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Atlanta’s wide receiver depth chart shouldn’t be stressing you out just yet

Atlanta’s a long way away from a positionless offense, but the current picture at wide receiver isn’t wholly accurate.

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Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Falcons receiving corps is laughably weak on paper. The most established wide receiver is Damiere Byrd, a journeyman third or fourth receiver with intriguing speed, and the highest-upside options are probably oft-injured tall guy Auden Tate and 2021 Falcons sixth-round rookie Frank Darby. On paper, this is the worst receiving corps in the league, and I’m not sure it’s a particularly close competition.

That’s the snapshot in early April, but for a lot of reasons, doing more than cracking some easy jokes about the current depth is probably a mistake. The Falcons aren’t going to have an all-world receiving corps and you will pine for the highs of 2019 at some point in the not-too-distant future, but there are a few reasons to not start panicking about how dismal things look in the here and now.

The first is that this isn’t really the entire receiver group on the roster. Kyle Pitts lined up out wide on 30% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps in 2021, the highest percentage for any tight end in the NFL, and worked out of the slot frequently. He’ll once again function as this team’s de facto top receiver and will line up as one quite a bit.

Cordarrelle Patterson also received plenty of snaps lined up as a wide receiver, and the team could tinker with increasing his usage there if they like the Mike Davis, Damien Williams and Qadree Ollison trio enough at running back. At the very least, Pitts and Patterson will mix in as receivers enough that this team won’t need to run out a Tate, Zaccheaus and Byrd trio all that often.

They likely won’t do that anyways because the draft is around the corner, and reports indicate the Falcons may be aggressive about addressing the position then. One or two capable young receivers joining this group wouldn’t make it among the league’s best, but it would push everyone else on the depth chart into more limited roles where they’d have a better chance of thriving. That player—or those players—will also be critical additions for next year given that almost every receiver on the roster is in Atlanta on a one year deal, and it seems unlikely Atlanta will come out of this draft without at least one addition.

Combine those factors together and it seems likely that the Falcons will not be wholly reliant on a hastily cobbled-together set of veterans soaking up 300 targets from Marcus Mariota. That may only be a small consolation at the end of the day, but it should still be a consolation, given that the alternative might well be unwatchable. This is a team that has made it clear, with their experiments with Patterson and with their efforts to take advantage of Pitts’ versatility, that it’s interested in blurring the lines between positions to the point where some of Atlanta’s most valuable receivers are unlikely to be listed as receivers at all heading into the year.

None of this is to suggest the Falcons will have a great receiving corps in 2022, because this isn’t a world-beating group even with Pitts and Patterson mixed in, and a rookie or two isn’t going to fix that. The hope is that a bit of creativity and draft capital end up making this group—and by extension, the offense—better and more fun than it looks here in April.