For the longest time, Atlanta Falcons fans and draft prognosticators have ruled out a handful of positions for the team to zero in on high in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Wide receiver is one of them, for a bounty of reasons.
After all, it was just two years ago the team stunned us all and selected dangerous Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to pair with All-Pro talent Julio Jones and possession receiver Mohamed Sanu Sr.
It felt like a luxury move for a team with perennial needs on its defense, but with Ridley just beginning to scratch the surface of his elite potential and Sanu now dealt to the New England Patriots, the move makes sense in retrospect.
I’ve had this little feeling in the back of my mind recently of what would happen if the Falcons decided to pick from this historic class of wideouts in this year’s draft, but NFL analyst Evan Silva’s most recent mock draft made me realize...this might not be as crazy as we all thought it could.
In it, he has the Falcons defying any and all draft expectation and adding speedy Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III at Pick 16.
The move would send Falcons Twitter into an unmitigated tailspin, and for good reason. The team desperately needs another impact player or three on its defense, which is why any offensive pick would feel like a mother of all headscratchers.
But consider it, because it might not be all that bizarre of an idea, at least for the top three rounds.
The team knows it needs defensive help, and I’d wager Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff both gather that the defense has to be better for them both to be back in 2021 (should we even be discussing football in the fall, mind you).
But Dimitroff loves skill players (particularly those from the Crimson Tide), and his track with drafting wide receivers is pretty excellent, all things considered. The receivers at the top of this class, Ruggs III, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, all have potential to be great players and top wideouts in any system.
If the Falcons drafted one and made that player its third receiver in Dirk Koetter’s pass-happy verticals offense, the team might have the most dangerous trio of wideouts in the NFL. NFL’s Lance Zierlein compares Ruggs III to Ted Ginn Jr., which would be hypothetically perfect for what Koetter loves to do.
His explosive speed could take the top off of NFL defenses who are busy worrying about Julio Jones and also Calvin Ridley. If defenses somehow manage to defend those two, here comes Ruggs III down the field to haul in the deep ball for the score. The Falcons have sorely lacked in explosive plays in the post-Kyle Shanahan era, and having three WR1s on your roster could, very much, help fix that.
But this is Madden 2021 logic, right? The odds of the Falcons actually selling out to have the best wideout group in the NFL are still incredibly slim, but this is a team that rarely meets draft expectation. It might not be quite as silly of a proposal as you might think.
A much more likely scenario would be the team using one of their mid-round picks on the position, maybe even as high as the second, where there are still some great talents available. But the defense needs help, you’ll counter, and you’ll be right! They do, badly.
So it’s possible the team could take part in this great wideout class, if not the best situation for your defense (unless winning all games in shootouts is just how you want to run your organization). How likely is it? It’s tough to say.
Consider that the team may already have their third wide receiver locked in. Russell Gage Jr. did a really nice job as the third receiver on the roster when Sanu was traded. Gage Jr. had 402 yards and a touchdown behind Jones and Ridley in the time after Sanu went to New England, which is really nice production for the former sixth-round pick as the fourth option in the passing game (tight end Austin Hooper was also a factor, of course).
The most probable scenario is for the team to roll with Jones, Ridley and Gage Jr. as its main trio in the fall. Even considering a fourth-round pick to supplant these guys would disregard the signing of Laquon Treadwell or the potential for undrafted guys like Olamide Zaccheaus and Christian Blake, who got snaps last year.
Basically, expect nothing and everything in this seemingly unlikely scenario. The talent in this year’s draft class is superb, and the team loves drafting receivers. But, as we all know, other needs abound, and getting greedy doesn’t always pay off like you’d hope when you’ve got debts in other areas. But this is the Falcons in the draft. Count nothing out.
If this team really wants to have a passing offense no one can stop, receiver is on the board more than we might like to think. We’re not at all confident that this would be a good scenario, and feel pretty darn sure that it won’t happen in the first round.
But in a class like this and with a GM who knows his strengths in part lie in scouting the position, it might not be out of the question to see one drafted, period.