The Falcons have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past week as the NFL handed down Calvin Ridley’s suspension for gambling on NFL games during his time away from the team, a suspension which will last through the entire 2022 season. Atlanta already had a glaring need for pass catchers before the suspension was announced, and now, the need for competent receivers is a top priority.
A silver lining in this unfortunate situation is the cap relief associated with the suspension. Ridley’s current contract will toll, which means his $11.1 million salary that should’ve been on the books for 2022 will now be pushed to 2023. The cap space created puts the Falcons approximately $4 million under the league’s salary cap, so they’ll be able to spend a little more in free agency; however, Ridley’s long-term replacement will likely come from April’s draft. The following list details some of the best prospects to replace Ridley:
London’s season ended prematurely after he suffered a broken ankle, but he still recorded 88 receptions for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns in just eight games. His massive frame—6′ 5″, 210 pounds—makes him a matchup nightmare and a threat to make seemingly-impossible contested catches; he led college football with 19 such receptions. A pretty good comp for him is Mike Evans.
Wilson is as slippery and shifty as they come. His ability to create separation, both at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his routes, is second to none in the draft class. Wilson also has positional versatility as he lined up mainly in the slot in 2020 and on the boundary in 2021. He’s an electric playmaker with smooth routes and excellent body control. This past season, Wilson totaled 70 receptions for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Certainly in the conversation for WR1 of this class, Williams tore his ACL during Alabama’s National Championship game against Georgia but is still the best deep threat in the class. In 2021, he averaged 19.9 yards per catch for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns on 79 catches. At any point in a game, Williams is a threat to score. He’s the quintessential deep threat and yards-after-catch type of receiver.
Olave is one of the best route runners in this class and a consistent deep threat—13 of his 65 catches ended in scores last season. Those 65 receptions went for 936 yards, demonstrating a well-balanced skill set—excellent speed, great route-running abilities, and smooth athleticism.
Burks is a similar type of receiver to London, standing 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. He racked up 1,100 yards and 11 scores last season, and his tough physicality makes him extremely dangerous after the catch. Burks’s 50-50 opportunities are more like 60-40, given his strong frame and leaping ability.
Moore has elite athleticism, particularly in his ability to make defenders miss. His shiftiness shows up at the line of scrimmage against press coverage and also after the catch in the open field. Moore broke an FBS-leading 26 tackles last year.
Dotson has some size concerns, but his physicality and effort to play through contact should ease those worries. He’s sure-handed, only dropping two of his 93 targets last season. In 2021, Dotson recorded 91 receptions for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns. Penn State’s shaky quarterback play affected Dotson’s output, but he still produced a ton of explosive plays for the Nittany Lions.
Pickens tore his ACL last spring but still made it back for the last few games of the 2021 season, including the National Championship against Alabama where he made a couple of eye-popping catches. His skill set of size, speed, and catch radius will certainly intrigue teams.
Ross didn’t quite produce like many expected after his impressive freshman campaign, but much like Pickens, he has an expansive catch radius and excellent ball skills. Both receivers possess elite body control, but Ross has some medical concerns.
Bell caught 93 passes for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns last season. He’s a well-rounded receiver who isn’t elite in any particular category, but does have quality hands, good route-running, and versatility. His gritty style of play is what stands out to me in particular.
Metchie was incredible in 2020 but was less impressive last season. He doesn’t possess the elite size or game-breaking speed of some of the other prospects, but I don’t understand how he’s slid down draft boards so far. His 2020 tape is enough for me to want him even if DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle were commanding all of the attention. Metchie is a baller, and the Falcons could steal him in the middle rounds after he tore his ACL late in the season.
Robinson is going to break TVs in the NFL. In 2021, he caught 104 passes for 1,334 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder is as electric as they come in this game. His speed and elusiveness with the ball in his hands are second-to-none in this class. Robinson is the type of playmaker that Arthur Smith can use all over the field—in motion, in the backfield, on the boundary, or from the slot.
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