Raise your hand if you predicted the emergence of Taylor Gabriel in the Falcons offense in 2016? If you have your hand up, you’re a liar and should be ashamed of yourself. That said, there may be no bigger surprise than Gabriel’s sudden emergence as a dangerous weapon on this dangerous Falcons offense. His performance - particularly over the last few games - has raise some questions about what the 2017 Falcons receiver corps may look like. Based on what we’ve seen so far, here are some thoughts on what the 2017 wide receiver corps may look like.
Not much will change in 2017 where this is concerned. Julio Jones is one of the most dominant receivers in the league and is not going anywhere. Mohamed Sanu may never live up to his big contract, but he’s shown he can be a good compliment to Julio as a big, possession receiver that works the middle of the field. Both players have contracts that make it unlikely the team will move on from either player in 2017, and there simply is no reason to.
WR3 and WR4
This is where things get interesting. Many Falcons fans thought Justin Hardy would be the eventual WR3 on the offense, but Gabriel has changed that discussion. It’s clear that - right now - Taylor Gabriel is the real WR3 for the Falcons. He will be a restricted free agent in 2017, and it’s highly likely he’ll get a second round tender to try and keep him on the roster next year. At only 25 years old, he is still young enough to invest in. If he continues to perform like he is, don’t be surprised if the team tries to ink him to a longer term deal.
As for Justin Hardy, he’s not going anywhere. He’s still shown himself to be useful as WR4 and on special teams. He’s got sure-hands and has grown from year one to year two. He’s not where many fans hoped he would be, but there’s no reason to move on from him just yet. As a fourth round pick, Hardy filling the WR4 spot is not a bad thing at all.
One name that hasn’t been mentioned: Aldrick Robinson. Robinson impressed before the season started and has contributed at times this year, but the emergence of Gabriel has put Robinson into the background. He’s a free agent in 2017 and it seems unlikely that the team will try and retain him.
WR5 and Special Teams
As we get into WR5 and further, we begin looking at guys with special teams value. While Eric Weems is currently taking that role on the roster, he is on the backside of his career. Seventh round pick Devin Fuller is currently on IR, but there’s every reason to believe the team will want him to compete for that WR5 spot in 2017. Additionally, Nick Williams - who was on the roster for all of 2015 - is still on the practice squad and is someone the Falcons apparently like. Don’t be surprised if he competes for a roster spot again in 2017.
More than likely, Weems last season in Atlanta will be 2016. While the team may still try and bring in additional talent to compete in camp, Fuller and Williams are the likely front-runners for the last two spots on the 2017 roster.
What are your thoughts on this projected 2017 Falcons receiving corps?