When you think of the most valuable traits for receivers backing up the likes of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu? Aside from pure talent, it might be how closely they approximate the skillsets of the men they may need to relieve because of fatigue or injury, as Jason Butt outlined yesterday at The Athletic.
The safe assumption heading into this summer is that the Falcons will strive to keep backup receivers who can do a handful of things well. For Justin Hardy, that’s his excellent hands, blocking skills, and red zone production, making him a rough analogue for Mohamed Sanu. For Russell Gage, it’s the pure speed that makes him interesting in relief of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. And therein lies the rub as the team tries to figures out who their sixth receiver will be, if indeed they keep one: They’re looking for guys who can step in an be a poor man’s version of their elite trio.
“Those guys are clones of the guys we have,” Morris said. “Those guys can come in and fill in at different spots. I’ve got a really competitive group.”
This is a key statement because it tells you that besides special teams value—which you need to have to make it as a sixth guy on virtually any team in the NFL—fit might be the most vital attribute here. With Hardy on board and likely headed for by far the largest role of any of the reserves, the Falcons are likely to lean toward guys who can fly, making Gage one strong contender.
The other might not be one of this year’s UDFAs, even though it’s an interesting crop. Butt singles out Devin Gray, a 6’0” speedster who snagged 6 receptions for 111 yards in preseason a year ago and spent the entire year on the practice squad, and the size, speed, and experience make him an extremely interesting candidate.
Regardless of who ultimately wins out, the Falcons will be looking to ensure their offense can hum along as well as possible—and in as familiar a fashion—when one or all of the big three are out of the game. Hopefully, the talent on hand can get that done.