The Atlanta Falcons are about to hit the heat and get to training camping, and there’s a spot right now that’s a bit unsolved.
Wide receiver feels like one of those positions on the roster that a guy could pop up out of nowhere and latch on at.
Obviously, the top four spots are taken by Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley and Justin Hardy. There are the lockiest of locks, and will be the main four receivers that Matt Ryan throws to on game days. New draftee Russell Gage has been cross-trained at receiver and cornerback, and will most likely be one of the team’s main gunners on special teams this season, so consider him a lock as well.
After that, Marvin Hall feels like the leader in the clubhouse for that sixth roster spot (assuming the team carries six receivers; you never know how that goes), with former Georgia receiver Reggie Davis not far behind. Davis was a preseason favorite in 2017 that stuck around on the practice squad, and competed with Hall for a spot last year. Hall was with OC Steve Sarkisian at Washington, and has familiarity with the system.
After that, though, watch out for former Tennessee Tech Golden Eagle Dontez Byrd.
Byrd caught my eye while doing my Falcons UDFA tunnel run in the spring with his college stats.
As a former Louisville Cardinal who transferred to Tech, he amassed 1,936 yards and 13 touchdowns over two seasons, which is pretty darn good for a receiver playing in the Ohio Valley Conference. He averaged 12.9 yards a catch, and 91.2 a game.
Having watched some of his senior film, you can tell why the Falcons were interested. He’s got a patience to his game that’s easy to spot, as well as a knack for getting open deep. He doesn’t have elite speed, nor is he quite tall enough to use size as an advantage against the taller corners of the NFL (he’s 5’11,” so more Antonio Brown than Julio), but his technique is quite sound; there are moments here and there on the tape that show Byrd just out-fundamental-ing a guy, using his football smarts and moves to get past the competition and get the touchdown. He’s just got the look.
I like the way The Falcons Wire’s Andy Gallagher put it back in May.
Tennessee Tech WR Dontez Byrd could be the guy Falcons twitter falls in love with. Not a tall guy but competitive and looks good going vertical. Ultra productive after transferring with good route running and hands. Wouldn't be surprised to see him catch a long TD in preseason— Andy (@falcons_andy) May 17, 2018
Byrd’s production is something that’s hard to forget, and his film shows a guy who might just have what it takes to out-football some guys on his way to an NFL career. His lack of blistering speed might hold him back, but his ability to always be in the right place at the right time might make his more-league average dash a moot point.
Just so you think I’m not just being weird, noted Falcons Twitter member Vienna Twitter also seems to think Byrd could be the UDFA we’re talking about here soon.
Don't blink, Dontez Byrd may be this year's Jermaine Grace https://t.co/ZYP7S2Zc7W— Vienna Falcons (@ViennaFalcons) July 19, 2018
I’m very interested in seeing how Byrd does once camp gets going. There is always more than one way to firm up a career in the NFL, and Byrd’s got his technique and penchant for getting near the ball to work in his favor.
If he can prove his worth on special teams and maybe even vie for some kick and pun return duties in preseason, perhaps he could push for that sixth spot on the roster, or at least a spot on the practice squad. Though, he’ll have stiff competition for even that; new receivers Christian Blake and Lamar Jordan are intriguing guys who’ll vie for Byrd’s preseason snaps, the latter an insanely productive dual-threat QB who switched positions.
But, y’know, something with Byrd just feels right. Maybe it’s the last name; maybe it’s my affinity for guys from my home state, but whatever it is, my gut says go with this guy, so I will.
Perhaps the Dirty Bird could become the Dirty Byrd for a Falcons touchdown this season, and Byrd assuming the next fascinating UDFA to make a spot on the roster and contribute to the organization.