This is the first installation of a series where I’ll go through different position groups the Falcons will address this offseason, whether that be through free agency or the draft. The first edition will be wide receivers.
The Falcons are set to experience an incredible amount of roster turnover, particularly in the receiving core. Atlanta’s top three contributors, in terms of percentage of snaps played, are all set to hit free agency this spring. Olamide Zaccheaus (57% of offensive snaps), Russell Gage (56%), and Tajae Sharpe (47%) account for nearly 80% of all snaps by receivers.
Considering Calvin Ridley’s cloudy circumstances, the Falcons might have just one receiver under contract for 2022 at this point — Frank Darby. Given all the speculation surrounding Ridley, the Falcons could very well enter the 2022 season with a completely different-looking receiving core.
This free-agent class of wide receivers is stacked with stars. Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, and Chris Godwin are all set to hit free agency; however, fans shouldn’t get their hopes up for any of these high-priced options.
JuJu Smith-Schuster will test the market and makes a lot of sense for Atlanta. Arthur Smith’s offense would benefit from a physical slot receiver who can contribute in the run game. The only thing holding a deal like this back is Smith-Schuster’s price tag. Allen Lazard is a cheaper option that provides a similar skillset as JuJu, but he is a restricted free agent.
Michael Gallup is another potential free agent that could interest the Falcons. His ability to make contested catches, especially in the red zone, should be attractive to Arthur Smith. Unfortunately, Gallup is coming off a serious injury, but that could create an opportunity for Terry Fontenot to sign him on a below-market deal. Gallup can be the X receiver the Falcons have been searching for since Julio Jones‘s departure.
D.J. Chark is another potential match for the Falcons because his ability to take the top off defenses is something Atlanta was missing in 2021. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a player with a very similar skillset as Chark that could be cheaper and isn’t coming off an injury.
This receiver draft class is incredible. Regardless of the type of wideout your team needs, this class has something for everyone. For the Falcons, four, in particular, should draw interest.
Before his season-ending ankle injury, Drake London was on pace for one of the best statistical years in college football. He caught 88 passes for 1,084 and seven touchdowns over only eight games. His massive frame — 6-foot-5, 210-pounds — makes him a perfect candidate to play the X position. His contested catch ability is one of the best in the class, which should intrigue Arthur Smith.
Treylon Burks is similarly built as London — 6-foot-3, 225-pounds — but is faster. Racking up 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns makes him one of the most accomplished in this class; Burks and London could both have an immediate impact on the Falcons.
David Bell totaled 93 catches for 1,275 yards and six scores, putting him in the same conversation as Burks as one of the most accomplished receivers in this class. His run-after-catch ability is impressive, forcing 25 missed tackles this season. All three of these receivers are cut from the same cloth.
Wan’Dale Robinson, on the other hand, is an entirely different player than the other three. He’s a superstar playmaker and will be labeled as a gadget player, but he can do so much more than that. Breaking 20 tackles and gaining 1,172 yards on just 94 catches makes him a plug-and-play chess piece for Arthur Smith’s offense.
Assuming the Falcons do end up trading Calvin Ridley, this receiving core will look much different in 2022. Given the Falcons are likely to bring back at least one of Russell Gage, Tajae Sharpe, or Olamide Zaccheaus, they might not need three additional receivers. However, this exercise is meant to illustrate how it is possible to completely revamp a position in one offseason. The downside is that the other positions won’t be addressed as much.
In my perfect world, the Falcons sign Lazard while drafting Burks or London and Robinson. Bringing in Lazard, Burks/London, and Robinson would completely re-tool the Falcons receiving core. Burks is especially intriguing because he is a seamless scheme fit. Robinson could effectively replicate the type of player Cordarrelle Patterson was for Arthur Smith. These are three additions with wildly different skills sets and strengths to maximize Matt Ryan‘s later years.
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