Falcons: Who could potentially replace Julio Jones in the 2022 free-agent and draft classes?

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It is all but certain the Falcons will be without Julio Jones in 2021, given all the trade rumors circulating in Atlanta right now. Today is the threshold in which Terry Fontenot can save the maximum amount of cap space in a trade involving Jones, so I expect a trade to be finalized any day now if the offer is right. A combination of Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Kyle Pitts, and Hayden Hurst will combine to replace the production that Jones leaves in his absence next season, but Gage and Hurst are in the last years of their current deals, so who will replace the production in 2022?

The free-agent market for wide receivers is loaded next offseason, but there are only a few that align with Fontenot’s preference for free agents. Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Chris Godwin represent the upper-echelon of wide receivers, but that’s not where Fontenot will do his digging if he does at all.

Because Calvin Ridley is playing on a fully-guaranteed fifth-year option in 2022, he’ll need a new deal for the future. As one of the best young receivers in the league, an extension is necessary and will take a considerable amount to do so. Players like Will Fuller, Robby Anderson, J.J. Smith-Schuster, D.J. Chark, and Jamison Crowder are still great wideouts that will be paid like WR2s instead of WR1s. If Fontenot doesn’t want to allocate that much money to the wide receiver position, the Falcons could always decide to bring in a rookie from the 2022 draft class.

Chris Olave, Ohio State

Olave might be the top wide receiver prospect in the 2022 draft class because he is just getting started and produced at a big-time level a year ago. He’s got enough height and speed to get downfield, but also the route running to hurt defenders on underneath routes who are expecting a deep shot. In 2020, he was bogged down by injuries but still produced on 50 passes going for 729 yards and seven touchdowns.

Justyn Ross, Clemson

Olave’s body type isn’t close to Julio’s, but Justyn Ross’s frame is nearly identical. At 6’4″ and 205 pounds, he’s quite the receiving weapon because of his physical nature and speed to be a threat downfield. In the Clemson offense, he’s lined up everywhere — inside, boundary, and in motion. The biggest question mark surrounding him is due to a congenital neck injury that required surgery.

Treylon Burks, Arkansas

Many casual fans won’t know who Treylon Burks is, but they will after the 2021 college football season. An insane blend of size, speed, and power resulted in a phenomenal 2020 where he recorded 51 receptions, 820 receiving yards, and secured all 7 of his career touchdowns. Standing at 6’3″ and 232 pounds, he still has plenty of speed to take the top off a defense. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he was one of the first few receivers selected next year.

George Pickens, Georgia

Pickens suffered what is likely a season-ending injury this spring, which could essentially end his college career. But when healthy, he is one of the most talented pass-catchers in college football with elite speed and out-of-the-gym leaping ability. Standing 6’3″, Pickens has plenty of height to win his fair share of 50-50 balls, and despite only playing in eight games in 2020, he led the Bulldogs with six touchdowns and tied for total receptions with 36. If he falls in the draft because of the injury, the Falcons could steal him in a later round.

Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

 

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