Breaking down the Falcons by position: Wide Receivers

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As I continue breaking down the Falcons roster, we move on to running backs. To view the first two parts of the series, (quarterbacks and running backs), click the links. As always, the Falcons head into 2020 loaded at wide receiver. And while some might believe they are slightly worse off this year than they were last year because of the midseason trade of Mohamed Sanu, I actually think they are a bit better.

The Starters

I’m not going to spend many words talking about Julio Jones. Jones is still hands-down the best receiver in the league, and I don’t want to hear any debates about it. So many things the Falcons do offensively revolve around him because he demands so much attention on every play, allowing a weapon like Calvin Ridley to thrive.

Ridley might not be a star yet, but I imagine that changing in the coming years. He caught for over 800 yards as a rookie and ten touchdowns — which is outstanding — but was even better last year. Had Ridley not been injured, missing three games, and affected in others, he would have surpassed 1,000 yards receiving with ease. Ridley also added seven more touchdowns, so in his first 29 games, he already has 1,687 receiving yards and 17 TDs. It’s crazy how there are people out there that don’t think he was worth a first-round pick. In year three, with no Mohamed Sanu, Ridley is in for a breakout campaign.

There will be competition for the WR3 spot, with Laquon Treadwell in the mix, but I fully expect Russell Gage to retain that role. He’s a player people who aren’t familiar with the Falcons — and even some that are — are sleeping on. Gage is a speedy athlete that took over the role once Mohamed Sanu was traded, hauling in 49 receptions for 449 yards. He’s also a player opponents will have to watch on end arounds and speed sweeps. With Hooper, Sanu, and Freeman no longer on the roster, there are a lot of targets up for grabs, and Gage is going to fetch a ton of those.

The Backups

The talent doesn’t stop with the top three. I already mentioned Laquon Treadwell, and the Falcons are hoping the former first-round pick can add more explosiveness to an already potent offense. Having Matt Ryan tossing him the rock should help, but I’d temper my expectations. There is a reason Treadwell has only caught for 700 yards in his four-year career, which is why Gage is the overwhelming favorite to win the WR3 job.

Outside of Treadwell, two undrafted free agents — Christian Blake and Olamide Zaccheaus — are the other favored wide receivers to make the roster. Blake, out of Northern Illinois, really impressed in training camp and the preseason last year and appeared in nine games for the Falcons, catching 11 balls for 91 yards. Zaccheaus was picked up by Atlanta right after the 2019 Draft and played in ten games, hauling in only three catches, but one of them was the longest touchdown in the NFL last season — a 93-yard bomb from Matt Ryan against Carolina. Brent Kowitca also mentioned Zaccheaus as one of the three frontrunners for the job as a return specialist, giving him a higher chance of making the roster again in 2020.

Two other wide receivers will compete for a roster spot as well: Brandon Powell and Chris Rowland, both former undrafted free agents. Powell came out of Florida in 2018 and spent six games with the Lions, catching 11 balls for 127 yards while serving as a part-time return specialist. He spent 2019 on the Falcons practice squad, and Kowitca said he, along with Zaccheaus and Rowland, will be competing for the job as the returner. Rowland was picked up after this year’s draft following a season where he caught over 100 balls for the Tennessee State Tigers. But while both Powell and Rowland have a shot at making the roster as a return specialist, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for them to work their way up a loaded wide receiver depth chart. 

The Falcons also added two other undrafted free agents following this year’s draft. Juwan Green, out of Albany, played two seasons for the Great Danes, catching 106 passes for 1,815 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also returned seven kickoffs, so I imagine the Falcons will at least give him a look whenever training camp begins. The other is Jalen McCleskey, an Oklahoma State product that transferred to Tulane for his final season. While with the Cowboys, his best performance came as a sophomore when he caught 73 balls for 812 yards and seven touchdowns. Last year, with the Green Wave, he hauled in 37 passes for 581 yards and four touchdowns.

 

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