We’re officially through the Falcons’ first two preseason games, and one thing has become abundantly clear: Atlanta has a very talented roster this year, and no position is stronger than WR. The Falcons have an absurd amount of depth at the position, and their top-3 of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu are the most dangerous trio in the league.
Outside of those three, there’s a fierce competition taking shape for the final 2-3 spots on the Falcons’ 53-man roster. There are a lot of contenders, who I broke down in detail here, and only a few will end up making the cut. After a second preseason performance, the competition is simultaneously becoming clearer at the top and murkier at the bottom.
At the top, there were thought to be two serious contenders for the WR4 spot: second-year WR Russell Gage and veteran WR Justin Hardy. Hardy was presumed to be favorite, as he’s manned the role for several years and has always been a solid option at worst. Gage had a limited role during his rookie season, but began to earn more playing time towards the end of 2018.
When free agency kicked off, the Falcons let both Marvin Hall and Justin Hardy walk in free agency—which seemed to indicate that they were comfortable rolling with Gage and any rookies/UDFAs that they brought in. Despite re-signing Hardy for the veteran minimum after he tested the market, it seems pretty clear that Gage has the lead in the WR4 competition. Gage has been a lot more impressive in preseason and in training camp, getting a lot of first-team snaps in Julio Jones’ absence. Over two preseason games, Gage has 4 catches for 54 yards (13.5 average) despite playing only a handful of snaps—and those catches have been mighty impressive to boot.
Hardy, meanwhile, has been getting plenty of work with the second-team offense (and some with the first-team) in training camp. He continued to show off his smooth route running and excellent hands, but he may have to prove that he can be more than just a reliable option to win a roster spot with the bevy of talent the Falcons have behind him. He’s had a much slower start to the preseason, with only 2 catches for 9 yards (4.5 average) over two games. Like Gage, Hardy also hasn’t been getting a ton of work thus far—but Gage has clearly done more with his opportunities.
Speaking of talent, many of the Falcons’ other WRs have been impressing through two preseason games. UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus—who had a very productive college career and probably should’ve been drafted—currently leads the Falcons with 4 catches for 66 yards (16.5 average). Christian Blake, who was also with the Falcons during the 2018 preseason, is right on his heels with 8 catches for 65 yards (8.1 average). UDFA Kahlil Lewis had a quiet first game, but followed that up with a very nice second outing where he led Atlanta in receiving with 2 catches for 43 yards. He’s currently third on the team with 4 catches for 57 yards (14.3 average).
Those aren’t even the only guys that have flashed thus far. Small school prospect Shawn Bane had an impressive Hall of Fame game showing, but couldn’t do anything with his two targets against Miami. C.J. Worton has been earning more targets, but has also had his share of drops. We’ve barely gotten to see rookie Marcus Green in the preseason after he suffered a hamstring injury in the Hall of Fame game, but you’d have to think the Falcons would love to see him flash enough to earn a roster spot.
All of this points to a fierce WR competition that isn’t likely to be decided any time soon. I believe Russell Gage is pretty firmly entrenched at WR4, but the fifth and sixth spots are wide open. Veteran Justin Hardy and rookie Marcus Green should be considered the favorites, but I think there’s an opportunity for someone like Zaccheaus, Blake, or Lewis to claw their way onto the roster with solid showings throughout the three remaining preseason games.
What do you think of the Falcons’ depth at WR? Do you think Russell Gage has proven himself enough to be considered the WR4? Who would you like to see win the final two roster spots at WR?