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The evolution of the Falcons WR position, 2008-2018

The Falcons have been fortunate enough to transition from one franchise great to another here.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

In putting together this series, I’ve been fortunate enough to start with positions of relative stability and greatness for these Atlanta Falcons, and that continues today. Soon enough we’ll be into the more depressing realities of, say, the guard position or defensive end, but for now I’m enjoying basking in some truly great memories.

So wide receiver! When Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith rode into town in 2008, they were fortunate enough to have one great receiver already in the fold, though I don’t think many appreciated just how good Roddy White would become after his breakout season in 2007. They also had a rangy deep threat in Michael Jenkins and a solid contributor in Harry Douglas, and they did ride that group to some early success. It’s what the front office has done with the position since that’s truly remarkable, though, as they’ve replaced that group of three with the current day trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley, somehow.

Let’s take a closer look at how the position has evolved over the last decade-plus.

Falcons WR Evolution

Year WR1 WR2 WR3 WR4 WR5 WR6
Year WR1 WR2 WR3 WR4 WR5 WR6
2008 Roddy White Michael Jenkins Harry Douglas Brian Finneran Laurent Robinson Eric Weems
2009 Roddy White Michael Jenkins Harry Douglas* Marty Booker Brian Finneran Eric Weems
2010 Roddy White Michael Jenkins Harry Douglas Brian Finneran Eric Weems
2011 Roddy White Julio Jones Harry Douglas Eric Weems Kerry Meier Kevin Cone
2012 Roddy White Julio Jones Harry Douglas Drew Davis Kevin Cone
2013 Roddy White* Julio Jones* Harry Douglas Darius Johnson Drew Davis Kevin Cone
2014 Julio Jones Roddy White Harry Douglas Devin Hester Eric Weems Courtney Roby
2015 Julio Jones Roddy White Leonard Hankerson Justin Hardy Devin Hester Nick Williams
2016 Julio Jones Mohamed Sanu Taylor Gabriel Justin Hardy Aldrick Robinson Nick Williams
2017 Julio Jones Mohamed Sanu Taylor Gabriel Justin Hardy Marvin Hall Andre Roberts
2018 Julio Jones Mohamed Sanu Calvin Ridley Justin Hardy Marvin Hall Russell Gage

The team has enjoyed remarkable (even borderline miraculous) greatness and stability at their top two spots. Roddy White is a future Ring of Honor inductee and one of the greatest receivers ever to suit up for the franchise, and his running mate Michael Jenkins was a solid #2 for a few seasons early on in Matt Ryan’s run. He gave way to Julio Jones, who will go down as the team’s greatest receiver ever and who eventually supplanted Roddy as the top dog in this offense. The #2 gig then went to Mohamed Sanu, who has enjoyed a three year run of consistent production and stellar passing, and he’ll in turn pass that torch to Calvin Ridley, who just had perhaps the best rookie season by a Falcons receiver ever and could someday supplant Julio as the top dog in the offense. The Falcons have done plenty of things wrong over the last decade plus, but when you talk about stocking the team with QBs, RBs and WRs, they’ve been as good as any franchise in football.

Things are a little more unsettled past the top guys, as you’d anticipate, but that #3 spot was in the hands of the same guy for seven seasons. Harry Douglas was polarizing during his entire run in Atlanta and remains polarizing now, but he did lock down his gig and provide solid production in largely run-first offenses for years and years. His complete lack of red zone production looks especially hilarious in light of how much flack Julio Jones gets for his scoring output—Douglas managed eight touchdowns in seven years—but the Falcons have always prioritized quality blocking and hands from their third guys, and Douglas did deliver that. He was followed by Leonard Hankerson, then speedy Taylor Gabriel, and then by Ridley, who should be considered the #2 guy this year in production and role if not in name.

Past that, it’s been a grab bag of guys and roles, with special teamers like Devin Hester, Andrea Roberts and Eric Weems earning multi-year runs, tryouts for size and speed guys like Kevin Cone, and the occasional ultra scrappy Nick Williams sighting. The team is always churning the bottom of the depth chart here in search of interesting players, but Justin Hardy has managed to carve out a role over the last four years as the fourth receiver in name because of his hands and blocking ability, and he’ll be here for at least one more season in that role. Hopefully Marcus Green and Russell Gage can show enough to do the same, lending more stability to the corps.

Overall, though, the Falcons have trotted out a consistently good-to-great group of receivers since 2008, and the 2019 group looks like it’ll be one of their best yet.