We are on the verge of putting the entire 2018 season behind us. Before we do however, let’s reminisce on what proved to be a considerable strength for the Falcons during this season.
It was no secret entering the season that the Falcons possessed one of the best wide receiving groupings across the NFL. There is a solid mixture of well-established veterans, promising talent amongst the youngsters, and enough playmaking ability to concern a defense.
The 2018 season proved to be a very productive one for the Falcons wideouts, so let’s analyze and review the pass catchers for the Falcons offense.
2018 production: 113 catches, 1,677 yards, 14.8 ypc, eight TDs
Of course we will start at the top with a ball player who could very well be the best receiver in the game today. After an offseason that was filled with a holdout that had the fans uncomfortable and a number of videos of practicing with Terrell Owens, Julio Jones put together one of the best seasons in his career.
Jones led the league in yards and even got a monkey off his back by posting eight touchdown receptions. His first score of the season, 35-yard touchdown catch against Washington in Week 8, was commemorated with just about the entire team celebrated with Jones in the end zone, which goes to show how highly respected and beloved Jones is to this Falcons team.
This was statistically his second-best season of his eight-year career, and it was clear for the entire season that Jones is a difficult cover regardless of defense. Jones is creeping up to that round number of 30, but if this past season was any indication, there seems to be little sign in sight of this creature slowing down.
2018 production: 64 catches, 821 yards, 12.8 ypc, 10 TDs
Go back to draft night of the 2018 NFL Draft. As the Falcons sat at 26th overall and the clock ticked down second by second, many of us expected Atlanta to go defense to add to their already young stack of emerging stars. To the surprise of literally everyone, the Falcons decided to grab Calvin Ridley to add more juice to the Falcons offense.
Year 1 accomplished that.
Ridley led the team in touchdown receptions and topped all rookie receivers in catches. His breakout game came in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints, in which he posted seven catches, 146 yards, and three touchdowns, including a beautiful 75-yard touchdown reception for his third career score. In 14 of 16 games played this season, Ridley registered a catch rate of 60% or better. It did not take long for Ridley to establish himself as a playmaker lined up next to Julio Jones, and his performance certainly justified the drafting of his talents.
2018 production: 66 catches, 838 yards, 12.7 ypc, four TDs
A steady presence in the Falcons offense for three seasons now, veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu produced the best season of his career. He posted career-highs in catches, yards, and yards per game, and Sanu proved his value significantly on third down. He converted 16 third-down receptions to first downs, and 41 of his 66 total catches on the season resulted in a first down.
Sanu has never been a big producer when it comes to 100-yard games or massive touchdown totals, and there are not a lot of foot races that Sanu will win, but thanks to his strong hands and running back-like mentality after the catch, Sanu has proved to be a key asset in the Falcons offense. Reliability comes to mind when describing Sanu and what he brings to the offense.
Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Marvin Hall
Rounding out the receiving corps are a trio of young receivers that make their mark mainly on special teams. While Hardy has been in the Falcons system for four seasons, he has yet to make a significant impact, with just 76 catches and nine touchdowns in that time. Hardy is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and it may not be a guarantee that he returns. Only time will tell.
In terms of Gage, only six catches were posted on the season for the rookie out of LSU, but Gage found his niche as a core special teamer thanks to his speed as a gunner. Every now and then, we saw the offense incorporate Gage, and thanks to his athletic ability, we could see him on the field more starting in 2019.
Hall was instilled as the team’s primary returner with 616 return yards and averaging 23.7 yards per return. Hall’s speed is what earned him a spot on the team prior to the 2017 season. In the past two seasons, Hall recorded 40+ yard touchdown receptions to showcase that speed. The Falcons will have an interesting situation this offseason as Hall is an exclusive rights free agent.
The receiving corps was a strength last season, and with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley definitely in the mix moving forward, it should continue to be.