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Why Olamide Zaccheaus won the battle for WR6

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The UDFA WR from Virginia fought off fierce competition throughout training camp, including holdovers from 2018 and a 2019 sixth-round pick, to win the final roster spot at WR.

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Final cuts have come in for the Falcons at last, and the 53-man roster has taken shape for the beginning of the 2019 season. There were a lot of close battles this year across the roster, with an abundance of players standing out at EDGE, RB, TE, and LB. But the fiercest competition of all might have been at WR, where half a dozen players were competing for the final two spots on the roster.

Among the top options were veteran Justin Hardy, 2018 practice squad holdovers Christian Blake and Devin Gray, 2019 sixth-round pick Marcus Green, and UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus. When the dust cleared on Saturday, only two remained: Hardy and Zaccheaus. While Hardy was considered a heavy favorite going into the preseason due to his proven production and years of experience with the offense, Zaccheaus’ inclusion was a bit more of a surprise. How did Zaccheaus make his case for the roster, and why did he emerge victorious over the other competitors?

For starters, Zaccheaus is a dynamic athlete with a lot of positional versatility. During his four years at Virginia, Zaccheaus spent time at WR, RB, and returner, and made plays at each spot. He actually had more attempts as a rusher (33) than receptions (21) during his freshman year, and continued to take carries as he transitioned into a more permanent role at WR. At his Pro Day, Zaccheaus reportedly ran in the high 4.4s and posted a very impressive 35.5-inch vertical jump. Along with those numbers, he posted a 4.19s short shuttle and 7.0s 3-cone time. While none of those are “elite” numbers, they’re very good across the board.

Over the course of five preseason games with the Falcons, Zaccheaus was 2nd on the team in receiving yards (110), T-2nd in receptions (10), and 1st in overall targets (20). Atlanta clearly had a lot of interest in evaluating his skillset, and he didn’t disappoint during his opportunities. The only area where Zaccheaus struggled was as a punt returner, where he muffed a punt and had a very lackluster 2.0 yard return average. We also didn’t see Zaccheaus play much on special teams, where a player like Christian Blake may have had an advantage.

Zaccheaus’ dynamic athleticism and preseason production were apparently reason enough for the Falcons to keep him on the 53-man roster, despite his failure to win the return job. He was clearly the most talented receiver of the group of competing WRs, posting some highlight-reel catches and generally looking like one of Atlanta’s most dynamic options in the passing game. If not for the emergence of TE Jaeden Graham, he would’ve been the most impressive receiving option for the Falcons as a whole.

There was always the chance, however, that the Falcons would prioritize special teams ability and experience over the long-term potential of Zaccheaus. We’ve seen the team do this before, and often—which is why many thought Christian Blake may have had an advantage. There was also the fact that Zaccheaus had to compete against a draft pick in Marcus Green. Fortunately for Zaccheaus, Green was clearly not ready for the NFL and barely made a mark in the preseason.

Overall, Zaccheaus won the WR6 battle by being the most impressive receiver of the bunch—which is, surprisingly, not always enough for NFL teams. With the questions the Falcons have at WR in 2020, most notably Mohamed Sanu’s contract, it seems the team decided to go with the dynamic potential of Zaccheaus over the special teams acumen and reliability of someone like Christian Blake. With Russell Gage and Justin Hardy ahead of him on the depth chart—both of whom are excellent on special teams—it wasn’t as necessary to have Zaccheaus stand out in that area.

The Falcons now head into the 2019 season with the following WR group:

Julio Jones
Calvin Ridley
Mohamed Sanu
Russell Gage
Justin Hardy
Olamide Zaccheaus

That’s an excellent group top-to-bottom, with star power at the top and a good mix of athleticism and move-the-chains ability at the bottom. I’d expect the Falcons to make a case for the strongest WR corps in the NFL during the 2019 season—and I wouldn’t be shocked if Zaccheaus wound up contributing to that distinction.

What are your thoughts on Olamide Zaccheaus making the Falcons’ final 53-man roster? Do you think he earned the job, or were you expecting someone else to make it?