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Senior Bowl preview: Wide receivers to watch for the Falcons

Next up in our Senior Bowl preview is wide receiver, where the Falcons have a huge need regardless of what happens with Calvin Ridley. There’s a deep class heading to Mobile, including top prospect Jahan Dotson out of Penn State.

SMU v Cincinnati Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It’s officially Draft Season here at The Falcoholic, with the Atlanta Falcons locked into the 8th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Based on the results of the NFL’s divisional round of the playoffs, we also know that the Falcons will have the 58th pick as a result of the Julio Jones trade with the Titans. That gives the team three top-60 picks—and there’s the potential to add more with a few other player trades, if Atlanta is interested in making additional moves.

The next event on the offseason calendar is the Reese’s Senior Bowl—a showcase of the top draft-eligible seniors (or players who graduated early) that takes place in Mobile right around the first week of February. To get everyone ready for the week to come, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Falcons and the league at large. In case you missed any of the previous entries, you can find them here:

DL | LB | DB | WR | RB & TE | OL | QB

Next up is wide receiver, where the Falcons could be looking at a near total rebuild of the position in 2022. Calvin Ridley’s status is very much up-in-the-air, and the team is returning just 2021 6th-rounder Frank Darby alongside reserve/futures signings Austin Trammell and Chad Hansen.

WR

There’s no doubt that the Falcons will be looking long and hard at this wide receiver class. Regardless of what happens with Calvin Ridley, the team needs to add impact playmakers to take all of the burden off of Kyle Pitts. Luckily, this year’s class is deep and very talented. The Draft Network has 13 receivers in the top-100, and another 10 in the top-200. While many of the top prospects are underclassmen, the Senior Bowl is still getting a deep group of Day 2 talents alongside one of the first-round favorites this year. Here’s who I’ll be watching closely next week.

Jahan Dotson, Penn State

A terrific athlete and playmaker at wide receiver, Jahan Dotson would probably be in the conversation for WR1 if not for his size: at 5’11, 185, he simply lacks the prototypical frame that NFL teams desire. He certainly doesn’t play like a smaller receiver, though, as Dotson has terrific hands and is tenacious at the catch point. Dotson is a technically advanced route runner who can provide value at any alignment, including outside and from the slot. He’s the top-ranked receiver at the Senior Bowl, and I think we’ll see an electric performance.

Alec Pierce, Cincinnati

One of my favorite Day 2 targets for the Falcons, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce has a chance to lift his draft stock with a strong week in Mobile. Here’s how I described his skillset in last week’s mock draft:

At 6’3, 213, Pierce has a big frame, long arms, and the strength to make an impact as a blocker in both the run and screen game. Pierce is a very good athlete for his size, with quality long speed and surprising agility. His route running is advanced and nuanced, which could give him an immediate role in the offense. Pierce’s best traits are his hands and catch radius, and his tape is littered with circus catches. I think Pierce is an ideal WR2 at the NFL level who can win in any way you need, whether that’s short, intermediate, or deep.

Romeo Doubs, Nevada

One of the best deep threats in the nation, Nevada’s Romeo Doubs pairs good size (6’2, 200) with awesome deep speed and strong hands. He followed up an incredible 2020 season (1002 yards, 17.3 YPR, 9 TD) with a higher-volume season in 2021 that saw him continue to deliver consistent production (1109 yards, 13.9 YPR, 11 TD). Doubs has some growing to do in terms of his route tree and run blocking, but his athletic traits are hard to ignore. I like Doubs as a deep-ball specialist in his rookie year with long-term WR2 upside. A strong week against a higher level of competition at the Senior Bowl could lift his draft projection into Day 2.

Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama

Another small school prospect with an elite deep threat profile, South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert is a high-end athlete with a long frame (6’3, 190). Tolbert has improved his production and skills as a wide receiver significantly over the past three seasons, culminating in an eye-popping stat line of 82 receptions for 1474 yards (18.0 YPR) and 8 TDs in 2021. Tolbert has the whole package—he’s got great hands, tremendous deep speed, and the ability to create separation and yards-after-catch. Technically, his route tree is still quite limited, as are the finer intricacies of the position. He’ll be a complementary piece early in his career, but Tolbert has tremendous upside. This is the player with perhaps the best chance of any to vault themselves into first-round consideration with a strong Senior Bowl.

Calvin Austin III, Memphis

One of the most fun tape watches for me this offseason has been Calvin Austin III. The athletic marvel out of Memphis is a spark plug with the ball in his hands and consistently puts out highlight reel plays. His lack of ideal size (5’9, 162) makes his NFL projection a little more challenging, but his ability with the ball in his hands in undeniable. As a deep threat and short-yardage weapon, Austin brings a dynamic presence to the WR position. He’s never going to be the primary guy, but I think Austin could be a high-end WR3 that makes the most of his opportunities in the passing game. I’m excited to see how he matches up with the great CB class we have in Mobile.

Other players to watch:

Tre Turner, Virginia Tech
Khalil Shakir, Boise State
Christian Watson, North Dakota State
Danny Gray, SMU

I hope you’re enjoying our Senior Bowl preview series! I’ll be in Mobile to cover the Senior Bowl practices for The Falcoholic from Tuesday, February 4 through Thursday, February 6. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: defensive back.