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Falcons impressive receiver depth on display against the Panthers

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The Falcons were thought to be fairly thin at WR after the Mohamed Sanu trade. Even after dealing with injuries to key players, Atlanta’s receiver depth has proven to be better than expected with players like Russell Gage stepping up.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Just before the trade deadline, the Falcons had a decision to make. Several teams were inquiring about WR Mohamed Sanu, with the Patriots apparently making the highest offer of a 2019 second-round pick. Sanu had been a key contributor to Atlanta’s offense, and was part of the reason that the Falcons were considered by many to have the NFL’s best WR trio. Unfortunately for Atlanta, that trio wasn’t enough to put them in position to compete for the playoffs. Despite the hit to the WR depth chart, the Falcons elected to agree to the trade with New England.

If you had been concerned about the team’s depth at WR after the trade, you would have been justified. After all, the top 2 targets in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley were proven starters, but none of the other players had done much in the season. The Falcons also had TE Austin Hooper to turn to, who had been having a career season in 2019.

Fast forward to Week 14, and you’d hardly know Sanu was missing. Despite injuries to Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, and now Calvin Ridley, Atlanta’s passing attack remains one of the most productive in the NFL. The Falcons are 3rd in passing yardage and T-7th in passing TDs (25 on the year, 1 behind a 5-way tie for 2nd). Much of that obviously has to do with the prowess of the team’s stars, but several players on the depth chart have stepped up when called upon.

Russell Gage, a second-year WR from LSU, has stepped into the WR3 role and performed admirably. In fact, he’s almost perfectly replicated Sanu’s production since the trade:

Mohamed Sanu: 7 games played, 33 receptions, 313 yards, 9.5 avg, 1 TD

Russell Gage: 13 games played (6 without Sanu), 32 receptions, 302 yards, 9.4 avg, 1 TD

Gage isn’t quite the same style of receiver as Sanu, but his skillset is just as valuable. While Sanu was the big, chain-moving redzone weapon, Gage is more of a smaller, dynamic athlete. Both have had success in the WR3 role.

Several other players have also stepped up when called upon. UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus had perhaps the most impressive play of the season: a 93-yard catch-and-run TD reception, which was the longest of Matt Ryan’s career (and the 2019 season for any team). Christian Blake played well in Julio’s stead against the Saints, posting 6 catches for 57 yards. He also nearly had a phenomenal special teams play against the Panthers, but half of his foot was out of bounds on the replay.

While technically not a WR, TE Jaeden Graham has had a very intriguing season when given opportunities. A rare big-play threat at TE, Graham leads the team with 16.6 yards per catch—he has 9 catches for 149 yards on the year. Graham could be a big part of Atlanta’s plans moving forward, particularly with Luke Stocker’s relatively lackluster performance and contract.

With Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake, and Jaeden Graham all under team control for at least the next few seasons at very affordable rates, the Falcons seem to have their WR and TE depth in a great place heading into the 2020 offseason. That’s a good thing, because they’ll need to use nearly all of their draft picks to fix a porous defense and an offensive line that has allowed a ridiculous number of hits on Matt Ryan.

What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ depth at WR and TE heading into 2020? Would you be comfortable rolling into next year with the current group plus a late-round pick/UDFA or cheap free agent?