John Fricke takes an advance look at the Atlanta Falcons at the positional level. This examination is on the wide receiver group and tight ends as training camp begins in 24 days.
Raheem Morris – Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coord.
Wade Harman – Tight Ends Coach
Camp Depth Chart
LWR: Julio Jones, Justin Hardy, Andre Roberts, Nick Williams, BJ Daniels, Josh Magee, Deante Burton
RWR: Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Devin Fuller, Anthony Dable, Reggie Davis, Marvin Hall
TE: Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo, Eric Saubert, Joshua Perkins, DJ Tialavea, Alex Gray, Darion Griswold
When you do a breakdown of a team’s wideouts and it starts with Julio Jones then, odds are, it’s going to end up being a pretty glowing review.
Jones is arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL today and working toward the greatest in franchise history and a future spot in the Hall of Fame.
Despite being hobbled with a nagging bunion on his foot (offseason surgery should have fixed that issue) and missing two games because of it, Jones still racked up 1,409 yards. Surprisingly he scored only six touchdowns in the regular season, a number that needs to get into double digits this coming season. His combination of talents (size, speed, hands) makes him virtually impossible to cover 1-on-1 and his presence allows other route runners to find favorable matchups to exploit. Entering his seventh season at age 28, he is reaching his peak as a dominant player.
Mohamed Sanu solidified the spot opposite of Jones. The veteran lived up to what the Falcons expected of him when they targeted him in free agency. Sanu’s first season ended with 59 catches 653 yards and four touchdowns. His touchdown grab in the back of the end zone in the final seconds of the regular season win over the Packers was arguably the most important touchdown the team scored in 2016.
Taylor Gabriel burst onto the scene. All but shoved aside in Cleveland, the Falcons grabbed the speedster and he thrived in Atlanta. Gabriel broke multiple big plays both on downfield passes and on short routes where his ability to cut shined. He tied for the team lead with six receiving touchdowns catches in the regular season and ran for a score as well.
Justin Hardy continues to grow as a solid pro player. He was clutch at times in 2016 finding the end zone four times. Hardy has worked to make his hands tougher and better, and it showed in some eye-popping grabs including a few first-down snares that kept scoring drives alive. Hardy will also get a look at helping in the kick return game this season.
Andre Roberts was a free agent signing out of Detroit. With an opening for the team’s lead return man, Roberts will get first shot at that spot. The seven-year vet had two punt-return touchdowns for the Lions last season and returned a kick 99 yards for a score when he was with the Redskins in 2015.
Steady and reliable veteran Nick Williams and burner Devin Fuller will get chances to shine this season as well.
Austin Hooper is now the unquestioned top target at tight end. Pressed into a lead role his rookie season after an injury sidelined Jacob Tamme, Hooper responded with 19 catches and three touchdowns. Hooper showed obvious growth week in and week out that culminated in a key touchdown catch in the Super Bowl. Hooper’s impact and touchdown total should rise significantly this season.
Levine Toilolo keeps making plays. A pair of scores last season, and six in his career with the Falcons, continue to make the huge 6-foot-8 tight end a key target. Now entering his fifth season the Falcons would love to see Toilolo use his frame more especially in red-zone situations.
Eric Saubert was drafted out of Drake (FCS division) a school know far better for track & field than football. Saubert is a bigger tight end at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds. NFL.com described Saubert this way: “Gets maximum extension out of long arms to attacks downfield throws at their highest points. Has ability to make acrobatic catches when he’s focused.”
DJ Tialavea brought cheers when he was pressed into duty against Carolina late in the season. He had one catch in that game for his first-ever touchdown. Joshua Perkins caught three passes and one went for a score. The two are a valuable pair in the depth of this position.
As a unit the Falcons wideouts rank in the top three (if not the No. 1) on most preseason position rankings and are expected to shine again in 2017.