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How will the Falcons divvy up their passing game targets in 2020?

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The Falcons lost some key contributors in 2020, but they have options.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In 2019, the Falcons threw the football 683 times. It goes without saying that it wasn’t ideal to have to throw so many times, given the state of the offensive line in the early going and the team’s lack of a compelling ground game, but it did happen.

Heading into the 2020 season, the Falcons have added to the offensive line, tried to build up the ground game by adding Todd Gurley, and will hopefully both pass less frequently and pass more effectively, which would be a huge plus. One major obstacle to that outcome is that Ryan isn’t going to be targeting the same group of receivers, tight ends, and running backs, with about 38% of their targets leaving in free agency or getting cut this offseason. When you have Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley that’s not a huge issue, but it’s still a significant one.

Let’s take a quick look at the team’s 2019 target counts. Those players who are gone are bolded on the list below.

2019 Targets

157: Julio Jones

97: Austin Hooper

93: Calvin Ridley

74: Russell Gage

70: Devonta Freeman

42: Mohamed Sanu

26: Justin Hardy

24: Christian Blake

14: Brian Hill

14: Ito Smith

14: Luke Stocker

10: Jaeden Graham

8: Kenjon Barner

5: Olamide Zaccheaus

3: Keith Smith

2: Qadree Ollison

1: Kaleb McGary

1: Ty Sambrailo


Some of these losses are not huge deals. Stocker’s targets were largely unproductive, for example, and Sambrailo and Barner were rarely targeted in the first place. It’s very likely that Gage and Ito Smith will eat up those and then some in larger roles, Gage because he’s the early favorite to be the team’s third receiver and Smith because he’s a productive receiver when he’s healthy.

Other losses are more significant. Since Hooper has left, it’s become popular to knock his lack of vertical production, but his 97 targets still turned into a tidy 75 catches for 787 yards and 6 touchdowns. Hayden Hurst, Gage, and Treadwell will probably be called upon to soak those targets up in 2020, with Hurst expected to get the lion’s share.

Similarly, Freeman wasn’t a hugely productive receiver out of the backfield in 2020, but he was a reliable and consistent one. Gurley will be expected to take on most of that production, but this offense would be better off spreading more of those targets around to the receiver and tight end group, given that they have more compelling options there.

In the end, I have to believe the addition of Treadwell, Gage’s expected emergence, Ridley’s potential to break out even more, and the addition of interesting players like Hurst, Gurley, and rookie Chris Rowland mean the Falcons can productively replace just about everyone except Hooper, and that’s only because I need to see Hurst in action before I declare him Hooper Lite.

Here’s an extremely rough guess at a target count for 2020. Let me know yours!

Targets: 605

150: Julio Jones

110: Calvin Ridley

80: Russell Gage

75: Hayden Hurst

60: Todd Gurley

40: Laquon Treadwell

30: Jaeden Graham

30: Ito Smith

10: Olamide Zaccheaus

5: Qadree Ollison

5: Brian Hill

5: Chris Rowland

5: Jared Pinkney