 2009 had he been healthy, because he wasn't. A pre-season injury cost him his entire season, and now we're left trying to project what the promising young speedster can do in 2010. Here's a projection for you.

Douglas will likely be used on short routes, in a style similar to a Wes Welker or 2008 Eddie Royal, with the team trying to open up lanes for him to take off and gain extra yardage. He's also a viable deep option, though the team shouldn't lean on him too heavily for that until they ensure his speed will be there following the injury. In that capacity, he has a real chance to cut into Michael Jenkins' workload, and I fully expect he will. Unless he's bulked up somewhat and has spent a hell of a lot of time learning how best to leverage his frame for blocking, I expect you'll only see him on the field about 50% of the time.

He has a chance to be a real weapon, though, and I'll go ahead and project about 30 passes caught, 500 yards, 2-3 touchdowns and maybe 100 yards rushing on some of Mike Mularkey's beloved gimmick plays. That's not earth-shattering or anything, but as a #3 option returning from a crippling injury, he ought to provide a lot of value.

Grade: INC

WR Brian Finneran, Backup: Finn is one of the most beloved Falcons in recent memory and was recently re-signed, so chances are very good he'll come back as a part-time player/full-time tutor to our young receivers. They could certainly all take a lesson from his sure-handedness. The question is whether Finn can stay healthy.

That's a very real question. The last time Finn was a big piece of the offensive puzzle was 2005, when he had a Jenkins-ish season with 50 catches and over 600 yards. Last year, in the 10 games he was active in, he caught 11 passes for 111 yards and zero touchdowns. He's a capable blocker and a big target like Jenkins, but he's also 34 years old and has missed 22 games over the course of the last three seasons. When he was healthy and active in 2008 he provided some value as a sure-handed target, but with Gonzo here and Douglas coming back, he's likely to fade into irrelevance in 2010.

Expect a handful of catches if he makes the final roster, but after giving it some thought I do support keeping him around with an eye on moving him to the coaching staff in 2011, assuming he retires. I think he's got a lot to teach. As a player, though, he hasn't got much left in the tank.

Grade: C-

WR Marty Booker, Backup: If Marty Booker returns to the Falcons, someone in the front office clearly has a shrine to him in his/her bedroom.

Booker piled up 16 catches, 181 yards and a single touchdown in 2009, not bad numbers for a guy down quite a ways on the depth chart. Still, he'll be 34 in July, isn't nearly the blocker Finn is and would simply serve to take up a roster spot the Falcons could better use on a young receiver who could blossom into something down the line. He did everything asked of him in 2009 and I appreciate it, but that shouldn't be enough to guarantee him a spot in 2010. His best, at this point in his career, is really only average.

Grade: C-

WR Eric Weems, Backup/Return Ace: Like Jenkins, Weems provided huge value as something other than a pass catcher. We'll discuss that further when we get to special teams, of course, but keep in mind that I'm grading Weems in the vacuum of the receiver discussion.

Notable off-the-field incident aside, Weems made the most of some very limited chances in the passing game. The most notable thing is that his speed and shiftiness enabled him to haul in two touchdown passes in 2009, and he remains a viable surprise option in the red zone. If Marty Booker is kicked to the curb, expect Weems to inch up the depth chart—perhaps even past Finn—and collect maybe 10 catches, 150-200 yards and a touchdown. Considering his spot on the depth chart, that'd be pretty nice. Considering his very limited exposure to the passing game in 2009, I've gotta give him an incomplete here, but with extra credit for those touchdowns.

I do think he'll prove to be a valuable piece moving forward.

Grade: INC

Bottom line: I look at this depth chart and I see one truly fantastic option (White), one solid option who provides value as a blocker (Jenkins), one potentially quality young option (Douglas), a #4 receiver with special teams value (Weems) and a couple of old fogeys who won't provide too much on the field. As I'm always looking for the Falcons to upgrade and get younger, I would still strongly support the team picking up a young, tall receiver with upside as a pass catcher and basically giving him a redshirt year to learn the offense. After all, Finn's probably only around one more year, and Jenkins won't be viable forever. Still, this is a position with quality depth, and I'm looking forward to seeing the destruction the White/Jenkins/Douglas combo can inflict on the league in 2010.

Tell us what you think in the comments!