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How the Falcons receiver position could and should shake out in 2018

Don’t make many changes, please.

Atlanta Falcons v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

If running back is one of the strongest positions for these Falcons, so is wide receiver. The team has one of the three best players in the NFL at the position (Julio Jones), a very capable second option (Mohamed Sanu) who also happens to be an excellent passer, and a promising rookie coming off a ten touchdown season. Everything beyond that is almost immaterial.

But the Falcons do have more than that. It’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll bring back Justin Hardy, who is rarely useful in the day-to-day passing game but has proven to be a capable red zone option and very capable blocker, but Marvin Hall is a solid returner and situationally useful deep threat at worst and he should be back. Ditto Russell Gage, a core special teamer who got a little run at the end of the year and showed off good speed and solid hands. If Dirk Koetter wants to let four receivers just run every now and then, he’ll be equipped to do so.

Earlier today, we reviewed the position and had a brief look at the outlook ahead. Let’s take a closer look at the options available to Atlanta going forward.

Free agency

It would not make a lot of sense, if any, for the Falcons to invest in wide receiver through free agency. Cordarelle Patterson is awfully interesting because of his work as a returner, but anyone the Falcons pick up should be no better than their fourth receiver, and perhaps not even that. This team has enough holes that spending millions on another receiving option should be very far down the list of priorities.

If they do elect to sign someone, look for that special teams value. It could be Patterson, Andre Roberts (which would be sort of hilarious), or De’Anthony Thomas, but it’s not going to be a receiver capable of stepping into a major role. Again, that’s as it should be.

The draft

This is a little more plausible. The Falcons drafted Calvin RIdley and Russell Gage a year ago, though, and they have five NFL-caliber receivers if they don’t even consider bringing back Justin Hardy. They also have a couple of vaguely interesting options on the practice squad who are currently under contract.

All of that guarantees precisely nothing, though, because there’s a new offensive coordinator in town and the Falcons have shown us over the years that they adore wide receivers. Don’t be surprised if they bring someone in late in the draft as a developmental option for the day when Mohamed Sanu is no longer around, even if I’d genuinely prefer they didn’t touch the position this season.

The preferred outcome

The Falcons roll on in 2019 with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley as their top three options, with Russell Gage, Marvin Hall and a young undrafted free agent/late draft pick filling out the position. That gives you one of the best top threes in the NFL, some young promise, and a pair of speedy options for Dirk Koetter to use who also happen to be very useful on special teams.

The likely outcome

Exactly the same. Justin Hardy’s value as a blocker is real, but Koetter loves speed from his receivers and I think he’ll want to put his stamp on the offense by adding a young deep threat he can mold into the team’s long-term third receiver. You can make a solid argument for just trying that with Gage, who I like a lot, but I doubt that’s how things shake out.