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A post-draft review of the Falcons’ WR position

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The Falcons have devoted a ton of resources to the WR corps over the past several seasons. How does the group look heading into Atlanta’s 2019 training camp?

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of talk about the Falcons’ WR corps over the course of the 2019 offseason. It all started with GMFB’s Twitter polls asking who was the best WR in the NFL, which Julio Jones ended up winning (of course). But what about the rest of the group? The Falcons have put a ton of resources into the position over the past few years, including a first-round pick in Calvin Ridley and two sixth-rounders in Russell Gage and Marcus Green.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Falcons’ WR group looks heading into training camp.

Starters

Julio Jones is a beast, and the best WR in the NFL according to Twitter (and smart people in general). His presence as WR1 elevates the Falcons’ offense tremendously. Julio’s combination of intelligence, athleticism, size, and competitive toughness make him a force to be reckoned with on every down.

Calvin Ridley had an impressive rookie season by any measure, leading Atlanta in TDs with 10 and putting up significant receiving numbers. Still, there is room for Ridley to improve—drops were an issue at times, and the consistency wasn’t always there. The Falcons will be expecting Ridley to step into the WR2 role in 2019, and I think he’ll deliver. His combination of elite route running and excellent deep speed make him a dangerous option opposite Julio.

Mohamed Sanu has been a rock-solid WR2 for this team since joining the Falcons in 2016. Now being shuffled into the WR3 role with Ridley ascending, Sanu should have even more opportunities to excel against lesser competition. His unique blend of size, athleticism, and physicality makes him difficult to deal with, particularly in the slot. I’d expect Sanu to have another productive season in 2019.

Reserves

Justin Hardy was allowed to walk in free agency, but apparently didn’t get any offers worth taking. The Falcons brought him back on a one-year near-minimum contract to provide reliable veteran depth. Hardy is a solid possession receiver with some plus ability in the red zone, but he’s never been able to establish himself as anything more than a WR4.

Russell Gage has been generating a lot of hype thus far. Quinn singled him out as someone who had a made a significant jump from his rookie season, and Gage has impressed throughout OTAs and minicamp. He’s a very good athlete and special teams player with some gadget-play ability as well. Gage seems like a virtual roster lock at this point, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wound up as the WR4 heading into the season.

Marcus Green, the Falcons’ sixth-round draft selection, is a man of many talents. When he was drafted, Green was listed as a RB. Dimitroff later clarified that he was going to be a WR, but he’s still listed as a RB on the Falcons’ website and is wearing a number traditionally given to RBs (43). Green is versatile and can play both positions, but he’s also a very good returner. With excellent elusiveness and athletic ability, I’d say Green is the favorite to win the returner competition. Otherwise, he’s likely to begin his career as the WR5 or WR6.

Shawn Bane, a small school receiver for Northwestern Missouri State, is an electric athlete the Falcons added as a UDFA. Bane reportedly ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, and his explosiveness and agility are very impressive. He’s a talented returner and will have a shot at that job, but otherwise will be competing for a practice squad spot.

Christian Blake attended the Falcons’ training camp in 2018, but wasn’t able to make the final 53-man roster. Blake did get an invite to the practice squad, and was brought back on a reserve/future contract for 2019. He made some plays last preseason and will get another chance to compete, but his ceiling is likely the practice squad once again.

Devin Gray has a very similar story to Christian Blake. Gray was also with the Falcons for their 2018 training camp, and made some impressive plays during the preseason. Gray was unable to make the 53-man roster and was signed to the practice squad. He returned on a reserve/future contract to compete once again in 2019. I think Gray has a slightly better shot at the roster than Blake, but the practice squad is far more likely.

Kahlil Lewis is one of the most interesting UDFA WRs the Falcons brought in. At a solid 6’0, 195, Lewis put up an impressive 56 receptions for 782 yards (14.0 average) and 9 TDs at Cincinnati. Lewis showed off excellent hands, deep ball ability, and speed—I’d say “smooth” is the best way to describe his playing style. I’d expect Lewis to be one of the strongest contenders for a roster spot among the UDFAs. He’s got serious potential as a depth WR, and I’d expect him to end up on the practice squad at worst.

C.J. Worton, who is the younger brother of UCF WR J.J. Worton (famous for this amazing one-handed catch), had a breakout season at FIU last year after failing to make an impact at Florida. I don’t know much about him otherwise, but if he’s anything like his older brother he’s probably got great hands and solid athleticism. We’ll have to see how he performs in camp/preseason.

Olamide Zaccheaus is by far the most productive of the UDFA WRs the Falcons brought in. He piled up 93 receptions for 1058 yards (11.4 average) and 9 receiving TDs at Virginia. The 5’8, 190 Zaccheaus is built like a running back and looks like it with the ball in his hands. Zaccheaus has showcased amazing versatility over the years, taking snaps at WR, RB, and returner and finding production at each spot. He actually reminds me a lot of Marcus Green as a player and has similar upside. Zaccheaus has a legit shot at the 53-man roster and is a favorite for the practice squad.

Outlook

As I’ve already established, the Falcons’ have the NFL’s best WR corps top-to-bottom, but particularly with their starting trio. Behind those three, Atlanta has a reliable depth option in Justin Hardy and two recent draft picks in Russell Gage and Marcus Green. However, the team also brought in a ton of talent with their UDFA pool. Atlanta’s two practice squad WRs from 2018 have returned, and the additions of Kahlil Lewis, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Shawn Bane should help to create a spectacular camp competition in 2019.

This is arguably the strongest position on the roster. The Falcons often have very good WR groups in camp and the preseason, but this one stands out to me as one of the most talented we’ve ever seen. There are going to be some tough cuts when it’s all said and done—don’t be surprised if we see Justin Hardy let go in favor of the upside of Lewis or Zaccheaus.