The 2018 NFL combine is in the books and while many so-called draft experts have said this draft class is thin at receiver, several prospects made an impression on everyone from TV viewers to scouts and general managers to other players during the last week in Indianapolis.
Heading into the 2017 season, the receiver position - headlined by Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu - was often viewed as one of the Falcons' stronger groups. But it appears the receiving corps, which also includes Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Andre Roberts, Marvin Hall and Nick Williams, could undergo changes once free agency begins on March 14.
Gabriel and Roberts will be unrestricted free agents and Williams will be a restricted free agent. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has already said that he expects Gabriel to hit the open market, but the soon-to-be fifth year receiver could very well end up re-signing with Atlanta. Same goes for Roberts, but time will tell.
Regardless, there's a very good chance the Falcons will be adding two or three receivers prior to training camp - and one could very well come in the NFL Draft when it begins on April 26. As of right now he Falcons hold six picks since they traded away a fifth-round pick prior to the season to acquire tackle Ty Sambrailo from the Denver Broncos.
Whatever the Falcons do in the draft will hinge upon what they do in free agency. For example, if the Falcons bolster their defensive line in free agency, there's a good chance they'll pivot and address another need - which very well could be offensive line - with their first-round pick at No. 26. But what they do with picks 58, 90, 126, 200, 244 and 256 (hey there, Mr. Irrelevant!) is anybody's guess at this point.
For what it's worth, the Falcons have drafted only three receivers since 2011, when they picked Julio Jones with the sixth overall pick. The other two are Justin Hardy (2015, 107th overall) and Devin Fuller (2016, 238th overall).
But let's say one pick this year is a wide receiver. Here are five receivers who could be available when the Falcons pick in those later rounds and, in my opinion, could fit into this offense (listed in alphabetical order):
Clemson WR Deon Cain
8 8/6” Hands
79 5/8” Wingspan
Deon Cain, Clemson: OK, so of the five I've listed here, this prospect might be a stretch because Cain is projected to be drafted somewhere in the second round. And if the Falcons were targeting him, I'd totally understand why. He's got great size - Cain is 6-foot-2, 202 pounds - and he clocked a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. Oh yeah, and he can catch. In three seasons at Clemson he caught 130 balls for 2,040 - good for a 15.7 average - and scored 20 touchdowns. Now he did miss the Tigers' two playoff games his freshman year due to suspension (for failing drug tests). He's bounced back, but that could scare some teams away - and he could slide in the draft and be available later than expected.
- Comparable: Roddy White
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Never mind being compared to former Falcons great Roddy White, Cain possesses has the size and speed to be a deep threat in the NFL - something the Falcons could certainly use opposite Jones. Imagine having to deal with Jones, Sanu and another tall deep threat? Yikes.
Smooth release from Michael Gallup, continues to eat the cushion as D’Montre Wade continues into his backdrop, then a fierce inside move to catch Wade off kilter. High points the ball across the middle of the field, knowing the hit is coming. pic.twitter.com/EyTA58zRD5 — Jonathan Valencia (@JonValenciaBF) January 31, 2018
Michael Gallup, Colorado State: Gallup is another tall receiver - he's 6-foot-1, 205 pounds - who can run. In just two seasons at CSU, he was extremely productive, catching 176 passes for 2,685 yards - good for a 15.3 average - and scores 21 touchdowns. Right now, he's projected to go in the second or third round.
- Comparable: Nelson Agholor
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: One of the words used to describe Gallup is "competitive" - and that's a trait the Falcons covet. Pairing that - his ability to win contested catches on a regular basis - with his production, size and speed would make for a terrific third receiver in Atlanta's offense.
Christian Kirk can be a plug and play option in the slot day 1. Fast, good route runner, good hands, and great with the ball in the open field. This guy has PPR value all day long.#AggiesAllTheWay #AggieUp #AggiePride #NFLCombine2018 @EatSleepFF @JL_Chapman pic.twitter.com/ZLHoAjJWTD — Steven Spaccarotelli (@sspac21) March 4, 2018
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M: Kirk may not be as tall as Cain or Gallup - he's 5-foot-10, 200 pounds - but he plays big and may be more versatile than those two receivers. Before I get into the versatility, be sure to note how productive he was at A&M. In three seasons, he caught 229 balls for 2,796 yards and 26 touchdowns. He also ran it 21 times for 121 yards - that's almost 6 yards per carry.
- Comparable: Pharoh Cooper
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Aside from being productive, Kirk is mentally tough and would make for an ideal slot receiver in the NFL. That's something the Falcons could use. Even better, he's an excellent punt and kick returner. He returned 44 kicks for 936 yards (21.3 per return) and 37 punts for 814 yards (22.0) in three seasons. If the Falcons are unable to re-sign Andre Roberts, they'll be looking for someone to fill that crucial special teams role.
Anthony Miller, Memphis: If the Falcons wait until Day 3 to address the receiver position (if at all), another prospect who caught my attention is Miller, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound receiver out of Memphis. He was not only ridiculously productive - he caught 238 passes for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns - but, like Kirk, he has experience as a kick and punt returner.
- Comparable: Kendall Wright
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Aside from his production, Miller is considered to be ultra-competitive - and whenever I see or hear that, bells go off. The Falcons love competitive and tough guys, and Miller is certainly that. If the Falcons end up looking for a No. 3 or 4 receiver - as well as a returner - a player like Miller is certainly worth a look.
i haven't really lobbied for the falcons to draft a receiver since 2015, but i would kill to have d.j. moore alongside julio and sanu. get another guy who can make explosive plays after the catch pic.twitter.com/6IDP0Vv5xU — charles mcdonald (@FourVerts) January 15, 2018
D.J. Moore, Maryland: Like Cain, Moore could end up being long gone by the time the Falcons consider looking at a receiver. But if it's a top priority coming out of free agency, Moore is certainly on the radar - especially if he should tumble to Round 3. The 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the year and first-team all-conference selection is plenty big - he's 6-foot, 210 pounds - and clocked a 4.42 in the 40. If he makes it out of the second round, I'll be surprised. In three seasons at Maryland, Moore did not put up huge numbers, but he improved every single season and last year, four different quarterbacks ended up throwing passes to him.
- Comparable: Stefon Diggs
- Why he's a good fit for the Falcons: Moore has the reputation of being able to catch just about anything that comes his way - and is dangerous after the catch. Lining him up in the slot, along with Sanu and Jones on the outside, would be scary. Also notable is the fact that he also returned punt and kicks while at Maryland - and was pretty good at it.