Editor's Note: This story is a part of the Falcons Breakdown series, which evaluates each position group and how it will look next season.
The Falcons have long had the luxury of having one of the best wide receiver corps in the NFL led by a first-round wide receiver, starting with Roddy White in 2005. Then came Julio Jones, followed by Calvin Ridley. They had players doing damage like Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy and Michael Jenkins, among many others.
The 2021 season was the first in recent memory where the Falcons didn't have that dynamic receiving corps.
With Calvin Ridley missing 12 games this season to focus on his mental well-being, different falcons receivers stepped up in different games. Cordarrelle Patterson, who is listed as a running back, led the team in receiving touchdowns.
With only two players that played in 2021 under contract heading into next season — Austin Trammell was on the active roster for the Falcons final two games, but didn't play — the wide receiver group arguably has the most questions heading into 2022.
Primary 2021 production:
Russell Gage: 66 receptions, 770 yards, 4 touchdowns, 11.7 ypc
Olamide Zaccheaus: 31 receptions, 406 yards, 3 touchdowns, 13.3 ypc
Calvin Ridley: 31 receptions, 281 yards, 2 touchdowns, 9.1 ypc
Who stays: Calvin Ridley, Olamide Zaccheus
On the chopping block: Russell Gage
Biggest offseason question: What will happen with Calvin Ridley?
Despite reports that the Falcons and Ridley may be nearing a split, the stance of general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith's has remained consistent.
"As an organization, we've done the best job we could to support Calvin and do everything we can for him," Fontenot said in his end of the year press conference. "I know he made the statement when he did and that we made a statement during the season as well. Up to this point, nothing has really changed."
Also, Smith has spoken of approaching Ridley's absence for his mental well-being just like any other injury, giving him the time to recover.
With that being said, the Falcons will undoubtedly need Ridley to be on the field next season. The Falcons picked up Ridley's fifth-year, $11 million option last May, and his absence was significantly felt as the Falcons relied heavily on rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. With Ridley and Pitts in the lineup next season, the Falcons offense could return to being one of the most prolific in the NFL.
Whether or not Russell Gage played his last game in a Falcons uniform is another central question for the Falcons. Gage's 2021 season was full of ups and downs. He battled through injury and was held without a catch or a target in some games, but ultimately proved to be a reliable third-down target and a legitimate threat spending most of the season as the Falcons No. 1 wide receiver.
Gage has said that the Falcons have "first priority” this offseason but, with limited cap space, it may be a challenge for the Falcons to keep Gage.