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Falcons 2020 training camp battles re-visited: The third receiver gig

Leapin’ Russell Gage faces off against Laquon Treadwell.

NFL: DEC 29 Falcons at Buccaneers Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons have a pretty settled roster. There are questions at left guard and the pecking order along the defensive line and at cornerback, but especially on offense, most battles are already settled. With such a weird, unsettled year, that’s not a bad thing, even if it does mean there’s not a lot of summer drama.

One position that will feature a little of that drama is receiver. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are locked in as one of the NFL’s best 1-2 punches, but there’s at least a skirmish ahead for the third receiver job, where there are two logical contenders. Let’s dive into that mini-battle right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.

Russell Gage

NFL Stats: 31 games, 4 starts, 74 targets, 49 receptions, 446 yards, 9.1 YPR, 1 TD

Gage is not the most veteran option in this particular battle, and while I liked him a lot when he was drafted, I’m not sure I suspected he’d be in line for this gig by his third season. It’s a testament to the fine work he did when the Falcons traded Mohamed Sanu away that he is.

Used chiefly on short routes by Dirk Koetter despite his very real speed and leaping ability, Gage vacuumed up targets late in the 2019 season. He’s got good hands, runs pretty crisp routes, and leaps and hurdles (sometimes, perhaps, unnecessarily) with the kind of enthusiasm and acumen you truly love to see. He was particularly effective in Weeks 11 and 17, when he had a combined 15 catches on 23 targets for over 150 yards, showing he can certainly be a reliable short-to-mid-range option for Matt Ryan.

Gage is the favorite because of that production, but also because he has a lot of untapped potential. He’s just 24 years old and hasn’t had the opportunity to show his wheels on deep routes, something Dirk Koetter might consider dialing up for him more this year. If his route running takes a step forward and Koetter varies his routes, Gage should be able to build on his 2019 in a meaningful way. He should be considered the obvious favorite for this job.

Laquon Treadwell

NFL Stats: 53 games, 16 starts, 107 targets, 65 receptions, 701 yards, 10.8 YPR, 2 TDs

Treadwell is only 25 years old, which seems incredible given that he’s played twice as many years in the NFL as Gage. The former Vikings first round pick never really played his way into a major offensive role in Minnesota, however, which means he’ll be heading to Atlanta hoping to rejuvenate his career.

Treadwell is two inches taller than Gage and slower, but he’s not slow. The Vikings used him as a possession option when they used him, but as his 58 yard romp last year showed, he’s perfectly capable of outrunning defenders when called upon. The problem for Treadwell has been consistently getting open, getting looks, and using his size and physicality to make plays. It’s difficult for me from a distance to know how much of that is his relatively small role in the Vikings offense and how much of it is him as a player.

I fully expect Treadwell to have a role in Atlanta, but I do consider him the longshot to win the third receiver gig. Gage has a rapport with Ryan at this point, something Treadwell won’t have a lot of time to build, and his speed makes him a nice fit alongside Julio, Ridley, and new addition Hayden Hurst.

I think I pretty much said my piece above. Treadwell’s college production and flashes of speed and power in the NFL suggest he can be an asset for this offense, and perhaps in a different offseason he comes in, wows the coaching staff, and beats out Gage. Given the limited amount of time he has to prove himself and the work Gage did a year ago, I expect this one to be pretty easy to decide.

With Julio, Ridley, Gage, Treadwell, Olamide Zaccheaus, and perhaps promising UDFA Chris Rowland, this receiving corps is going to be a lot of fun to watch this year, regardless of how this particular battle shakes out.