Can anybody stop the Falcons wide receivers?

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I’m biased, but the Falcons are consistently among the most disrespected teams during the offseason when media heads everywhere are ranking positional groups. Look no further than Matt Ryan, who might have had the best season of his career in 2018 – better than his 2016 campaign when he took home the MVP trophy – yet was voted as the 69th best player in the NFL Top 100 behind other quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson, and Jared Goff. Of course, that should make all Atlanta fans want to spit out their cup of coffee in disgust; however, if there’s one positional group that usually receives their due – it is Atlanta’s wide receiving core.

Led by Julio Jones, this group cannot be stopped when Matt Ryan is given time. Jones requires two or three sets of eyes wherever he lines up, which opens up tons of opportunities for the rest of the offense. That’s why over the entirety of Jones’ career, Thomas Dimitroff has remained intent on lining up another high-quality receiver across from him, and this year, they have two.

Mohamed Sanu has some of the surest hands in the National Football League. His size, strength, and footwork make him a menace in one-on-one situations, which is why he’s a constant target on third downs for Matt Ryan. Here are a couple of examples:

This is the beauty of Sanu. He runs a perfect, short out-and-up. The coverage does a fantastic job, but Coleman doesn’t have the size or strength to match up with a player like Sanu. Ryan recognizes it on a critical third & goal and trusts his receiver to come down with the ball. Sanu does in style, snagging the ball with one hand to put the Falcons up two scores.

Here we are again – third down in the red zone on a crucial fourth-quarter drive. This time there’s some miscommunication in coverage by the Saints, but you will see this route a lot from Sanu in the red-zone. Once Matt Ryan recognizes the man-to-man; he knows exactly where he’s going. Even if the coverage were better, Ryan would have still thrown that ball up high, trusting Sanu’s strong hands to come down with it.

To be honest, I didn’t love when the Falcons went out and signed Sanu to a lucrative five-year contract before the 2016 season. I thought we had more pertinent positions of need to fill and wasn’t sure how much better he would make this offense. I have been proven incorrect. Not only has Sanu been a valuable commodity in each season, but he’s made significant strides in his game every year. In 2018, he caught a career-high 838 yards on 66 receptions. However, that will be difficult to top this season with an emerging star entering his sophomore campaign.

I’m not sure people realize just how electric of a receiver Calvin Ridley is. His 64 catches for 821 yards and ten touchdowns puts him up there with some of the best rookie seasons ever for a receiver, and he should be in for a breakout 2019.

The fact that Ridley somehow fell to the Falcons at pick 26 is laughable. He was projected to be a top-ten selection throughout the draft process, but his stock fell unexpectedly. That allowed the Falcons to scoop up a future Pro-Bowl wide receiver late in the first round and pair him with his fellow Alabama alumnus, Julio Jones.

Ridley may not be the physical specimen that Julio Jones is. Perhaps that’s why teams inside the top-20 overlooked him, but his footwork and route running are second to none. According to RotoUnderworld, there wasn’t a single receiver in the NFL that averaged more separation per route than the Falcons rookie.

He also possesses legit 4.4 speed, which leads to plays like these:

That was probably my favorite play from Ridley all season. He caught for three touchdowns and over 140 yards against the Saints and single-handedly reminded them they needed some more cornerback help. Ridley’s a baller and a winner. I’m expecting him to cruise past 1,000 yards receiving in year two.

Those three, along with tight end Austin Hooper, are going to receive the bulk of the targets. The Falcons also bring back Justin Hardy, who has proven to be a reliable option for Matt Ryan over the years, but a player I’m hoping will see a few more reps at receiver this year is Russell Gage.

The Falcons drafted Gage with a sixth-round pick in 2018 to help on special teams. But by the end of the year, he was getting some looks at receiver and flashed what made him a star at LSU – speed and athleticism.

According to reports coming out of training camp, Gage is working a ton with Matt Ryan and the first team. He may be on his way to earning the role as the Falcons fourth wide receiver, and I like the kind of wrinkles he could potentially bring to the offense.

It should not be a debate; there isn’t a group of pass-catchers better than what Atlanta has. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will be the most unstoppable tandem in football this season. Yes, that means more explosive than Odell Beckam Jr. and Jarvis Landry – despite what the media wants you to believe. Throw in Mohammed Sanu, and a budding tight end in Austin Hooper – and defenses are going to be having nightmares on Saturday. The key to this offense will be protecting Matt Ryan. If that happens, nobody will stop these receivers from running wild.


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