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Falcons Roster Review: Wide Receiver

The Falcons may possess the deepest WR group in the entire league, and absolutely nobody saw it coming.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Falcons had a historic offensive season in 2016, capped off by a Super Bowl berth and an MVP trophy for QB Matt Ryan. There were numerous contributors to that unprecedented level of success: a very good offensive line, a dangerous two-headed backfield, and a quartet of capable TEs. But perhaps the most important factor in that offensive explosion was the deep and talented WR corps.

For a unit led by All-Universe WR Julio Jones, it’s hard to be “under-the-radar”. But that’s exactly what they were before the season began. Outside of Jones and big free agent pick-up Mohamed Sanu (who was referred to as a “bust” by members of the media), the Falcons didn’t possess any well-known talent at the position.

That all changed during the season. Now this rag-tag group of misfits is in contention for the best WR corps in the NFL. Let’s take a closer look each receiver’s contributions.

Julio Jones

83 catches, 1409 yards, 17.0 yards/catch, 6 TD

Julio needs no introduction, and I’m sure we’re all very familiar with his game. He’s an incredible player and, in my mind, is by far the best receiver in the NFL today. We’re all thankful that he’s on our side. Julio’s under contract next season and hopefully will be until the end of time.

Mohamed Sanu

59 catches, 653 yards, 11.1 yards/catch, 4 TD

While most fans considered Sanu to be overpaid, he certainly played a very important role for the Falcons offense in 2016. A player with great size, strength, and under-valued route running ability, Sanu was a reliable third-down target for Ryan. He also provided a big body in the red zone, and he was occasionally useful as a “gadget” player on trick plays. He’s under contract next season.

Taylor Gabriel

35 catches, 579 yards, 16.5 yards/catch, 6 TD

The real surprise player this season was Gabriel, who was cut by the Browns prior to the start of the season and claimed off waivers by Atlanta. Gabriel was a blazing fast deep threat with uncanny agility and vision. He demonstrated rare ability in the open field and excellent route running ability. He’s a restricted free agent, and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t in Atlanta next year.

Aldrick Robinson

20 catches, 323 yards, 16.2 yards/catch, 2 TD

Robinson was a player that Shanahan had worked with during his time with Washington. He was very effective as a rotational receiver, filling a similar role to Gabriel as a deep threat. Robinson showed off good hands and an ability to make plays down the field when called upon. He’s a free agent, though, and I’ll bet that Shanahan would love to bring him to the dumpster fire San Francisco.

Justin Hardy

21 catches, 203 yards, 9.7 yards/catch, 4 TD

Hardy was drafted in 2015 to help bolster the receiving corps, but he got off to a slow start. This season, Ryan was clearly more comfortable with him, and Hardy began to show flashes of why the Falcons drafted him: savvy route running and amazing hands. He developed into one of Ryan’s favorite red-zone targets towards the end of the season. Hardy remains on his rookie contract in 2017.

Nick Williams

5 catches, 59 yards, 11.8 yards/catch, 0 TD

Williams was on and off the practice squad after being a rotational WR for the Falcons in 2015. He performed a similar role this year, coming in for about one clutch catch a game when he was active. He’s a free agent and will likely be brought into training camp to compete unless he receives a better offer.

Eric Weems

0 catches, 0 yards, 0 TD

Weems didn’t contribute much as a receiver this year, which is probably a good thing for the Falcons. Where he did contribute was as a kick and punt returner, where he was average at best, and as a special teams ace, where he performed well as always. He’s a free agent this year.

The Future

Atlanta’s WR corps seems to be in excellent shape heading into the 2017 season. Julio and Sanu are under contract for the next several years and should provide a stable pairing for the Falcons to build around. Gabriel is a restricted free agent, and Atlanta should be able to keep him with a second-round tender. Hardy is likely to take on an increased role next season, allowing the Falcons to return their top-4 WRs in 2017.

The question marks are Aldrick Robinson, Nick Williams, and Eric Weems. Robinson is likely gone, as he’s put out enough good tape that some team will make him an offer that the Falcons are unlikely to match. Williams is a depth player, and while he’s solid, I’m not sure the Falcons will go out of their way to bring him back. Weems is likely gone, as he offers little to nothing outside of special teams and his return skills are average at best.

In short, Atlanta is in a great spot with their WRs for the foreseeable future. They also have last year’s seventh-round pick, Devin Fuller, hopefully returning healthy from injury. He’s likely to become the team’s new returner, and the hope is that he can also offer something in the passing game.

What do you think about the Falcons’ situation at WR? Are you hopeful that they will continue to be one of the deepest units in the league in 2017?