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Van Jefferson looks to open up the passing game with a role high on the Falcons’ depth chart

The Atlanta Falcons should have the best wide receiver depth since Julio Jones got that call from Shannon Sharpe.

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As much as we’ve tried to cover Atlanta’s offensive potential with its different array of weapons, its depth at wide receiver has been real bad since our head coach was a bald guy. For a time, the Falcons had one of the best duos in the league with both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and guys like Russell Gage filling in as the third wide receiver.

In a flash, Gage was suddenly the WR1 with support from Olamide Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe. Terry Fontenot was rebuilding the group back up from nothing. While the likes of Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson helped alleviate some of the depth issues, the Falcons were still desperately behind where other teams sit.

Today, the depth chart looks a lot better with Drake London as the team’s clear WR1. However, what do things look like after the trade for Van Jefferson?

A quick primer on Jefferson

Jefferson is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound wide receiver drafted near the end of the 2nd round by the Rams in 2020. Despite a lack of high-end measurables of athleticism, Jefferson turned into a deep threat in the Rams’ explosive passing offense with a 14.8 yards per catch career. Jefferson peaked in 2021 with 802 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns.

Things haven’t gone well since then, with Matt Stafford frequently dealing with injuries and Cooper Kupp soaking up all the targets. He was passed on the depth chart in 2023 by Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell and was no longer in the team’s plans.

What this means for Mack Hollins

Not much! Hollins is almost certainly entrenched as the team’s WR2. First, it would be exceptionally tough for Jefferson to jump to Atlanta and start outside. Hollins has had all of training camp and the start of the season to learn the playbook and and practice with the team. Hollins is also only one year removed from a 690 yard season.

Jefferson will need some time to find out when to get to the team bus ahead of flights, let alone learning the playbook. Historically, wide receivers traded mid-season don’t quickly acclimate to the new offense. I don’t think Hollins’ spot is in any sort of jeopardy, though Jefferson may steal some snaps away as time goes on.

Where Jefferson fits

Behind Hollins there are a lot more question marks. The depth chart is just Scotty Miller and KhaDarel Hodge, neither of which are a “plus” WR3. Both are more of limited, role-type players, with Hodge moving the chains and contributing significantly on special teams and Miller getting limited work as a gadget runner and downfield threat.

I think Jefferson fits in very well at the team’s WR3 spot while providing so much more versatility than Hodge or Miller. Jefferson has the size to block and speed to run past nickels and safeties. What he likely offers most is added flexibility and versatility in the offense, given that he can play outside and or the in slot. While I do like both Hodge and Miller, neither player have emerged as major threats thus far, hence the trade for Jefferson.

For the offense as a whole, while it is tough to predict what Smith’s offense will look like on any particular week, Jefferson’s addition should open up the pass game. The extra weapon should lessen focus on the rest of Atlanta’s dynamic pass catchers. If Desmond Ridder can keep it up, he will have a great group of pass catchers to work with, as Jefferson is a credible third receiver and can spell London and Hollins as needed.

Jefferson’s future in Atlanta

I think Terry Fontenot’s top hope is Jefferson bounces back in Atlanta and nets Atlanta a possible compensatory pick (subject to the team’s offseason spending, of course). However, if Jefferson ends up earning a second contract, likely on a short deal to give him another shot at free agency in 2025, that’d be a nice win for Fontenot.

Wide receiver has the weakest depth outside of EDGE, so a current and potential future fix is good to have for such a modest investment of draft capital. Jefferson should find his way into a role right away.