There’s been a lot of healthy (and not so healthy) debate on Twitter recently about whether or not the Falcons have the NFL’s best WR in Julio Jones. After much deliberation, it was decided by NFL fans that Julio was indeed the best—followed very closely by Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins.
With that knowledge in our pocket, what about the claim that the Falcons’ might have the best WR corps in the NFL altogether? SB Nation’s Christian D’Andrea put the Falcons at the top of his WR corps power rankings, and here was his justification:
There’s a tremendous amount of talent doled out in complementary shapes in Atlanta. Jones and a cast of department store mannequins would still be a force, but adding touchdown machine Ridley (10 touchdowns in 64 catches as a rookie) and a do-everything veteran (including throwing the ball) in Sanu makes the Falcons’ passing game a nightmare to stop.
It’s an interesting question to ponder. Many Falcons fans, myself included, felt that Atlanta’s WR corps was certainly up there in terms of power relative to the rest of the league. I don’t think anyone could argue that the Falcons’ receivers aren’t top-5 at worst, particularly when examining the entire depth chart. Keep in mind, this rating only encompasses WR—not TE or RB—though with an ascending Austin Hooper and returning Devonta Freeman, Atlanta is probably up there in that ranking as well.
Let’s take a quick look at the projected WR depth chart for the Falcons to see how they stack up against the rest of the NFL.
WR1: Julio Jones
As we’ve just established, Julio Jones is the best WR in football. Having the best WR in the league as your WR1 already gives you a significant leg up on the competition.
WR2: Calvin Ridley
Ridley has perhaps the most potential of any WR2 heading into the 2019 season, coming off an electric 2018 that saw him post a ridiculous 10 TDs. The scary part is, Ridley was still adjusting to the game and had his fair share of mistakes. In his second year, Ridley is primed for another excellent season. By the end of 2019, we could easily be talking about him and Julio as the NFL’s best duo.
WR3: Mohamed Sanu
With Ridley ascending, that bumps veteran Mohamed Sanu down to the WR3 spot—which is just fine in my eyes. Sanu is a big, imposing, and physical possession receiver with YAC potential. Add to that his consistent production over his tenure in Atlanta and his value as a gadget QB and you have one of the NFL’s best—and most proven—WR3s.
WR4: Justin Hardy
Justin Hardy returned to Atlanta on a one-year deal after his rookie contract expired, making him the expected WR4. Hardy never quite lived up to the hype of the WR with the most catches in NCAA history, but he’s been at worst a solid possession guy with plus ability in the red zone.
WR5: Russell Gage
At this point is where you start to veer off into the unknown for most WR corps. A Day 3 pick in 2018, Gage was very raw as a receiver coming into the NFL—and there was even the possibility of Gage cross-training at CB during OTAs and training camp. Gage managed to stick as the final WR due to his special teams acumen and athletic upside, but didn’t get many opportunities in 2018. It’s hard to say if he’ll make an impact this season, but Quinn did single Gage out as a player that’s made a significant jump from his rookie year.
WR6: Marcus Green
This year’s final draft selection, Marcus Green was initially called a RB by Dimitroff. That was later changed to WR, but the truth is that Green is more of an all-purpose player. Green is a tremendous athlete, but small, making him a potential weapon in the slot and on gadget plays. He’s also taken plenty of carries out of the backfield, and was an elite returner in college. I’m not sure how much he’ll do on offense this year, but he’s the odds-on favorite to win the return job.
The strength of this group is clearly the top-3, though Hardy is a reliable if uninspiring WR4 option. Here are the teams that I view as their top competition:
Cleveland Browns (OBJ, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins)
Los Angeles Rams (Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds)
Philadelphia Eagles (Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside)
Minnesota Vikings (Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell)
Cleveland has a lot of star power at the top in OBJ, but Landry is overrated in my opinion and Callaway—while exciting—was incredibly volatile in 2018. Higgins is an upgrade over Hardy, but not enough to tip the scales in the Browns’ favor.
The Rams have an impressive four-deep group, but they lack the star power at the top. Cooks is a productive WR1 and is great at what he does, but lacks the versatility of a true star like Jones or OBJ. Woods is among the best WR2s in the league—I’d still give him the edge over Ridley. Kupp is a hyper-productive possession player who is probably an upgrade over Sanu. I’m still not sure how good Josh Reynolds really is, so I’d put him in the “reliable WR4” range similar to Hardy.
The Eagles have a potentially excellent four-deep WR corps. While Alshon Jeffery isn’t among the ranks of the elite WR1s, he’s still capable of putting up serious numbers. DeSean Jackson is getting up there in age, but he’s still one of the most dangerous deep receivers in the NFL. The big questions come with Nelson Agholor and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Can Agholor get back to his productive ways this year? Can Arcega-Whiteside deliver on his potential in year 1? If so, this group will challenge for the best in the NFL.
The Vikings are obviously up there because of the best WR duo in the league. It’s hard to beat the potential of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as your top two guys. However, after those two there just isn’t a lot there for Minnesota. Laquon Treadwell has continued to disappoint, and unless someone deeper on the depth chart makes a big leap, this WR corps as a whole can’t make the claim for the top spot.
Comparing Atlanta’s receivers with these four teams, I can agree that the Falcons have a strong claim to have the NFL’s best WR corps heading into 2019. What do you think, Falcons fans? Do you agree, or would you give another team that title this season?