The wide group is yet another group out of many under the Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith regime that’s undergoing a serious makeover. At the beginning of the offseason, Fontenot mentioned that the front office would be very aggressive addressing the WR position. Once again, it’s becoming very clear what specific qualities Coach Arthur Smith looks for at the position as they begin the transition as to mold it to it Coach Smith’s vision.
A brief history at the position
It’s been quite some time since the Falcons have had to really focus on rebuilding the wide receiver room. The position was always noted, especially within the past 10 years, as a position of strength for the franchise. Former GM Thomas Dimitroff certainly had success in drafting explosive receivers as he added the likes of prototypical X receiver Julio Jones and route running wizard Calvin Ridley, as well as useful starters like Russell Gage.
As the new regime took the reins in 2021, some unfortunate incidents occurred—Julio Jones being traded, Calvin Ridley stepping away from football to focus on his mental health and subsequently suspended for the 2022 season—that made it absolutely clear that Terry Fontenot would have to be aggressive in restocking the wide receiver cupboard. Fontenot certainly has made the effort to do exactly that.
In the 2022 NFL Draft, Drake London was drafted to be top wide receiver for this new and revamped WR group. They’ve also added to the group in free agency and via trade, bringing in multiple options like Bryan Edwards, Auden Tate, and Geronimo Allison. Once again, there has been a theme in regards to what this new regime looks for in wide recievers. Smith clearly is partial to big and physical receivers that can do damage after the catch.
As of now, it’s very clear that the top of the wide receiver group is set with rookie Drake London and new acquisition Bryan Edwards being WR1 and WR2, respectively. Beyond that, the competition will be quite intense. The third wide receiver role is yet another position that will be quite entertaining to watch, and should be one of the more intriguing battles of camp.
Let’s take a look at the top candidates that will be competing to take over at WR3.
Camp battle contenders
An undrafted free agent signed by the Falcons in 2019, Zaccheaus was a prospect that I really liked coming out of Virginia. Zaccheaus was very productive in his senior year in Virginia, and after being signed in as a free agent, has managed to carve out a spot on the final 53.
A quick-footed and shifty receiver with good speed, Zaccheaus looks to have made a positive impression on the new coaching staff, as they signed him to a right-of-refusal tender in the offseason. As it sits right now, I do believe he has the inside track on WR3 going into camp and should be active on special teams, as well.
Tate, formally of the Cincinnati Bengals, was acquired on a one year deal by the Falcons to add to the WR room. Tate is yet another big body at 6’5” and 228 pounds, one who showed flashes with his limited snaps in Cincinnati.
When on the field, he knows how to use his size to his advantage, and his body control is quite impressive. Tate is also tough as nails and difficult to bring down. Tate will certainly have a shot at WR3, but since the acquisition of London and Edwards, I’m just wondering if Coach Smith and crew will consider keeping Tate as a bit redundant, especially given his lack of a role to this point in his career on special teams. However, if he comes in this camp and impresses, I’m sure the presence of those other players won’t matter much to Smith and crew.
A speedy option out of Chicago, Byrd is coming off a season where he was a reliable wide receiver for a struggling Bears passing attack. He’s one of a few players with that kind of speed hoping to win a role here.
What works in Byrd’s favor is experience, as he’s the most veteran option on the roster right now.
Batson is a very interesting prospect, a young receiver with good speed who had his season cut short in 2021 with a torn ACL injury. Batson also shows value on special teams, as he’s had some valuable reps as a kick returner.
Given the relationship between Hodge and coach Smith, he’ll have every opportunity to compete for WR3. Since he’s coming off an ACL injury, he’ll be coming in behind the 8 ball as he continues to fully recover.
Who wins the battle?
There have been quite a few wide receivers brought in this offseason by Fontenot. Again, it’s hard to predict who will ultimately win this battle because this will be a very competitive camp at a position that’s really open for the taking for anyone currently on the roster.
While I do think these are the primary candidates, players like Frank Darby and KhaDarel Hodge will also have the opportunity to compete and make a push for the role, because this is a real competition. The Falcons are an ideal team for a player that’s looking to make a name for himself because absolutely nothing is set in stone.
I, for one, do believe that having wide receivers with different skill sets is very important to building a well-rounded group, and the Falcons need that. While I do believe that Zaccheaus has a leg up at the position, absolutely nothing is guaranteed under this new regime, and that’s what is going to make this training camp one of the more exciting camps in recent memory.