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Falcons position reviews: Wide receivers

Reviewing and grading the Falcons’ 2021 wide receivers.

Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

We’re moving right along as we continue to review the Atlanta Falcons 2021 roster here at The Falcoholic. With the season now over, it’s important to reminisce on the long season, review it, and access who may be with the team in the future.

Today we’ll be discussing the wide receiver group, which was arguably one of the thinnest in the entire league. Let’s take a look at each guy and how they contributed to the overall season.

Calvin Ridley

Stats: 5 games, 31 receptions, 281 yards, 2 TDs

We have to start at the top with this group, and to start the season “the guy” was Calvin Ridley. Ridley was coming off a 2020 season where he totaled 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. We still don’t know the specifics of the situation, and it’s none of my business, but Ridley was only able to play in five games for the Falcons in 2021 as he stepped away from football to address his mental health.

What we can do is look at the five games that he did suit up for and review them, so we will. Out of the gate, Ridley was quarterback Matt Ryan’s go-to man, as he had at least 10 targets in four of the five games. In those games, Ridley only had one game with 64+ receiving yards and averaged 9.1 yards per reception, the lowest average in his young career. It’s unclear what the future holds for Ridley and whether he will play for the Falcons again, but all I can do is wish him the best with his mental health recovery.

Grade: C+

Russell Gage

Stats: 14 games, 66 receptions, 770 yards, 4 TDs

It was quite the season for Russell Gage, who through the departure of Ridley became the team’s top receiver. Gage has had some solid years in Atlanta, but has usually been a third or fourth option. In 2021, Gage became the team’s best and primary option at wide receiver and finished behind only Kyle Pitts in receiving yards and receptions. Gage did finish strong in 2021, as in the season finale against the New Orleans Saints, he totaled 9 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown.

It’s unclear if Gage will be back with the Falcons in 2022, as he is expected to enter free agency unless something happens before then. With a few strong games towards the end of the season, Gage could get more money elsewhere. Overall though, Gage flashed and was by far the best wide receiver the Falcons had. Considering that and knowing he had to be thrust into a huge role on the offense, I liked what Gage did this past season.

Grade: B+

Tajae Sharpe

Stats: 15 games, 25 receptions, 230 yards

When Tajae Sharpe is your second-best wide receiver, you have problems. This is not a slight for Sharpe, but more a slight on the Falcons lack of depth at the position. Before joining the Falcons, Sharpe spent time with the Tennesee Titans and Minnesota Vikings, where he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot. Enter the 2021 season with the Falcons, where Sharpe had the most targets he’s had since the 2018 season.

There’s not a lot to say or review, as Sharpe was a WR5 at best, who was asked to be a WR2. Like practically all of the Falcons’ receivers, he’s expected to be a free agent this offseason and it’s unknown if he’ll be back with the team.

Grade: INC

Olamide Zaccheaus

Stats: 17 games, 31 receptions, 406 yards, 3 TDs

I’ve always had a soft spot for Olamide Zaccheaus, who joined the Falcons in 2019 as an undrafted free agent. 2021 was by far his best season, as he was used more with the departure of Ridley in Week 5. Zaccheaus’ production can actually be compared to Ridley’s because they both received the same amount of targets and caught the exact same amount of passes. The only difference is Zaccheaus finished with 125 more yards and one more touchdown.

Zaccheaus is another Falcons’ wide receiver on track to hit free agency this offseason. I really hope he returns as I think Matt Ryan has grown to trust him over the last few seasons, and he could do well as the third wide receiver in this offense.

Grade: C+

Outlook: Shaky

There’s a few more receivers on the roster, but they’re nearly impossible to grade due to their usage. The Falcons’ receiving group was, in my opinion, the worst in the league. What makes things worse is that the weak depth wasn’t addressed following Ridley’s absence, as only Marvin Hall was brought in to help out and was eventually let go.

With most of the 2021 receivers likely to hit free agency, and the possibility of a Ridley trade, this wide receiver group may look totally different entering the 2022 season. It badly needs an infusion of talent even if Ridley and Gage both stay.