After giving into Julio Jones‘s trade demands, the Falcons have a second- and fourth-round pick at their disposal in the following two drafts. Many around the league gave Atlanta some glimmer of hope to compete for a playoff spot prior to the trade, but now, most analysts expect the Falcons to battle for last in their division. Joining NFL Network’s Good Morning Football a couple of weeks ago, Russell Gage painted a bit of a different picture.
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“We have a lot of depth at the wide receiver position,” Gage said. “We’ve always had that. It isn’t just people like me or people like Calvin that you may know or already know about. We’ve got people like Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake. We’ve got depth all around the board. That duo could come from any combination of receivers. That’s one of the reasons why you shouldn’t sleep on us.”
With Julio 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. In a three-game stretch without Julio, Zaccheaus was targeted 19 times, recording 13 receptions for 140 yards. He filled in nicely as a depth piece and will likely be battling with Blake for snaps. Primarily as Atlanta’s fourth option at receiver, he hauled in 20 passes for 274 yards and one touchdown last season before he was placed on the IR after a toe injury.
Blake will be one of the first backups or on the fringe of the roster and will likely have to contribute on special teams before he gets any snaps on the offense. I believe Frank Darby should be a name on fans’ radars. The sixth-round pick is a firecracker on and off the field. At the very least, Darby will offer positive reinforcement as a rah-rah guy. He could potentially step into a small role as a deep threat as he averaged 19.7 yards per reception in college over his career.
I’m not as high on the receiver depth as Gage, but I do believe Arthur Smith’s offense can soften the blow of losing Julio Jones. The Falcons personnel will dictate the offensive philosophy. Smith won’t force square pegs into round holes, so I fully expect the receiver position to be less of a big deal than other groups — namely, the offensive line.