The Atlanta Falcons had the league’s most potent passing attack in 2016, and that figures to be the case again in 2017. The question, with a couple of new players aboard and a new offensive coordinator at the helm, is how the team will elect to split up its passing game targets.
Let’s preface this discussion by noting that barring injury, Julio Jones will lead the team in receiving. He will likely have more receptions than everyone else, he will certainly have more yardage than everyone else, and he should be among the team leaders in touchdown receptions. Julio’s a generational talent, and Steve Sarkisian is not going to get too cute about spreading the ball around.
First, let’s take a look at the team’s 2016 list of targets.
Falcons 2016 Targets
Julio obviously dominated targets, getting more than 33% more looks than the team’s second-leading receiver, Mohamed Sanu. Even with the team’s huge number of passing game options, Julio should finish with over 100 targets, and expecting him to land near 130 again is perfectly reasonable.
After that, things are more fluid. We should expect Austin Hooper to get more targets (50-60 as a baseline), with Toilolo (20-30), and rookie Eric Saubert (~10) also getting more involved. It’s very possible that Sanu and Freeman are going to see fewer targets to accommodate that, because I don’t think the team is going to pass a lot more and run a lot less just because Sarkisian is in town.
In this scenario, then, I’d expect Julio, Sanu, and Hooper to be your three leading receivers, followed in some order by Gabriel, Freeman, Coleman, and perhaps Hardy. The Falcons’ passing game will be insanely productive again regardless of the exact split, but it will be interesting to see how the Falcons find ways to get the ball into the hands of their biggest playmakers this year with so many options.
Who will be the team’s second-leading receiver (behind Julio Jones)?
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