Bring up Harry Douglas around a Falcons fan and you're going to get one of three reactions.
- A strong defense of Douglas as a receiver, pointing to his 2013 numbers as a starter outside.
- A withering dismissal of Douglas as a receiver, pointing to some of his infamous stumbles.
- "Who cares about Harry Douglas?"
Most of us have spent time in all three of those camps. By far the most outspoken is the second, and I regularly hear fans wish that someone would step up and wrest the slot receiver gig away from HD. That's fine, but typically we're just going in circles with that discussion, and I tend to dismiss the idea of the team cutting him in 2014. Knowing that most options have to be on the table after a year like 2013, I decided to challenge myself to answer the question, "how can the Falcons replace Harry Douglas in 2014?"
Let's start with his 2013 season. With Roddy White and Julio Jones suffering major injuries, Douglas was called upon to step into the starting lineup regularly. He emerged with an 85 catch, 1,067 yard, two touchdown season, which was by far the best of his career. If you're going to defend Douglas, you start here, because he clearly can be a fairly reliable presence in the lineup and has been for years. While we tend to think of those occasional cringe-worthy drops—we'll add those up in a second—Douglas's drop rate of 4.6% was fairly low for a receiver with 80+ targets in 2013. He's comfortable in the offense, and while his mistakes do stand out, Ryan is comfortable throwing the ball to him. When the Falcons fall behind, in fact, Douglas's targets skyrocket, though you have to consider that the team slings the ball more when they're behind anyways. Advanced grading from Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, it should be said, did not look at Douglas's big year in a particularly favorable light.
Now the downside. Douglas carries a cap hit of around $3.645 million in 2014, he fumbled three times last season and had six drops, which put him 30th in the NFL amongst all receivers. His 64% catch rate is decent but hardly stellar for a guy averaging 12.6 yards an out, and he doesn't offer fantastic special teams value. It's worth noting that he did his worst work in the fourth quarter of games in 2013, though that's a small enough sample to be functionally meaningless unless you're very inclined to read into it. He'll also be 30 two weeks into the 2014 NFL season, so this is someone whose best days don't appear to be ahead of him.
So who would you replace Douglas with, if you were so inclined? A high-round rookie receiver would be a logical choice if the Falcons didn't need to use those draft picks elsewhere, but certainly as the league becomes more and more amenable to high-powered passing offenses, rookie receivers have better opportunities to contribute to offenses. Once you start getting later in the draft or into undrafted free agents, you would be banking on that rare gem who could approximate Douglas's production in year one. In the 2013 Draft, the only receivers even close to that were fifth-rounder Kenny Stills for the Saints and UDFA Kenbrell Thompkins for New England.
Free agency is a possibility, then. There are a number of useful veteran receivers hitting the open market, but you can disqualify many due to cost (James Jones), age (Santana Moss), or both (Anquan Boldin). The best receivers who would seem to slot in naturally behind Julio Jones and Roddy White might be Golden Tate and Dexter McCluster, versatile weapons who could be special teams assets. If the Falcons were serious about finding players with broader skill sets and moving on from Douglas, either would be a natural choice, but it's not clear either one is a huge upgrade on Douglas purely as a receiver.
The last possibility is someone already on the roster. Darius Johnson showed some promise, but needs to put in a lot of work on his routes and show real growth before he can be considered even close to ready for those duties. Drew Davis was promising in his limited snaps and is the most logical in-house choice, but again, you'd be hard-pressed to extrapolate those encouraging signs into "Drew Davis, full-time third receiver." Free agency would be the safest and arguably best avenue here.
As you can see, there are options available to the Falcons if they want to part ways with Douglas, but none of them are so fantastic that you'd rush to push Douglas out the door. With $1.79 million in dead money against the cap even if he's released this season, the better option would appear to be grooming a young receiver to take over for Douglas in 2015, when his cap hit is over $4 million and the dead money would be under $1 million to cut him. With a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White operating in the offense, Douglas is a steady presence in the slot for Matt Ryan, and I can't imagine the Falcons will be
How would you replace Douglas, and do you think there's any chance he'll be cut?
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