Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.
ATLANTA – Is there a better trio in the NFL than Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley?
That's really the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the Atlanta Falcons' receiving corps. There are some excellent receivers in this league, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better overall group.
The biggest question mark when it comes to this unit, however, is who will make up the other three on this roster – because I do believe the Falcons will once again carry six receivers.
Bigger year for Julio? Even when teams knew the Falcons were going to Julio Jones they rarely stopped No. 11. Jones was targeted 170 times in 2018, the most in the NFL, and he responded with an NFL-best 1,677 yards on 113 receptions. He accounted for 45.64 percent of Ryan's targeted air yards, meaning nearly half of the of the downfield yardage the Falcons attempted to gain was aimed at Jones. How will fare in 2019 with Dirk Koetter calling the plays? If what Koetter's offense did through the air last season in Tampa Bay is any indication, Jones could be in for a big year – and that's got to strike at least a little fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators.
Ridley, Part II: Last year Calvin Ridley led all rookie receivers in the NFL in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, tallying 64 catches for 821 yards (12.8 yards per catch) and a team-high and franchise rookie record 10 touchdowns. He set an NFL record during Weeks 2-4 with six receiving touchdowns, the most by a rookie in a team's first four games in league history. As he heads into Year 2, Ridley says he's catching the ball even better now and plans to be more aggressive at the point of attack.
Gage-ing his growth: Before going down with an injury against the New York Jets, Russell Gage was coming on strong during the Falcons' training camp and preseason games. Against the Dolphins, Gage caught three passes for 33 yards – two of them were difficult catches, too. Gage currently listed behind Julio Jones on the depth chart and is the No. 4 receiver behind Sanu and Ridley. Gage's growth as a receiver hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates and coaches. Time will tell what kind of impact he'll make during the season.
2019 roster forecast: 6 receivers
I looked long and hard at Christian Blake for the final spot in this group, but went with Devin Gray, a player the Falcons like a lot and kept on their practice squad all last season. Gray has made five catches for 66 yards so far this preseason. Justin Hardy, who has been in this offense for four seasons (76 catches for 751 yards and nine touchdowns), has proven to be a reliable reserve and he brings some versatility to the group: he can play special teams. Hardy has returned 20 punts for 147 yards in 2018.
- Julio Jones
- Calvin Ridley
- Mohamed Sanu
- Russell Gage
- Justin Hardy
- Devin Gray
Projected practice squad
There's always a chance that the Falcons could sign a player who is not currently on their roster, but if they stick with their own players, this is my projected 10-player practice squad:
- RB Tony Brooks-James
- WR Christian Blake
- DE Tre' Crawford
- DE Austin Larkin
- DE Durrant Miles
- TE Jaeden Graham
- OT Jaelin Robinson
- S Chris Cooper
- QB Danny Etling
- LB Del'Shawn Phillips
What do you think?
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Matt Tabeek and Will McFadden weigh in with their final thoughts before roster cuts.