How will the Falcons rebuild their receiving core in wake of Calvin Ridley suspension?

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A nuclear size bomb dropped Monday when the NFL handed down a suspension to Calvin Ridley for at least the 2022 season for gambling on NFL games during his time away from the team.

For what it’s worth, Ridley’s bets were placed on the Falcons to win and came between November 23-28, which means the wager occurred during Atlanta’s Week 12 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If it’s any consolation, Ridley didn’t have any inside information, nor did any member of the Falcons organization have knowledge of the bets.

The only silver lining in this entire situation is the financial ramifications for the Falcons. Since the suspension is a full year, Ridley’s current contract will toll, which means his $11.1 million salary that should’ve been on the books for 2022 will now push to 2023. The $11.1 million cap space created puts the Falcons approximately $3.8 million under the league’s $208.2 million salary cap.

With Ridley out of the fold, rebuilding the receiving core has to be one of Terry Fontenot’s top priorities this offseason. Given the Falcons’ aging quarterback and porous offensive line, the 2022 offense could be wildly underwhelming. Atlanta’s cap situation will make it challenging to surround Matt Ryan with competent weapons, but there have to be serious allocations of draft assets and cap dollars dedicated to the receiving core. Here’s what they can do to improve their pass catching unit.

Re-sign multiple in-house free agents

As it stands right now, the Falcons’ receivers under contract are laughable. To immediately give the unit some competence, re-signing Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus should be the first domino to fall in rebuilding this position group.

Gage was one of the few targets Matt Ryan trusted in 2021, even if he had a slow start to the season. He found his groove in the second half, and the former LSU Tiger shouldn’t break the bank to bring back.

Zaccheaus shouldn’t be more than a team’s fourth receiver, but he has experience in Arthur Smith’s offense and has a connection with Matt Ryan. The Falcons could do much worse than Zaccheaus as their WR4.

Scour free agent market for bargains

It’s no secret the Falcons don’t have the cap dollars to target top-tier free agents. However, they’re going to have to add at least one veteran receiver because the shelves are bare.

Players like D.J. Chark, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Michael Gallup, Antonio Brown, Will FullerMarquez Valdes-Scantling, Zay Jones, and Rashard Higgens will be the types of players the Falcons are looking at. Chark, Fuller, and MVS are similar receivers that can take the top off defenses.

Build the future of the position through the draft

Even if the Falcons need wide receivers, Fontenot has made it well known the organization won’t reach for needs because that’s how mistakes happen. Still, this class of wideouts is incredibly rich, and the Falcons should come away with multiple prospects. Below is Jake’s big board, which includes a bevy of potential difference-makers the Falcons could come away with:

14. Calvin Austin III — Memphis

Although Austin is your typical smaller slot receiver, he uses his top tier quickness and athleticism to create seperation and get open. He’s more of a one-trick pony at receiver, but he does that one trick very well.

13. Tre Turner — Virginia Tech

Turner was fantastic for his whole career with the Hokies, and his ability to understand the route tree and run routes smoothly will appeal to a lot of NFL teams. Right now, Turner isn’t exceptional in one area, but he’s pretty solid all around.

12. Jalen Tolbert — South Alabama

Tolbert was highly productive at South Alabama, and he used his size to win on a lot of contested balls on the outside. He has a rock solid catch radius, and he’s a big target that quarterbacks are going to love throwing to.

11. John Metchie — Alabama

I had high hopes for Metchie going into 2021 with Alabama losing multiple wideouts to the NFL, and he delivered. Metchie is a great athlete that can play multiple roles in an offense, and his ability to line up in the slot or out wide can help an offense that needs immediate help with multiple roles.

10. Wan’Dale Robinson — Kentucky

Get the ball in Robinson’s hands and get out of the way. Robinson is an electric playmaker, and he can take a short or intermediate route the distance with just a little bit of space. I could see a team trying to use him in a Deebo Samuel role.

9. Jahan Dotson — Penn State

Dotson is a great athlete that doesn’t have a lot of holes in his game. He is a really dependable option that still has room to grow, and his route running should allow him to make an impact on an NFL roster from day one.

8. David Bell — Purdue

There are a lot of prototypical X receivers in this class, and David Bell has the potential to be the best out of the entire group. Although he’s a bigger receiver, he has insane athleticism and a really good catch radius. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he became one of the better players from this group.

7. George Pickens — Georgia

While we didn’t get too much of an extended look at George Pickens, there’s undeniable pops of talent on tape. He has a MASSIVE catch radius, and he’s a very physical receiver at the point of attack. He looked to be healthy during Georgia’s National Championship run, and I think an NFL team will steal him on day two.

6. Chris Olave — Ohio State

Chris Olave is the smoothest route runner in this entire class — bar none. The way he can work himself open at any level of the field is so impressive. Combine that with the fact that he doesn’t have many other holes in his game, and it’s easy to see why he’s another blue chip in a very talented group.

5. Jameson Williams — Alabama

It really speaks to the talent on this list that Jameson Williams is fifth on my board. I was sold on Williams watching Alabama play Miami in Week 1. While Williams is an exceptional deep threat, he can also take short and intermediate routes to the house with his blazing speed. He’s going to be a special talent in the NFL, and his route running will give defensive coordinators nightmares.

4. Garrett Wilson — Ohio State

Wilson is a guy who can make you pay if you play soft coverage at any level of the field. If he gets the ball in his hand, he’s a threat to score anywhere on the field.

3. Christian Watson — North Dakota State

I’ll take all of your Christian Watson stock right now. Watson moves like a receiver half his size at 6’5 and 210 pounds. He’ll have to get used to an NFL route tree, but with his raw gifts and insane catch radius, I’m calling my shot and saying he’ll be one of the best receivers in this entire class.

2. Drake London — USC

The former basketball player has exceptional hops and athleticism, and that’s a dangerous combination when you stand 6’5. London uses his frame and physicality to make a ton of contested catches, and there’s no doubt in my mind he has the potential to be an All-Pro if he can put it all together.

1. Treylon Burks — Arkansas

Every time I see Treylon Burks, I can’t help but look at Odell Beckham Jr. in his rookie season. Burks has an absolutely absurd catch radius — he can go and get balls that seem like hopeless passes. He is a master of the contested catch, and he has fantastic athleticism and burst in the open field. I really like Burks as a prospect, and he profiles as a big-time impact player from day one.

If the Falcons re-sign Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus, sign Zay Jones and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, then draft any two of the receiver prospects, their future in the receiver room will look much different.



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