Positionless football. You've heard that phrase a few times from Falcons head coach and his staff, and a few more from those analyzing his schemes.
That applies to offensive skill players especially, where versatile talents line up all over the place. Kyle Pitts, for example, is technically a tight end but lines up all over the place. He played 248 snaps as an in-line tight end, 286 in the slot and 237 as a wide receiver in 2021.
- Positional breakdowns: Quarterbacks; Running backs
- Bair Mail: On Arthur Smith and Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, plus a lot more
- Falcons Building Blocks: Kyle Pitts, AJ Terrell, Chris Lindstrom, Drake London
- Finding the Falcons rookie class: Drake London, Arnold Ebiketie, Troy Andersen; Desmond Ridder; DeAngelo Malone, Tyler Allgeier, Justin Shaffer, John FitzPatrick
There are other examples of players moving all around, especially with the receivers and tight ends – the running backs will do this a lot, too – so we decided to lump the two primary pass catching positions together one breakdown.
Let's get into it, taking a close look at Falcons receivers and tight ends.
Who's in the room
WR: Geronimo Allison, Cameron Batson, Jared Bernhardt, Stanley Berryhill, Damiere Byrd, Frank Darby, Bryan Edwards, KhaDarel Hodge, Tyshaun James, Drake London, Auden Tate, Olamide Zaccheaus
TE: Anthony Firkser, Tucker Fisk, John FitzPatrick, Parker Hesse, Brayden Lenius, Kyle Pitts, John Raine
WR: Drake London, Bryan Edwards, Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd, Auden Tate, Frank Darby
TE: Kyle Pitts, Anthony Firkser, John FitzPatrick, Parker Hesse
WR: Drake London, Bryan Edwards
TE: Kyle Pitts
Where the position was
WR: The Falcons headed towards the 2021 season with tons of talent. Julio Jones was on the roster. Calvin Ridley was fresh off a strong year. Russell Gage was still in the building. Then Jones got traded and Ridley spent much of the season away from the team dealing with mental health issues. Injuries got Gage off to a slow start. All in all: not great.
Gage picked it up at the end, but the receivers – and by that we mean players with a WR next to their name – struggled mightily to get separation or make much of an impact.
TE: Kyle Pitts was a monster in 2021, just the second rookie in NFL history to exceed 1,000 yards. Hayden Hurst never lived up to expectations as a producer, though Lee Smith was a quality blocking tight end. Parker Hesse also had his moments after getting promoted from the practice squad.
Where the position is
WR: The Falcons radically revolutionized this group, and rightfully so, during the offseason. They drafted Drake London No. 8 overall and acquired Bryan Edwards in a trade with Las Vegas. Auden Tate's another big dude who can make plays on the outside when healthy. Olamide Zaccheaus has a big fan in Arthur Smith. This group should be much better in 2022. I know he's a fan favorite, but I think Frank Darby will have to earn his way onto the team. Nothing is a given there. I think he earns a spot, though.
It's always tough to expect the world from rookies, even top 10 picks, but London has a real chance to put his stamp on the 2021 season. I think Edwards could have a breakout season in this offense as well. The Falcons certainly hope those two guys can lead the position group into the future.
TE: In pretty good shape, actually. Kyle Pitts is a top-tier tight end with better ahead, though he'll play a lot of receiver. Anthony Firsker's best year came with Arthur Smith as Titans OC, so there's reason for hope he'll be better than Hayden Hurst was a year ago.
FitzPatrick should contribute in small ways at least. Parker Hesse's a blue-collar guy who can help on special teams and offense in a pinch. He'll have to earn his spot, against other tight ends and players at different positions battling for one of the last roster spots.
Join us as we follow Atlanta Falcons' first round draft pick Drake London's path to Flowery Branch.
Where the position is going:
WR: The Falcons have invested high picks on the receiver position in recent years, and it has worked out extremely well. Roddy White. Julio Jones. Calvin Ridley. If Drake London belongs in that class, the Falcons are in great shape. I also think he fits what Arthur Smith likes from receivers, so he'll have an opportunity to thrive here. Bryan Edwards was awesome at South Carolina, decent with the Raiders. He thinks he’s a scheme fit here as well, as someone who could ramp things up in a new environment.
If Tate can stay healthy and prove himself, the 25-year-old could be a productive member of a position group that's starting to look like a basketball team and could be good for a while.
TE: Pitts is going to be a superstar in this league. He's so, so good. He'll continue to move all over the formation, and if he's an improved red-zone target in 2022, his game will look a lot more complete.
They're hoping FitzPatrick can offer more than he did at Georgia, when he was primarily a blocker. He has the size and strength to help up front right away, but there might be untapped potential in the receiving game.