Atlanta Falcons Intense Wide Receiver Battle

How Many and Who Will Make the Cut?

Will Jones and White be Ready?

Cage Brothers and Sisters, the true Dead Zone is upon us. There is literally nothing going on for the next 4-5 weeks and it’s a tough time for us football fans. These next few weeks will be an excellent time to look at some of the more interesting training camp battles to come. First one up is a traditional fan favorite, perhaps due to the fact that it’s one of the biggest unknowns every year for the final 4th and 5th spots. And the advent of several undrafted free agents that have done well the last few years, including Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, and Darius Johnson. This year is particularly interesting considering the fact that Julio Jones may not be full strength by the start of the season and Roddy White will be turning 33 this November and he suffered a lingering injury the entire 2013 campaign. This battle will be even more intriguing this year than normal. A look at the receiver battle to come………….

Injury Concerns

Jones Beasting

Julio Jones broke the screw in his foot and he’s very confident about getting back to normal, the “Old Julio” he called it. But the reality is that he suffered a major injury very early in the season and even if he’s ready to suit up for the opening Saints game, that will have been almost a full year since he will have played in a live NFL game (assuming he won’t play at all in the preseason). Throw in the fact that Roddy White had a lingering injury for the entire season after getting hurt in preseason and there’s definite cause for concern up and down the depth chart.

Falcons Quickly Aging @ Wide Receiver

Can White Avoid Age Slump?

Julio Jones is 25 and in the prime of his career. But the same can’t be said for the majority of the rest of the group at wide receiver. Roddy White is currently 32 and will turn 33 in November. Harry Douglas is set to eclipse the 30 age mark in September, and newly signed WR and return man Devin Hester also will move up to 32 years of age. Behind them, there’s a whole lot of unknowns. There have been a few glimpses here and there with Drew Davis and Darius Johnson, but can one of them step up in a big way when some of the older guys decline or become injured?

The 4th and 5th spots have been a luxury the Falcons haven’t needed with White, Jones, and Douglas, not to mention having the best TE to ever play the game the last few years, but the Falcons will either have to cultivate one of these guys to take on a bigger role or will have to get players through the draft sooner rather than later.

The Argument to Keep 6 Wide Receivers

HD a Lone Bright Spot in 2013

The Falcons have never kept more than 5 receivers on their 53 man roster in the Smith / Dimitroff Era. That very likely will come to an end in 2014, or at least it should. The reasons are many to keep an extra WR this year, and a few have been mentioned above. Roddy White will turn 33 this season. Julio Jones will have not played in a real NFL game in almost a full year. Harry Douglas and Devin Hester will be over the 30 age mark this fall. Normally, keeping 5 receivers would be fine, but technically Hester will be considered a WR, even though he really is just a return specialist. This year it seems prudent to keep an extra receiver instead of that extra linebacker or defensive back.

Is Harry Douglas the Replacement for Tony Gonzalez?

Technically, Levine Toilolo will be the replacement at tight end. But anyone who expects the former Stanford Cardinal to even get half of the 80 catches that Gonzalez averaged as a Falcon might be in for a shock. Some believe that Douglas will see a larger role as the Falcons move away from depending on the tight end and more on the slot receiver in passing situations, particularly after HD went over 1,000 yards receiving filling in for Jones and White.

Is Hester’s Role on Offense Just Lip Service?

Hester on Offense?

The Falcons coaching staff claim that Devin Hester will have a role on offense and isn’t only a return man, but will see some touches on offense. Frankly, he should for the contract he received at the ripe old age of 31 (soon to be 32). But despite all the talk, it’s hard to believe that Hester will work his way into the lineup very much on offense with White, Jones, and Douglas. Dirk Koetter and, to a lesser extent, Mike Smith should find ways to get the explosive playmaker on the field with the top 3 with the idea of “pick your poison” with all the speed available. But most fans will believe it when they see it.

Drew Davis Still the Favorite?

Very quietly, the former Oregon Duck has done it the hard way and secured himself a spot on the Falcons receiver depth chart. He signed on as an undrafted free agent in 2011, was released and then signed to the practice squad. He came back in 2012 and came up short again and once again went to the practice squad. However, this time, he was promoted to the 53 man roster only a week later. He’s been solidly on the depth chart since. The first year, he only made a handful of appearances, but he did manage his first touchdown of his career.

Davis Progressed Well

Davis made the most of Jones and White’s absence, hauling in 16 receptions for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. And that technically included on 3 games started. To put his 3 total touchdowns in perspective, that’s half the total amount that Harry Douglas has scored in 5 full seasons. It really feels that Davis could possibly be in line as a replacement for Roddy White going forward if he can continue his progress. Theoretically, Davis’ spot may not be safe, but it’s hard to believe the Falcons letting go of someone they’ve cultivated and developed on their own. If they only keep 5 receivers, Davis would almost have to be the 5th.

Is Darius Johnson on the Outside Looking In?

Like Davis, Johnson came in as an undrafted free agent and made the most of his opportunity. Small in stature, but showing a great ability for making plays in preseason, Johnson didn’t make the 53 man roster initially, but he did make the practice squad. When Julio Jones was injured, Johnson was promoted to 53 man roster and even overtook Kevin Cone for snaps. The former SMU man did pretty good, catching 22 passes for 210 yards and 1 touchdown. His best game came vs. the Saints with 6 catches for 67 yards, but that was overshadowed by a very costly fumble on a drive the Falcons could have won the game.

Unfortunate Fumble by Johnson

Whether Coach Smith lost faith in Johnson due to the fumble or not, he didn’t catch many passes thereafter. Assuming Jones, White, and Douglas are healthy, they’re locks for the top 3 spots. Devin Hester will occupy a spot as a WR, even though he’s mainly a returner. In theory, Johnson could unseat Davis as the 5th wide receiver, but that seems unlikely. And it’s not necessarily a certainty that he’d be the preference if they do keep 6 receivers. He’ll be facing a strong competition from speedy UDFA Bernard Reedy, who had a really good mini-camp, and newly signed Courtney Roby, known mainly for his special teams play. With Smith’s fetish for special teams, it probably will come down to how well they do in that area.

Could Bernard Reedy Make the Jump?

Can “Speedy” Reedy make the jump?

It’s been a long tradition for receivers to catch on as undrafted free agents and eventually make the jump up to the 53 man roster (Davis, Kevin Cone, Darius Johnson). Could Reedy supplant Johnson? They’re almost identical in their small stature, even though Reedy is a little smaller and it’s hard to believe the Falcons would carry both. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but for every Darius Johnson and Drew Davis, there’s twice as many Brandon Harveys, Michael Calvins, and Cody Pearcys. Reedy could do it, but it’s most likely he’s destined for the practice squad first.

Other Receivers?

As always, the Falcons pack their rosters full for training camp, but little by little they start dwindling down. The Falcons have Trumaine Johnson, Freddie Martino, Julian Jones, and Geraldo Boldewijn as well. The best these guys can probably hope for is to snag a practice squad spot and work that way. One guy to keep an eye on is Boldewijn. He’s 6’4, 220 and runs a 4.52. That size and speed can’t be taught.

Why Did Falcons Sign Roby?

This one really doesn’t make a lot of sense, other than just bringing guys for competition and training camp. They waived Dominique Croom, and went and signed Roby. The former Saint hasn’t played in a few years and surely they don’t count on him being kept purely for his special teams play. It seems impossible to imagine Roby will be with the Falcons when the season starts, but Smith loves his special teams.

Questions for The Cage………….

1) Are you concerned about Julio’s healthy?

2) Concerned about Roddy White’s age?

3) What will Harry Douglas’ role be this year?

4) Should the Falcons carry 5 or 6 wide receivers?

5) Will Devin Hester actually get some looks on offense? Should he?

6) Has Drew Davis essentially locked himself a spot?

7) Will Darius Johnson make it on the 53 man roster?

8) Chance for Reedy, Boldewijn or other UDFA’s to make the jump?

9) Why did the Falcons sign Courtney Roby?

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128 thoughts on “Atlanta Falcons Intense Wide Receiver Battle

  1. JB Falcon

    NAYSAYER INDEED!! Bring out the dogs!! Damn the torpedoes! What do ODDS and STATISTICS have to do with anything? 🙂

    Reply
  2. Dewey

    Heard today that Andre Johnson wants to be traded by Houston. Owed $10 million this season. How much cap space we got? 3 and 4 wide all game long. And talk about a perfect mentor for Julio. Ryan could pass for 6,000 yards with that group. Don’t believe anyone would be missing TG88 then.

    Reply
  3. medallion8

    Thoughtful and informative piece during this slow time. I didn’t realize we never carried more than 5 wide receivers on the 53 man roster under Smitty.
    My crystal ball showed 5 wide receivers, but it wasn’t counting Devin Hester as a wide receiver. Can you blame it – even Chicago gave up on him as a wide receiver? So, 6 counting Devin.
    After the first 4 that are locks (barring injury) of Roddy, Julio, Harry, and Devin, I had thought Drew Davis would be number 5 (before his “medical procedure”) and Bernard Reedy would take Darius Johnson’s spot for number 6. My reasoning with respect to Reedy versus Johnson starts with similar size (5’8″, 173 lbs for Reedy and 5’9″, 179 lbs for Johnson) and similar straight line speeed (around 4.53 in the 40 for both) which will not blow the top off of any NFL defense on a go/post/skinny post type route. Reedy has more explosion (depsite an incher shorter than Darius, Reedy long jumped 10′ and Johnson’s long jump was 9’1″). Reedy can cut/change direction much faster than Johnson (Reedy’s 3 cone time was 6.84 and Johnson’s 3 cone time was 7.29). An even larger difference is strength (heard that helps with holding onto the ball, pushing off a tackler, blocking). Reedy did 16 bench reps of 225 and Johnson did only 6 bench reps of 225 coming out college. Side notes: Reedy’s 16 bench reps was only 2 less than Peter Konz (who weighs around 300 lbs) did coming out of college. Hopefully, Konz has gotten much stronger as he enters his 3rd year. Reedy also returned punts and kickoffs in college which might make him a possible back up for those roles.
    With Drew Davis’ recovery time from his “medical procedure” unknown to even my crystal ball, there could be an opening for a taller wide receiver to be the 6th. If Drew Davis is on PUP at the start of the season, my best guess is Geraldo Boldweijn (6’3″, skinny 215 lbs, 4.56 forty, 6.88 3 cone, 18 bench reps) makes the 53 man roster.t
    In case you were wondering, my Ouija Board went for 7 wide receivers right off the bat. When I followed up for an explanation, it spelled out – “no Tony G, only one TE that can maybe catch more than 30 passes, [and] I miss the fun of 4 wide receivers as the base offense”

    Reply
  4. Ken Strickland

    http://network.yardbarker.com/nfl/article_external/atlanta_falcons_deemed_top_3_sleeper_team_that_could_make_2014_nfl_playoffs/16819291?linksrc=story_team_atlanta_falcons_auto_module_head_16819291

    Here’s another article that thinks the Falcons will be good enough to be in the Super Bowl hunt.

    MEDALLION8-rather than trying to utilize DHester as a homerun hitting WR the way the Bears did, he should be utilized the way the Saints utilized DSproles, with screens, swing passes, quick hitting slants & running in motion.

    Reply
  5. John Waynesworld

    Good article, Ken. It reminds me how almost every pundit is calling the Falcons the biggest disappointment of 2013. I can’t see how it wasn’t the Houston Texans, a team with only 2 wins (and they lost both games vs the perennial AFC South cellar-dweller Jacksonville).

    On top of that Houston had 3 players voted in the top 100 players (to our zero). That says despite their 3 studs’ “stellar” play, they still managed to only win 2 games. That should solidify them as the most disappointing team of 2013.

    From my view it is too much heaped blame on Ryan, suprisingly from all around the league.

    Reply
  6. JB Falcon

    This may have already been posted, I ‘m just searching around through the cutting room floor looking for tidbits.

    Reply
  7. Arno

    “Praised by his coaches for his extensive knowledge of the game, Worrilow will look to translate that knowledge into being in the right place at the right time more consistently.…With the unfortunate loss of Sean Weatherspoon, Worrilow has all the opportunity in the world to seize a starting spot from week one and emerge as a leader for the Falcons….”

    From JB’s above link, the most interesting statement to me. Worrilow in one interview I saw, came across as a serious young man of few words. If the coaches are tapping him to fill a leadership vacuum, that will be quite a shift from Spoon.

    Reply
  8. JB Falcon

    Arno, I’ve been a Worrilow fan since day one. He plays with heart and dedication. A football player with his passion is very hard to come by. He practically lives at Flowery Branch. I fully expect him to become one of the top LB’s in the league.

    Reply
  9. Ken Strickland

    Has anyone else noticed how everyone that makes a assessment on a Falcon player mentions how they’ve gained weight & strength in all the right places? It looks like our revamped coaching staff has already had a tremendous impact on our individual players. I’ve already read where OT Holmes, LB Worrilow, TE Toilolo, OT Baker, OC Gunn & CB Trufant have all added muscle. When is the last time any of us have ever heard of this many Falcon players improving physically in just 1 off season?

    With the starting OL we’ll put on the field, there’s no way our run & pass blocking won’t improve exponentially over last yrs fiasco. And giving MRyan the time he needs to go through his reads & our WRs time to complete their routes, will make our OFF virtually unstoppable. Having a big, strong & physical DL that can consistently stuff the run will put opposing OFFs in a lot of 2nd & 3rd & long situations, rather than putting our DEF in a lot of 2nd & 3rd & short situations like last yr.

    Our CB play will definitely be much improved over last yr with the experienced gained by our 2nd yr CBs. SS WMoore is solid, & despite what anyone says about Lowery being cut by the jaguars, as long as he doesn’t miss a lot of tackles & protects the back end of the DEF adequately, he’ll be a major upgrade over Decoud. That should make our secondary solid as a rock. LBs Worrilow & Bartu had outstanding seasons considering they were unexpectedly thrust into starting roles as UDFA last yr. With a yr of experience, & having a big, strong & aggressive DL to protect them, unlike last yr, they should both excel as ILBs.

    Biermann isn’t new to playing OLB, since he played it in last yrs base 4/3 DEF before his season ending injury. Massaquoi, who was projected as a 3/4 OLB before he was drafted, should excel at that position, especially as a pass rusher. I expect Hageman to be brought along slowly & used as a situational pass rushing DE, with Babineaux as our starting DE. Babineaux & Peters have proven themselves as interior pass rushers, so the switch to 3/4 DE should increase their pass rushing effectiveness.

    Reply
  10. dawsondevitt Post author

    Happy Saturday Day Cage — Will be getting new post up hopefully sometimes today. Sorry for delay. Needed a little breather from writing. Also, anyone interested in writing a piece for our blog, I surely would love the help.

    Cheers all! 😀

    Reply
  11. medallion8ally

    JB – thanks for playing along with my Ouija Board.
    Ken – I will admit that I don’t know how Da Bears actually used Hester as a wide receiver when he played that position for them – just know he never caught many passes in any year and, if my memory is correct, none or very few in each of the last couple years. Nonethless, I also have hope we can do better than Chicago’s offensive coaches (who, in theory, were good enough to have NFL jobs) at designing some plays where Hester is the number 1 or 2 option (e.g., wide receiver screen and the only solo wide receiver in 3×1 wide receiver sets) and use him as a deep or crossing decoy in some 4 (both 2×2 and 3×1) vertical packages. With respect to the Sproles comparison, I have watched quite a few Saints games (besides the Falcons/Saints games). Sproles primarily lined up as a running back and took handoffs on a regular basis to keep defenses uncertain. Side note: the Saints are going to sorely miss Sproles for at least the first half of this season.
    Hold on – stop the presses – my Ouija Board wants to see a 4 wide receiver (or 3 wide receivers and a TE) package, with Devin Hester lined up as the tailback in a 3rd or 4th down situation and 8 – 15 yards needed for the first down. Sproles was used that way when everyone knew Brees was going to pass in those situations.

    Reply
  12. Ken Strickland

    UNCA’ BOB-Thanks for the excellent articles & updates. I just can’t get over the impact our revamped coaching staff has had on the positive way our players have approached this off season as opposed to previous off seasons. It’s obvious to me that a concerted effort was made to get those who have been injured, as well as those that have had a series of injuries, to work on strengthening the areas of concern.

    It’s simply mind boggling to me how, in just 1 draft & FA period, our brain trust managed to turn weakness that have plagued the team over a period of time into definite strengths. We are now rock solid at CB, DL & OL, & our LBs are only lacking experience, certainly not talent & ability. With the emergence of WR HDouglas into a thousand yd receiver, the return to full strength of JJones & RWhite, along with the level of talent we seem to have acquire with our UDFAs, our WR core will be unmatched.

    WRs JJones, RWhite & HDouglas will replace TE TGonzalez’s receptions while TE Toilolo will replace his short yardage & red zone production. If RB SJackson falters like he did last yr, although most of his problems can be attributed to injuries & an awful OL, rather than forcing him to play hurt like last yr, he’ll be replaced by RB JFreeman, who’s definitely quicker, faster & far more explosive. QB MRyan managed to throw for over 4500 yds & 27 TDs last yr, and that was with no rushing OFF to help him & a joke of an OL that allowed him to be sacked 44 time with many more hits & hurries.

    Can you imagine what he might do with a healthy JJones & RWhite, along with HDouglas & a revamped & solidified OL that will give him more time & keep him upright, along with an effective rushing OFF which will bring back play action as a viable weapon? Our OFF will be rock solid, with the only true question marks being on how much improvement we’ll see from our pass rush, LB & FS play. All NFL teams have weaknesses & question marks. What makes the difference is some have fewer than others along with the talent & ability to overcome or hide their weaknesses & question marks. This yrs Falcons will definitely have the overall OFF & DEF talent to overcome or hide its weaknesses & question marks.

    Reply
  13. Karen White

    At least get the information right in your article. The players name is TRAMAINE THOMPSON. No Trumaine Johnson is listed on the roster.

    Reply

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