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Projecting new roles for Roddy White and young Falcons receivers

Only a few years ago, the Falcons were fielding 1A and 1B wide receivers. That time looks to be over, but that should give the Falcons more options.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After completing an impressive rookie season, Julio Jones looked to be the perfect bookend to Roddy White. The duo was thought to be one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFL. In 2012, that was proven. The two had over 2,500 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns combined. Pro Football Focus agreed, ranking Roddy as the 7th best wide receiver in the NFL.

Cut to 2015, and Roddy has dealt with two down, injury-plagued, seasons. He dropped the 7th best wide receiver to the 97th, and then the 107th best wide receiver. His yards per catch has bottomed out, his dropped passes have increased, his missed tackled has dropped, and overall, his his pass catching and blocking metrics have dropped significantly.

While Roddy is still averaging a respectable 800+ yards per season, he is certainly a great player to have on the roster. But as ESPN's Vaughn McClure said in May, the 33 year-old pass catcher is getting old.

He obviously wasn't himself a year ago due to a variety of injuries and age catching up to him. If White remains healthy, he probably has one good season left despite getting ready to turn 34 in November.

If Roddy can maintain his health, that would be great. It never helped that the old regime typically refused to sit a struggling, limping Roddy. Or a struggling, limping Jake Matthews. Or a struggling, limping anyone now that I think about it.

But the new coaching staff is less likely to rely on Roddy, and seem excited to integrate new additions Justin Hardy and Leonard Hankerson into the offense. A lot has been made about Kyle Shanahan's offense focusing on the X wide receiver spot, where Julio will play, but Shanahan has really never had a good second wide receiver.

Andre Johnson in Houston, Pierre Garcon in Washington, and (for a little bit) Josh Gordon in Cleveland had, at best, Kevin Walter in the late 2000s? Santana Moss in Washington? Yikes.

My expectation is the younger players will see opportunities to make an impact early in their career, and Shanahan's offense will be able to distribute the ball effectively. The younger players, specifically Hankerson and Hardy, can earn playing time, develop, and hopefully shine. At the same time, this should allow Roddy to see fewer snaps to keep him healthy through the season. It would at least provide the team with a backup plan in case Roddy is injured again.

Hankerson left Miami as a raw prospect, but only earned meaningful snaps in 2012. He has the size (6-foot-2, 211-pounds) and speed (4.40 40) to play outside, hopefully allowing Roddy some breathers and pushing him occasionally to the slot. Hardy (5-foot-10, 192-pounds) appears to be a perfect fit for the slot, and could additionally split snaps with Roddy on the inside.

Julio is clearly going to get the bulk of the targets, but the team could be best served by playing and developing their younger wide receivers in a rotation with Roddy. If everything works out well, it could help fix some of Atlanta's biggest problem the last few years: injuries and a complete lack of competent depth.