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Examining the Atlanta Falcons WR group in the post-Julio Jones era

I’m finally reaching the acceptance phase post-trade.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Julio Jones is no longer a Falcon, there have been many opinions as to how he will be replaced on the offense. The funny thing about having a receiver of Julio’s caliber play on your team for a decade is that it’s easy to get spoiled and wonder without much urgency how the offense moves on without him.

Can Julio be replaced? The short answer to that question right now is no, because he’s a generational talent. However, what needs to be examined is what type of receivers are currently on the roster and how the position group looks as a whole in the post-Julio era. To understand that, we’re going to take a look at the type of receivers that are in an offense, their roles, and players on the roster are best suited for the roles.

X Receiver

As a refresher, the X receiver is the receiver that’s lined up out wide on the line of scrimmage on the weak side of the formation, opposite of where the TE is aligned. You will hear some refer to the X as the split end. Now typically, a team’s #1 receiver is aligned at the X. Considering the X lines up on the LOS, he has to not only be a deep threat and have good speed, but also ideally has to be strong or crafty enough to handle jams and press coverage. I would identify the current prospective X receivers on the roster as:

Tajae Sharpe

Olamide Zaccheaus

Frank Darby

Christian Blake

Y Receiver

The Y receiver, or slot depending on personnel and formation, is the receiver that lines up on either side of the field inside the wideouts. This receiver is typically tough in the middle with good short area quickness. The receiver that plays in the slot is normally good for moving the chains. Current prospective Y receivers on the roster include:

Russell Gage

Greg Dortch

Chris Rowland

Z Receiver

The Z receiver is the receiver that’s lined up on the strong side of the formation, or on the same side but outside the tight end. Also called the Flanker, the Z aligns slightly behind the LOS, giving them a better cushion when releasing off of the snap. Typically players that have good speed and good route running ability can do damage at the Z, as they can do so inside or outside of the numbers. The current prospective Z receivers on the roster are:

Calvin Ridley

Antonio Nunn

Based on these groups as they stand today, you’d expect something like a starting trio of Ridley, Sharpe and Gage. But the WR group as it sits now comes with a major caveat. The Falcons now have Kyle Pitts on the roster, and it’s an absolute guarantee that Coach Smith will be moving him all over the field, including some of all of these positions.

The NFL is a constantly changing league in regards to the passing game, so even as I see some players on the roster as better suited for specific positions, expect Coach Smith to move them around as well to get favorable match ups. He’s already talked about doing so with Gage despite his track record in the slot, and Pitts and even Hayden Hurst will likely move around as well.

Of course this isn’t as good a group with Julio Jones now off the roster, but the hope is that Coach Smith can get the best out of the players that he does have. Who ends up starting and how much he moves these guys around will be worth monitoring this summer.