The wide receiver position for the Falcons has been a true luxury for the team the last several seasons. While quarterback Matt Ryan walked away as NFL MVP last season and former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (be easy Falcons fans) garnered plenty of the praise, the wide receiver group was arguably the deepest and most productive spot on the entire roster last season.
Key additions were made this offseason at wide receiver and what was an excellent group in 2016 got even better as we enter the upcoming season. It’s time to review the Falcons receiver corps.
Current Depth Chart
Starters: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu,
Reserves: Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Andre Roberts, Devin Fuller
Practice Squad: Nick Williams, BJ Daniels
The group as a whole has a solid mixture of everything. There is a good helping of physicality (Jones, Sanu), game-breaking speed (Jones, Gabriel), and a dash of savvy play (Hardy, Roberts) sprinkled with a taste of versatility (Jones, Sanu, Roberts, Fuller).
The clear leader of the band is Julio Jones, of course. His sixth season as a pro produced his fourth Pro Bowl honor as well as his second straight season as a first team All-Pro member. Jones led the team in catches (83), yards (1,409) and tied for first on the team in touchdowns (6).
Some (clears throat) consider Jones as the best wideout in the game today and easily one of the five best players in the game regardless of position. The veteran Sanu did not have sparkly numbers (59, 653, 4) but he was key to the offense the entire season in both the passing and running game as a reliable blocker. Gabriel gave the team a different element that the Falcons were not necessarily used to in prior seasons: a true deep threat beside Julio. It took a few games for Gabriel to see consistent targets but it was obvious by season’s end that Gabriel expanded the Falcons offense with his scary speed.
Third-year receiver Justin Hardy may be turning the corner this year after posting four touchdown receptions last season. Adding a veteran such as Andre Roberts in free agency to this unit gives the team even more skill and reliability. Roberts will likely man the role of kick and punt returner for the team but he is also capable of filling in when called upon on offense—he posted 36 or more catches in four of his seven seasons in the NFL. Bottom line, the Falcons have a ton of weapons at wide receiver, something a lot of teams in the NFL cannot attest to.
Of course, everything starts with Julio. The dynamic receiver has shown that even when he’s dinged up, he still gives defenses plenty of issues. The bad taste of a near Super Bowl win may fuel Jones even more. The presence of Sanu provides a safety valve for Ryan and a full season with Gabriel opens things up even more.
The reserves is where attention should be diverted to. Second-year pro Devin Fuller missed the entire season because of a shoulder issue but he is now healthy and has an itch to get on the field. Fuller is still raw but if there is anyone on the team that can make the Falcons a little scarier in the passing game, it is Fuller. Not to mention the development of Hardy and inserting the option that is Roberts. The practice squad may have some raw talent as well when it’s all said and done with the team providing opportunities to Georgia track star Garrett Scantling, Kansas State standout Deante Burton, and former Texas Tech wideout Reginald Davis.
With Jones, Sanu, and Gabriel, the team is in good hands. With Roberts, Hardy, and Fuller behind them, this unit can be downright dangerous.