The Falcons have the look of a team ready to run over opponents in 2023, boasting one of the NFL’s most potent stable of backs. Whether they can pair that with an effective passing attack a year after having one of the league’s weakest aerial performances remains to be seen.
Those fortunes will depend on a variety of factors, from Desmond Ridder’s progress to Arthur Smith’s ability to design more effective plays to the health of Kyle Pitts. For all Atlanta’s evident commitment to blurring the lines between positions as much as possible and the talk of using Bijan Robinson in the passing game, however, the team also will need an effective year from its wide receiver group.
The past two seasons have been shaky in that regard. When Calvin Ridley stepped away from football in 2021, the team was left with a thin receiver group led by Russell Gage. In 2022, the Falcons leaned heavily on rookie Drake London and Olamide Zaccheaus. In both years, the team’s depth was limited and their #2 receiver would likely not have been a #2 receiver on most teams in the NFL.
This year, the Falcons are counting on Mack Hollins being that #2 option after a fine 2022 season, but the depth questions linger. Unless Atlanta is expecting to run their passing game through London, Hollins, and a host options at other positions, the fact that Hollins has had only one really good year and the only other proven option at the position is Scotty Miller might be a concern. The Falcons can count on someone emerging from the young options they’ve piled up at the position and the break-in-case-of-emergency solid work of KhaDarel Hodge, or they can keep their eye on an addition this summer.
Field Yates at ESPN stumps for the latter option. As he writes:
If you’ve been reading this piece from top to bottom, you’ve seen this suggestion pop up already in a few places. But it’s especially true in Atlanta where the team’s depth chart beyond Drake London is currently led by Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller. While the Falcons ran the ball on the highest percentage of plays in the league last year (51.1% of offensive plays) and have two possible stars in London and tight end Kyle Pitts, they simply must address the receiver spot with either someone already available or someone who could become available.
It’s tough to quibble with this. Last year we fretted about the state of the receiver group after Calvin Ridley was suspended and Russell Gage left, and outside of OZ’s strong work and London’s very successful rookie season, those fears were founded. That was especially true after Bryan Edwards didn’t pan out in Atlanta, a reminder that it only takes an injury or unforeseen circumstance for the team to have to rely on their depth options. In a perfect world, London, Hollins, and Miller form a solid trio and a ton of targets go to Pitts, Jonnu Smith, and Bijan Robinson, taking pressure off the receivers. We’re unlikely to live in a perfect world.
That’s not to say that the above scenario is far-fetched; the Falcons may have Hollins as the fourth or even fifth-most targeted player on the team when all is said and done. It’s more to say that being so reliant on London as the team’s only top-flight wide receiver may be unwise, especially with Pitts working his way back from injury and Smith coming off a lackluster season. You can like all of Atlanta’s weapons and Ridder—and hell, I do—and still think the Falcons should avoid putting themselves in a position where everything has to break right for the passing game to hum.
Unless a veteran like J.J. Arciega-Whiteside or Frank Darby has a tremendous summer, the Falcons will likely want to sign another receiver to stock the depth chart and ensure they’re not caught flat-footed if someone gets hurt or disappoints. There’s plenty of time to do just that, potentially even after training camp and preseason show us what Atlanta’s roster hopefuls are made of, but Yates likely has this right: The final big move of the offseason may well be a veteran receiver.