Before we get into the specifics of how the Falcons can replace one of their greatest receivers ever, let’s take a moment to reflect on what White has meant to this team over the years. Without a doubt, White will forever be recognized as one of the greatest Falcons receivers in franchise history. He still holds several team receiving records, and his durability and high-level of play during most of his career should outshine his more recent struggles. As a huge Roddy White fan, I am going to miss him deeply. Replacing him will not be a trivial task.
With that said, how might the team try to replace the veteran? Let’s look at some potential options.
The Falcons tried to go this route last year when they brought in Leonard Hankerson on a one-year deal. For the first few games of 2015, it looked like a brilliant move. Hankerson was able to help stretch the field, but his effectiveness was ultimately stymied by his poor hands and his inability to stay healthy.
That shouldn’t keep the team from looking towards free agency again, though.
As it stands right now, the 2016 draft class looks pretty weak for wide receivers. That’s not to say there aren’t any good options in the draft, but there doesn’t appear to be a "game changer" the likes of Julio or OBJ in this class. Not only that, but rookie receivers don’t typically come in and contribute at a high level immediately. The Falcons need someone who can come in and contribute from day one.
There are several players who might be on the radar come March 9th. Travis Benjamin is still only 26 years old, and has the speed to help take the top off of defenses. Marvin Jones of the Bengals is also 26 and has steadily improved each year in the league. Rishard Matthews of the Dolphins – also 26 – showed some potential before missing the end of 2015 with a rib injury. Mohamed Sanu isn’t the greatest receiver, but could fit in nicely as a solid WR2 for the Falcons.
If the team is considering drafting another receiver to groom into the WR2 position, they may opt to sign a veteran to fill the gap in the meantime. James Jones at 32 is not what he once was, but could make sense on a value deal for a year or two. At 33, Marques Colston’s best days are behind him, but he’s a bigger receiver who might provide some value at the vet minimum. Anquan Boldin, though 35 years old, is still a good possession receiver and might have one good year left in him.
If the team does look toward a free agent signing, I doubt it would be a veteran option at this point. There’s simply no reason to cut your own veteran to turn around and look for another. I imagine the team is looking less for savings and more for youth at this point.
Obviously, the draft plans for the Falcons will be influenced by what they can do in free agency. If they do end up signing a true WR2 before the end of April, it’s very likely they won’t look at WR early in the draft – if at all. However, if the team doesn’t sign a free agent, the opposite may end up being true. While I doubt they use their first round pick on a receiver, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see them select one with their second rounder.
Who might be available at that point? Braxton Miller, who would be a bit of a project at WR, could easily be around in the second and third rounds and his athleticism is hard to ignore. His straight-line 40 time isn’t great, but he has an uncanny ability to change directions. Tyler Boyd out of Pitt would be an intriguing option, since he has decent speed and hands. He would also need to be taken with the second round pick, as it’s unlikely he’d be there in the third. Josh Doctson out of TCU has nice size, but is not particularly fast. He does have great hands and the ability to fight for the ball, which makes him a good option as a WR2. If the team looks for someone in the later rounds, one name to keep an eye on is Geronimo Allison out of Illinois. He impressed at the East-West Shrine game and was subsequently added to the Senior Bowl, where he continued to impress. He could go anywhere between the third and fifth rounds.
No matter which option the Falcons choose, there's a level of uncertainty that comes from losing a receiver who has played with your QB for 8 seasons. Despite the perceived decline in White's skills in recent years, it's going to be hard for any free agent or rookie to come in and immediately earn the trust of the team and especially Matt Ryan.
Replacing Roddy White is going to be very difficult indeed.