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Falcons 2015 Roster Review: Wide Receiver

What will the Falcons WR corps look like in 2015?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few years ago, when people around the NFL talked about teams with the strongest receiving corps, the Falcons were always in the conversation as one of the best groups, if not the best. However, the retirement of Tony Gonzalez and injuries to Julio and Roddy in 2013 reduced this corps to Harry Douglas and a cast of misfit toys. While Julio returned to form in 2014, Roddy battled injuries for a good bit of the year and failed to eclipse 1000 yards for the second straight season.  While Harry Douglas and Devin Hester found roles on the team, they were never really seen as intimidating offensive weapons.

But what will this position look like going into 2015? How will Hankerson and Hardy fit into the equation? Is Hester still going to have a role in this corps?

The Players

Julio Jones

When healthy, there's little doubt that Julio Jones has the ability to be one of the best WRs in the league. It's his propensity for injury that has Falcons fans consistently holding their breath whenever he takes a hit. It may also be why the team is somewhat hesitant in getting a long-term deal done, even if it's a certainty that it does happen. As a receiver, Julio is fast, strong and has developed into a pretty decent route runner. He is a matchup nightmare that defensive coordinators have to plan for. So long as he can stay healthy, he offers this team a true #1 wide receiver that teams covet and few have. I expect him to have yet another strong season, and for the team to get him inked to a long-term deal.

Roddy White

It's clear that Roddy's best days are behind him, but he is still a quality receiver. While his best position at this point is likely in the slot, you can probably expect White to move around the different WR positions this season. At 33 years old (turning 34 in November), Roddy may be in the last two years of his time in Atlanta, so I expect his numbers to continue to decline as the team will want to begin developing younger guys this year. However, I do think Roddy will be a consistent third down target and there's no denying that his chemistry with Ryan makes him a potent weapon even still.

Leonard Hankerson

Leonard Hankerson is an intriguing player. The often injured Hankerson has good size and speed, though he's not a particularly explosive or elusive receiver. As a potential WR3/4, Hankerson is probably finding a better role than he's been thrust into in the past. However, he needs to be more consistent with his hands if he's going to carve out a meaningful role in this offense. Given that he's on a one year prove-it deal, his usage will be very interesting to monitor this year.

Justin Hardy

Under normal circumstances, teams shouldn't plan on fourth round picks becoming immediate contributors. However, Hardy could break that expectation this year. He's a savvy route runner who attacks the ball and apparently has super-glue permanently embedded on his hands. He's not a big or particularly fast threat, but his body movement and precise route running may translate faster to the NFL level. He's a name to keep an eye on as someone who could surprise this year.

Devin Hester

The return specialist turned fourth wide receiver showed big-play potential last year, as he surprised many people by coming to Atlanta and putting up decent receiving numbers. His role this year is a little unclear with the addition of Hankerson and the drafting of Hardy. He's a player whose presence on the offense could be reduced dramatically. Given his age (32, turns 33 in November), the team may not want to rely on him too much in favor of giving snaps to younger guys. Of all the guys on this list, Hester may end up being the odd-man out.

Projected Stats

Given the change in offense and the likelihood that the team puts a renewed emphasis on the running game, overall receiver statistics may dip a little. However, I still believe Julio will put up big numbers again this year, while Roddy's numbers will decline in favor of getting guys like Hardy ready for a long-term role on the team. Here are some projected stats to chew on:

Player Receptions Yards Avg Yards/Reception TDs
Julio Jones 90 1650 18.3 10
Roddy White 70 770 11.0 5
Leonard Hankerson 40 540 13.5 4
Justin Hardy 40 500 12.5 3
Devin Hester 20 280 14.0 3

Final Word

While I think Julio has yet another strong season even with his drop in total receptions, I think the receiving corps as a whole will see contributions from all over. Roddy will still be a highly valuable target, but his numbers will dip to make way for contributions from other members. I like what Hankerson has to offer and his experience with Shanahan will help him ease into the offense. The biggest surprise will be Hardy, who I think will surprise quite a few people by becoming a favorite target for Ryan.

Fans should be excited for the potential of this receiving unit heading into the 2015 season. It has the potential to be a very good one and a true strength of the team yet again.