With the reports from ESPN’s Dianna Russini that the Falcons have a first-round pick on the table for Julio Jones, it is all but certain the fan-favorite All-Pro will play 2021 in a new town, and according to Russini, a deal could be coming soon. The thought of having Kyle Pitts, Calvin Ridley, and Julio in an offense had many salivating, but it’s time to look forward. Russell Gage’s role just grew exponentially in Arthur Smith’s offense.
In Tennessee, Smith’s Titans ran 38% of offensive snaps out of 11 personnel, compared to 35% out of 12 personnel. With Jones, Gage’s role would be limited to just those out of 11 personnel, but now he’ll assume the other 35% because he’ll be the team’s choice for the second receiver in 12 personnel.
With Jones missing seven games in 2021, we saw the emergence of Gage. Last season the former LSU Tiger set career highs in targets (109), receptions (72), yards (786), and touchdowns (4). In the last seven games from 2020, Gage recorded at least 50 receiving yards five times, proving his effectiveness in the offense. The former sixth-round pick is in a fortuitous position amongst all this mayhem between the Falcons and Jones.
Gage recently announced he’d be switching his number to #14, and it’s fitting a new number for a new role. He’s surely been one of the most improved players over the past couple of seasons, and Gage could experience an exponential step in his development this year. The Falcons’ new-look offense will certainly be centered around running the ball, with a majority of targets going to Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts, but Gage has the opportunity to establish himself as a reliable option for Matt Ryan.
The reality is opposing defenses will likely double Pitts and Ridley, which leaves the door open for Gage to win one-on-ones. Recording just under 800 yards in a part-time starting role last year is a reason for optimism, and I don’t think it’s outlandish to say he can be a 1,000-yard receiver this year. He’s made improvements each season he’s been in the league, but this is his biggest opportunity yet. Whether he capitalizes on it or not is unknown, but he’s in a perfect position to establish himself among the league’s WR2s.