The Falcoholic’s post-draft 2018 roster preview continues today with the wide receiver group, which is looking pretty darn good heading into 2018. The team added WR Calvin Ridley from Alabama in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to join the already formidable duo of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, but how does the depth chart look behind them?
2017 Production: 88 receptions, 1444 yards, 16.4 YPR, 3 TD
Arguably the best receiver in the NFL and the ideal example of a professional football player, the Falcons are lucky to have Julio Jones—who is still in his prime. He’s dominant anywhere he lines up and remains the focal point of Atlanta’s aerial attack. Issues with nagging injuries and a strange lack of red zone production are the only knocks on his game, and hopefully Steve Sarkisian can figure out a way to improve the latter.
2017 Production: 67 receptions, 703 yards, 10.5 YPR, 5 TD
A good WR2 and a quality contributor to the Falcons’ offense, Mohamed Sanu has largely functioned as the possession and “chain-mover” receiver since joining the team in 2016. He’s a big, physical target that can make contested catches in traffic and has quality production in the red zone. Sanu also has some tricks up his sleeve, including the ability to launch deep balls down the field and run some creative plays out of the wildcat. Due to a high cap hit in 2019, this could be Sanu’s last year with the team.
2017 Production: 63 receptions, 967 yards, 15.3 YPR, 5 TD (college)
Widely considered the best WR in the 2018 NFL Draft, Calvin Ridley put on a show as the primary target in Alabama’s offense in 2017. He’s very polished with his technique, is a superb route runner with an advanced route tree, and has impressive deep speed to make plays down the field. Ridley can struggle with press coverage and more physical CBs, but as the WR3 in Atlanta—and playing beside two physical behemoths in Julio and Sanu—he should get plenty of snaps against the opposing defense’s lesser players.
2017 Production: 20 receptions, 221 yards, 11.1 YPR, 3 TD
A 2015 4th round pick that has never quite lived up to his billing, Justin Hardy remains a solid WR4. He’s a capable reserve and rotational player with some special teams ability, but otherwise he’s pretty unremarkable. Hardy has great hands and has shown some quality production on third down and in the red zone, but he hasn’t managed to elevate his game into consideration for the WR3 role. Hardy could return in 2019 if he’s willing to accept a small contract, but otherwise he’s likely headed to another offense.
2017 Production: 21 receptions, 285 yards, 13.6 YPR, 3 TD | 28 carries, 232 yards, 8.3 YPC, 1 TD (college)
The Falcons’ 6th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Russell Gage has actually only played WR for two seasons. Before that, he was a DB for LSU—but he’s primarily made his mark on special teams. Gage is a very good athlete with a versatile skillset, and could be the best gunner in the 2018 draft class. He has some potential as a slot and “gadget” receiver, as his stats from his 2017 season illustrate. For the Falcons, he’ll likely contribute as the WR5 or WR6 in his rookie season, while being one of the key pieces in what appears to be a vastly improved special teams unit.
2017 Production: 2 receptions, 60 yards, 30.0 YPR, 1 TD
A UDFA from last year’s preseason that wound up ascending to the final roster, Marvin Hall didn’t get much playing time as the last WR on the depth chart. He did, however, make the most of his two touches—one was a deep bomb for a TD. Hall could be a capable depth receiver, and he should also be in the mix for the vacant kick returner position. He’s got a versatile skillset and has shown the most of the fringe WRs on the roster, which probably makes him the favorite for the 6th WR spot.
2017 Production: N/A
Another UDFA from last year’s class that managed to stick around, Reggie Davis also showed some promise during the 2017 preseason. He never managed to make his mark during the regular season, but the team clearly liked him enough to bring him back once again to compete in training camp. Davis is a dynamic player with some return ability, but he faces an uphill battle to make the roster against the entrenched players ahead of him. It’s likely that it’ll come down to Hall, Davis, and the UDFA crop for the 6th and final WR spot on the roster.
UDFAs: Christian Blake, Dontez Byrd, Detrich Clark, Devin Gray, Lamar Jordan
The rest of these WRs are longshots to make the roster at best. Atlanta is looking to fill perhaps 1-2 of the final spots on the roster, and these players will have to really show out—particularly on special teams—to jump ahead of Russell Gage, Justin Hardy, and Marvin Hall/Reggie Davis.
Christian Blake (6’1, 182) was a versatile receiver for Northern Illinois, who caught 38 passes for 414 yards, rushed 14 times for 61 yards, and returned 9 kickoffs for 174 yards.
Dontez Byrd (5’11, 180) was a star at Tennessee Tech, compiling 152 receptions for 1936 yards (12.7 YPR) and 13 TDs over two seasons. Byrd was also a very good returner, with 32 returns for 809 yards from 2016-17, including a 100-yd return for a TD.
Detrich Clark (5’10, 180) was a versatile player at Colorado State, contributing in the rushing, receiving, and return game. From 2016-17, Clark piled up 52 carries for 290 yards (5.6 YPC) and 3 TDs, 49 receptions for 591 yards (12.1 YPR) and 7 TDs, and 38 kick returns for 845 yards (22.2 YPR).
Devin Gray (5’11, 183) was a blazing fast receiver and punt returner for Cincinnati, posting a 4.42 40-yard dash time. Over the past two seasons, Gray posted 86 receptions for 1304 yards (15.2 YPR). He also took over the punt return job in 2017, with 12 returns for 95 yards (8.5 YPR).
Lamar Jordan (5’10, 185) was actually a QB for New Mexico in 2017—and was a mighty impressive threat as a runner, too. He posted a 4.46 40-yard dash time, and piled up 458 attempts for 2501 yards (5.5 YPC) and 17 TDs over his four-year career. The Falcons are apparently trying to convert Jordan to receiver, where he would likely be quite dangerous after the catch.
The Falcons are looking absolutely stacked at WR heading into 2018. A starting trio consisting of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley might be in contention for the best in the NFL—assuming Ridley is as dangerous as advertised. The depth behind them is also solid, with the reliable Justin Hardy, the special teams acumen of Russell Gage, and the potential for growth of Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis, and the UDFA crop.
Where things might get interesting is in 2019, when the Falcons will have some choices to make regarding Sanu’s cap hit and whether or not to retain Hardy. Both will likely be playing for their jobs this season, and that might leave WR3 and WR4 up for grabs in the future. Expect the Falcons to give plenty of opportunities to Hall, Davis, and whichever of the UDFAs impress in the preseason.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ WR group? Do you think Calvin Ridley’s addition makes this trio the most dangerous in the NFL? Which of the fringe WRs or UDFAs do you see making the roster?