The Falcons have had a wide receiver problem in recent years, which is not something we’ve said for a long while. It was not all that long ago that Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Harry Douglas were wreaking havoc on defenses, and it was an even shorter time ago that Julio, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage were the team’s terrific trio.
With Julio traded, Ridley traded, and Gage landing in Tampa Bay, the Falcons this year were missing their top three players at the position from 2020. Drake London is an obvious keeper, but beyond him the Falcons are light on proven high-end options, and they more or less have to turn to free agency for help in a pivotal 2023 offseason.
Assuming, as I do, that the team brings back Olamide Zaccheaus, they’ll be working with a London, Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, and Jared Bernhardt group that has to be supplemented by both a high-end starter and at least one useful reserve. The problem they have is that if they really want a splash, there aren’t going to be many if any available, so they’ll have to settle for solid-to-good players.
Let’s look at some of the top options out there to fill both roles.
Fresh off another productive season in Green Bay but clearly itching to go elsewhere, Lazard ticks several boxes for Atlanta. He’s 6’5”, pretty sure-handed (Lazard has never fumbled and his drop percentage on targets is not bad), capable of picking up yards after the catch, and consistently productive. The biggest knock on him in an Arthur Smith offense is that he hasn’t been a huge asset as a run blocker, so that could be disqualifying if the Falcons think he can’t do that. Lazard can’t be your top option, but he can be a very good second or third option,
Still just 27 years old, Lazard is one of the most sensible options for a team that is trying to give their quarterback towering targets, assuming they think he can chip in as a blocker.
His production has rarely lived up to his talent, but Chark is another good fit for Atlanta, so long as Detroit doesn’t bring him back. Smaller than Lazard (he’s listed at 6’4” and under 200 pounds) and a little younger, Chark grades out better as a run blocker per Pro Football Focus and has struggled to stay healthy for a full season in his NFL career to this point. You wouldn’t give him the same contract as Lazard owing to the injury concerns and production, but he’d be a strong option.
Solid is the word to describe Hollins. Coming off a career-best year where he was finally utilized as a starter and heading into his age-30 season, Hollins showed he can be a good volume option and possession receiver with the size (6’4”, 220) and physicality that role implies. Pro Football Focus had him among their best-rated receivers as a run blocker, as well, which would make him appealing for a Falcons offense that is still going to focus a lot of time and energy on the ground game.
Hollins isn’t a great bet as a long-term signing, given that he’s about to turn 30 and really only has one terrific year under his belt, but over the next couple of years it feels like he could be a strong fit as the second or third receiver in this offense. It feels like Hollins is what the Falcons thought they were getting in Bryan Edwards.
A high-quality possession receiver, Meyers has quietly built himself up into a force to be reckoned with despite inconsistent quarterback play and poor play calling in New England the past couple of years. With solid size, an ability to block, and sure hands, Meyers would be another signing that wouldn’t qualify as a splash but would put the Falcons in a significantly better spot at receiver.
Fresh off a big season in Kansas City, Smith-Schuster will be paid. He’s young, productive, and a pretty consistent threat after the catch, a combination of traits that will make him appealing for teams hungry for better pass catchers.
The question with JJSS is just what the Falcons are prioritizing in their #2 receiver, and whether they’ll willing to pony up for a player who can be a high-end threat but does not fit the ideal size profile or blocking capabilities the team would presumably like from a top option.
Solid potential starters
A reserve last year in Philadelphia, Pascal functioned as a starter in Indianapolis for a few seasons and fared well despite an ever-changing set of quarterbacks. One of the better blocking receivers in the NFL today, Pascal has also fielded kickoffs, plays special teams at a high level, boasts solid size and speed, and consistently picks up yardage after the catch.
It wouldn’t be a splash signing, especially after a quieter season with the Eagles, but Pascal does so many things well that the Falcons value that it would be a surprise not to see him considered.
It seems clear that OZ is someone the coaching staff likes, and I think there’s a strong chance he returns as WR3/WR4 for 2023. This past year, he was a consistent volume option for Marcus Mariota, a fairly effective blocker, and a player who has gotten better at everything year-over-year. Relying on him as a full-time starter is not the best way to go for this football team, but given his reliability and special teams value, having him as a top reserve or occasional starting option makes plenty of sense.
Hardman has dealt with injury and frustrating stretches throughout his career in Kansas City, where he has of course had Patrick Mahomes throwing to him. Still, Hardman is fairly young, has speed in spades, and is a capable receiving option who does well in the red zone. He’s among the league leaders every year in yards after the catch, which owes to his speed, and he offers quality blocking despite his size (5’10”, 187 pounds).
Given that he’s coming off a quieter year because he missed time, Hardman could be an excellent addition if he’s willing to bolt KC.
A player I’ve always liked, Slayton is a young, capable receiver coming off arguably the best season of his career. If Atlanta’s looking for a mid-tier starting option who does a little bit of everything well, they could do far worse than Slayton.
A reunion would be fun, and Julio is still a dangerous player when healthy, as he showed on his score for the woeful Buccaneers on Monday night. He’s under this category because health is no longer a given—Julio has missed a ton of games the past two seasons—and he’s not quite the world beater he was through his many years in Atlanta.
- Demarcus Robinson
- Jarvis Landry
- Parris Campbell
- Deandre Carter
- Marvin Jones
- Randall Cobb
To copy and paste from last year’s edition: “Sims will be familiar to Kyle Smith, one of the team’s top personnel executives, and has a little untapped potential as a pass catcher in addition to his work on teams.” Nothing has really changed, and Sims would still be a fine special teamer and fifth or sixth receiver.
The speedster made some huge plays for Atlanta last season, though his rapport with Marcus Mariota was stronger than it was with Desmond Ridder. As a downfield threat who can fill in as a returner in a pinch, Byrd would be a solid re-signing for Atlanta.
A surprisingly effective receiving option early in the season, Hodge is useful on short-to-intermediate routes and is a core special teamer. The latter is why I think he has a strong chance of being re-signed.
- Byron Pringle
- Marquise Goodwin
- Sammy Watkins
- Justin Watson
- Dante Pettis
- River Cracraft
- Rashard Higgins
- Equanimeous St. Brown
- Nelson Agholor
- Noah Brown
- Nick Westbrook
- Keelan Cole
Who are you signing from these lists?