The Falcons famously trolled the Cleveland Browns last season after wide receiver Taylor Gabriel caught two touchdown passes in a game against the Arizona Cardinals. Atlanta — in what turned out to be one of its wisest free-agent moves in recent memory — signed Gabriel in September of 2016 after Cleveland dropped the speedster after training camp.
Gabriel caught six touchdown passes and ran for another last season after tallying just one touchdown in two seasons with the Browns.
As a late arrival to the team, Gabriel didn’t flourish immediately. Through seven weeks of the season he’d only amassed eight receptions for 107 yards. After that, however, the speedy receiver started to get involved more frequently in the Falcons’ offense. In Week 8 versus Green Bay, Gabriel averaged 22.7 yards per catch on three receptions and crossed the goal line for the first time in the season.
The next week in Tampa Bay, Gabriel caught five passes for 52 yards. And even though he didn’t catch a touchdown pass, he was utilized in the run game on a jet sweep to score. He went on to score five more touchdowns through the air in the next five weeks, and showed with familiarity in the system he’d been late arriving to, positive results came.
Twenty four of Gabriel’s 35 receptions (69 percent) last season came in his seven final games. Almost 70 percent of his yardage (404 yards) did too.
Not only dies Gabriel’s emergence in the second half of the season foreshadow a better 2017 season, it’s also a parallel to how he entered the NFL.
After leaving Abilene Christian University with 215 career receptions for 3,027 yards and 27 touchdown grabs (all good for second all-time at the school), Gabriel went undrafted in 2014. He signed with Cleveland but was underutilized (which seems like a trend in Gabriel’s early professional career) until he reached Atlanta.
Gabriel shared a number of messages, via Twitter with the hashtag “undrafted,” as rookies prepare for minicamp in Flowery Branch.