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Pivotal year profile: WR Mack Hollins

Atlanta’s presumed No. 2 wide receiver could turn a big year into a late career bloom.

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons Minicamp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It would be fair to say that fans were champing at the bit for a major addition at wide receiver in 2023. The Falcons may not be a pass-first offense—excuse me, they are not a pass-first offense—but the last two years of up-and-down performances at the position have admittedly hobbled the offense at times. A real investment felt worthwhile.

You know what happened instead: The Falcons doubled down on the ground game, adding an all-world running back rookie in Bijan Robinson and a mauling guard option in Matthew Bergeron, and added tight end Jonnu Smith as another pass-catching option. All of their additions at wide receiver, meanwhile, were budget pickups, with a few options to vie for roles on this offense.

The leading contender for the No. 2 role opposite Drake London is Mack Hollins, the former Eagles fourth round pick who had 56 catches in his first five NFL seasons before breaking out a big with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022, putting up 57 catches and 690 yards to go with four touchdowns. Atlanta got him for a relative song on a one year, $2.5 million after that strong work as the No. 2 in Las Vegas, and the lack of major signings to this point suggests that Hollins is all but locked in to a similar role with the Falcons. This team is counting on him delivering as a pass-catching option and blocker despite that modest investment, making this a pivotal season for player and team.

He’s taken on a role as a leader and has looked good in the early going, but what will this year bring for the Falcons and Mack Hollins? Let’s dive in.

What can Hollins bring to the table?

We’ll start with his blocking, since that’s going to be a major piece of what Hollins is asked to do in Atlanta.

In Las Vegas a year ago, Hollins posted career numbers but still was asked to be an instrumental piece of the run game, even lining up in-line at times as though as a feisty yet lightweight tight end. Pro Football Focus gave him the sixth-highest grade among wide receivers for that work, and he talks like someone who understands the value that unsung work brings.

In Atlanta, he’ll be asked to do much, much more of the same with Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson needing quality blocking to unlock their best running. Hollins is the presumptive No. 2 receiver because of this more than anything else, because he’ll be on the field constantly and is a willing and very capable part of an effective ground game.

As a receiver, Hollins brings the all-important height, length, and downfield ability this offense wants. Hollins stands 6’4”, rarely if ever fumbles, and has both solid speed and hands, even if he’s coming off a five drop season. It helps that his average depth of target last year was 26th in the NFL—fellow Falcons signing Scotty Miller was 25th—and that his height, physicality, and ball security can make him a reliable target for Desmond Ridder beyond 10 yards. He also is at least a credible yards after the catch threat

Hollins is spectacular at one thing—again, blocking—and decent-to-pretty good at everything else you’d ask a starting receiver to do. The fact that this won’t be a pass-happy offense where he’ll be asked to shoulder a massive target share, that it will emphasize downfield strikes, and that Hollins can help pave the way for what might be the NFL’s elite ground game all indicate he should have a fine season in Atlanta.

What are the stakes?

Atlanta really needs Hollins to play well, because there are not any options behind him on paper to take on the kind of significant role the veteran played a year ago. This is also a team that has been burnt by injuries and disappointing performances at wide receiver the past two years. While Hollins won’t be the second target on this team—there are too many other mouths to feed—he’ll still see a solid target share and all of that valued work as a blocker. The team’s lack of interest in investing in any top-tier competition for Hollins suggests that they think he’s exactly the player they need in this role; if they’re wrong it’s likely going to be the third consecutive year that receiver troubles plague this offense and cap its upside.

For Hollins, this is about turning a solid career of special teams work and the occasional highlight reel catch into a late transformation into a reliable starting receiver, one that could see him pocket real money on a multi-year deal in what may well be the final handful of seasons of his NFL career. Most receivers simply do not continue to excel past their early 30s, and Hollins was never a full-time starter until last year in Las Vegas and is heading into his age 30 season. If he puts together another quality year in Atlanta, he’ll likely land his first and perhaps final significant NFL contract, meaning he’d absolutely love to thrive here.

What’s realistic?

In the simplest summary, somewhere between 35-50 catches for up to 600 yards, a smattering of touchdowns, and a lot of quietly effective blocking work. It’s not fancy, but in that range would make Hollins the team’s most productive No. 2 wide receiver in the Arthur Smith era.

And it is realistic. Hollins had 94 targets and 57 catches last year; he accounted for almost a fifth of Derek Carr’s passes in Las Vegas and was one of only two players with more than 65 targets on the year. In Atlanta, it would surprise no one if Desmond Ridder threw 100 fewer passes than Carr did in Las Vegas, and the young quarterback has other, more compelling options to throw to than Hollins. Expecting his 57 catch, 690 yard, 4 touchdown 2022 to sink a bit in this offense is sensible enough, but Hollins will be the on field a lot for his blocking alone and should draw targets. If everyone else is healthy I’d expect him to top out at about 40 catches, but there’s no guarantee of that, so it’s possible he’ll end up being a more vital receiving option than anticipated.

What Hollins gives this offense is what they were hoping to get from Bryan Edwards a year ago: A reliable second option with height, downfield ability and solid all-around game who can be a significant factor in the run game. Based on what he did in a less loaded offense in Las Vegas—and yes, I know working opposite Davante Adams will help anyone—Hollins should be able to meet or exceed those reasonable expectations. If he does, as I’m willing to bet he will, the offense should benefit greatly, and Hollins should find his way to his first major payday in the NFL heading into 2024.