Tabeek's roster predictions: Falcons receivers

Several positions are up for grabs but here's an early guess at how the Atlanta Falcons' 53-man roster could look heading into 2020

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

There aren't many who will deny that Julio Jones is the best receiver in the National Football League. And there's no question that Jones and Calvin Ridley form one of the best receiving duos in the league right now.

And for a time, with Mohamed Sanu in the mix, this receiving corps was considered among the very best and deepest around. When Sanu was traded in mid-October last season, it opened the door for special teams ace Russell Gage to take the slot receiver spot and run with it.

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And that's where most of the preseason intrigue and competition lies within this group. With Jones and Ridley locking down the top two receiving options in this offense, who will step up and take over as the No. 3 receiver? Will it be Gage, who played well at times during the second half of last season? Will Laquon Treadwell, a former first-round pick who was acquired in the offseason, seize the opportunity? Or will someone else emerge, like Olamide Zaccheaus or Christian Blake?

Another important factor in determining the makeup of this group heading into roster cutdowns – which must be completed by 4 pm ET on Saturday – is determining who the punt and kickoff returner will be.

OVERVIEW

On a mission: Calvin Ridley is on a mission to prove he's among the elite receivers in this league. "I'm not going to lie, I'm real hungry to show people that I'm easily a 1,000-yard receiver, easily – and even better," Ridley said. So what will it take for Ridley to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in 2020? For starters, he needs to stay on the field for a full 16-game slate. That alone should go a long way. As a rookie, Ridley played in 16 games and started just five (he caught 64 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns). In 2019, he started 10 games but played in 13 games (he caught 63 passes for 866 yards and seven touchdowns).

Continued greatness: Julio Jones enters 2020 with 797 receptions for 12,125 yards and 57 touchdowns, while playing in 126 games with 125 starts. He has already eclipsed 12,000 receiving yards in 125 career games, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (142 games) as the fastest player to reach 12,000 receiving yards in NFL history. Among players who have appeared in at least 100 career games, Jones is the NFL's all-time leader with an average of 96.2 receiving yards per game. I've written this countless times, but Falcons fans should appreciate every single snap Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan take toegther ... this is the Golden Age of the Falcons offense.

A second chance: Laquon Treadwell was the Vikings' first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, taken No. 23 overall. For a number of reasons, Treadwell didn't play up to those lofty expectations and the production wasn't there. Some labeled him a bust. The Vikings declined to pick up his fifth-year option in 2019 and when no one picked him up, he re-signed with Minnesota in September. Will a fresh start make a difference for Treadwell? Some think so, and the Falcons clearly like the potential of the 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver out of Mississippi. I think he'll get a shot to prove himself and earn that No. 3 spot, but I also think he has tough competition with Russell Gage, a player who has only gotten better since he's arrived here in 2018. I think Gage is the favorite to win that job, for now.

RECENT HISTORY

Here are the number of receivers the Falcons have kept in previous seasons on the initial roster:

LOCKS

Here are the players who I think are locks to make the team (i.e., starters and key reserves) unless something unforeseen should happen (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Russell Gage
  • Julio Jones
  • Calvin Ridley
  • Olamide Zaccheaus

ON THE BUBBLE

Here are the players who I think are still in the mix to make the team, could land on the practice squad or will be released (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Christian Blake
  • Devin Gray
  • Juwan Green
  • Jalen McCleskey
  • Brandon Powell
  • Chris Rowland
  • Laquon Treadwell

PREDICTION

  • 2020 roster forecast: 6 receivers

Tabeek's Take: I think the Falcons will once again carry six receivers, but I had a last-minute change of heart with this group. For most of training camp I had Brandon Powell penciled in as the primary retuner. As camp went on, Chris Rowland continued to take advanatge of his opportunities and performed well. So, I'm going with the undrafted rookie out of Tennessee State – the guy who topped Jerry Rice's HBCU single-season reception mark – as the returner. As noted above, I think Russell Gage is the favorite to win the slot receiver job but he'll be challenged by Laquon Treadwell and Olamide Zaccheaus.

  • Russell Gage
  • Julio Jones
  • Calvin Ridley
  • Chris Rowland
  • Laquon Treadwell
  • Olamide Zaccheaus

PREDICTING THE 53-MAN ROSTER

A look at roster battle at the wide receiver position. The views and opinions represented here and in the corresponding article belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

HIGHLIGHTS: Julio Jones

Falcons receiver Julio Jones is at the top of his game and the best wide receiver in the NFL right now. Check out some of his highlights from training camp practices.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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