An article previewing the shape of the Atlanta Falcons wide receivers would have looked a lot different a couple of months back. The question marks surrounding the Falcons were huge. Would Julio Jones be practicing with the team? Who will fill the Taylor Gabriel void? Can Calvin Ridley be the number three immediately? However, as we now head towards the third preseason game those questions have somewhat fallen away and the picture is starting to clear a little.
There is not much to say here. Jones came into camp after it looked for a second like he may miss time. Ridley has looked really good in everything we have seen so far. We have already seen the Falcons trying to get the ball into his hands in different ways. Ryan threw him a screen pass in the first preseason game, suggesting he may be used creatively this season. It looks likely he will fill that role Gabriel had in 2017. He does not exactly need to be great to replace Gabriel, who was effective without being amazing, putting up 378 yards and a touchdown last season.
The other lock to make the roster is Mohamed Sanu, who quietly is a top-30 wide receiver in the NFL. Sanu is a talented pass catcher, with 1,356 yards and nine touchdowns in his two years with the Falcons. Sanu should see plenty of time out of the slot with Ridley going outside. However, I also expect Sanu to see the majority of snaps as the second receiver in two wideout sets.
The Question Marks
Someone I felt fairly sure would be on the roster is Justin Hardy. In 2017, Hardy had just 20 receptions, for 211 yards, but managed to score three touchdowns. Hardy also saw some time last year as a kick returner, with three kickoff returns. However, so far in the preseason we have not seen Hardy fill that role much. We have seen plenty of him on offense, with 17 snaps in the second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. His experience in the offense should be enough to get him on the roster to start 2018. However, he saw a lot of work in the last preseason game, alongside other players fighting for a roster spot.
On the rest of Falcons depth chart currently on their site, they list another eight wide receivers. Among them are Marvin Hall and a Reggie Davis. Both are sophomores who did enough in camp last year to stick around. Both Hall and Davis have enough speed where they could step and fill the offensive role that Gabriel did, relying on their speed to make things happen. Interestingly, Hall saw just 12 snaps in the second preseason game. Less than many of the others on the roster. The fact he was not on the field as much as others suggests to me he could be creeping ahead of Hardy. Hall spending time with the trainers Wednesday will not have helped him. However, even without playing in the third preseason game he should still have a shot to make the roster.
Fighting for the Last Spot
Davis on the other hand, saw the joint most snaps as a receiver alongside Ridley. With Ridley is about getting him work but with Davis, it looks like he is still auditioning for a job. It appears he is fighting with Russell Gage and Devin Gray, who both also saw over 15 snaps against the Chiefs. Gray appears to have worked his way into consideration after being an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati. He remains the outside bet but just the fact he is seeing this much time is a positive for him. Russell Gage was drafted in the sixth round in 2018 and could be fighting right until the fourth preseason game for a roster or practice squad spot.
Out in the Cold
The snap count against the Chiefs would suggest some players are on the verge of missing out. Christian Blake (9 snaps), Dontez Byrd (8), Lamar Jordan (5) and Cody Pearson (3) all appear to face an uphill battle to make the roster. There is still two preseason games for these guys to make an impact. However, right now they are looking at being cut and missing the practice squad.
The Final Word
The top three on the depth chart are set with Jones, Sanu and Ridley. Behind them Hall could seal his place with a good outing this week against Jacksonville. Hardy appears to have slipped to fifth and does not even look to have returning to help him make the roster. Behind him, Gage, Davis and Gray are in a battle to knock him off the roster, or grab an elusive sixth spot. If not then two of them could find their way onto the 11-man practice squad come the start of the season.