To no one’s surprise, Julio Jones is the leader here. Jones rise to the top comes in 2013, which was the first year where he led the team in both receptions and receiving yards. And he has not looked back since. He has produced thousand-yard seasons in all but his rookie season. He is one of the elite receivers in the league with only Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, and A.J. Green considered to be in the same stratosphere.
Over the ensuing years, Jones and Ryan have formed a strong rapport and it’s often Jones’ ability to make something out of nothing which is a key reason why the Falcons are potentially poised for huge success come 2015.
The team did not re-sign a 33-year old Roddy White following the 2014 season. White winds up with a bottom rung AFC team hoping that his veteran presence will uplift their meager passing attack. But White’s exit from Atlanta is not without its own glory. He finishes his Falcon career just shy of 800 career receptions, over 10,000 yards receiving, and 70 receiving touchdowns. It so far outpaces any other Falcon receiver that he is unanimously hailed as the team’s all-time greatest receiver. While White spent 2013 and 2014 as the second fiddle to Jones, he still was a highly productive player for the team and a big reason why the Falcons were able to achieve greater postseason success with one of the best starting pairs of receivers in the league.
Replacing White in the lineup is 2014 draft pick DeAndre Hopkins out of Clemson. Hopkins blend of speed and size make him a good complement to Jones, bringing many of the same tools to the offense that White once did. Hopkins spent his rookie year as the No. 3 receiver in the offense and his solid production in that role has the team willing and ready to promote him into the starting lineup.
Behind Hopkins is still the now savvy veteran Harry Douglas, who adds quality depth in the slot for the Falcons. Douglas is entering what is expected to be his last season with the Falcons at age 31, but he’s been a solid third option for the team for the past few years, with Hopkins surpassing him the year before. But he’s back in the driver’s seat for the No. 3 spot. But he’s being pushed by Cody Pearcy, who after spending his rookie season on the Falcons practice squad has developed into a newer version of Tim Dwight. Pearcy’s primary value is on special teams, but they like his speed and potential to stretch defenses and are hoping to mix him more into the offense now that he’s got three years under his belt.
Tony Gonzalez walked away from the game after 2012, and the Falcons used their top pick the following spring on Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. While Eifert doesn’t quite measure up to Gonzalez (who does?), he has been a solid starter from Day One giving Ryan a solid pass catcher and chain mover in the middle of the defense. By 2015, he is considered the team’s second-best weapon in the passing game behind Jones.
Teaming with Eifert is the Falcons 2014 free agent pickup Kellen Davis, formerly of the Chicago Bears. Davis lost his starting job in Chicago in 2013 to an up and comer, allowing the Falcons to snatch him up in free agency the following year. Davis’ combo of size, athleticism, and blocking ability makes him well-suited for the No. 2 role. But he’s also a solid pass catcher and the Falcons are taking a page from the New England Patriots among other teams with having a solid pair of tight ends. Davis’ presence made the decision not to bring back Michael Palmer in 2015 as a free agent easy.