Camp Battles 2013: Wide Receiver
Like many of the Falcons offensive starting positions, they are locked in at the wide receiver position. Thomas Dimitroff envisioned the possibility of having a No. 1 and No. 1-A receiver when he moved up in the 2011 draft to add Julio Jones to a receiver corps that already had Roddy White. It seems that vision will come true in 2013, as it’s hard to figure which player will be the preferred weapon of Ryan in the regular season. Based off last year, technically the honor of being the top option will probably fall on Jones. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones saw a pass from Ryan once every 4.56 snaps where he ran a route. White on the other hand was slightly less used with a target for ever 4.70 snaps. That gap could widen as the Falcons look to better take advantage of Jones’ elite physical tools.
Behind both starters is Harry Douglas, who in this day and age of a passing league is also technically a starter. Douglas appeared in 58.8% of the Falcons offensive snaps last year (per Pro Football Focus) and will once again resume his duties in the slot. But the Falcons managed to mix Roddy White more in the slot last year, and might continue to expand his role there.
Most of the competition will come in camp at the position behind Douglas at the No. 4 wideout spot. That role primarily will be used on special teams rather than offense. Drew Davis is the incumbent there. Outside some of the Falcons blowouts and games in which Julio Jones was injured, he saw little more than two dozen snaps on offense last year. Davis managed to make the most of what few opportunities he did have, showing good speed and quickness to catch 4 passes and a touchdown last year. Davis flashed good ability as a cover guy on special teams, but was inconsistent at times. The key for him to maintain his current position on the depth chart is to make strides both on offense and special teams. Offensively, refining his route-running should help.
But in reality the competition for the fourth wide receiver spot is fairly wide open. Kevin Cone spent last year as the team’s fifth wideout. Cone had a bit of a disappointing preseason last summer. Among the potential candidates, he may possess the best physical tools due to his size and speed combination. But his hands were inconsistent and he hasn’t quite refined his route-running to a high level. Coming out of an option offense at Georgia Tech in 2011 explains his slow progress somewhat, but 2013 needs to be the year that he puts it all together.
Tim Toone was a late summer addition last year that showcased some ability as a punt returner and speed on offense. He finished the year with the team, although he did not suit up for game. Toone’s best avenue to making the roster will be showing he can be a contributor on special teams, most likely as a punt returner.
Also competing for a shot at the return gig is James Rodgers, the older brother of Jacquizz. Rodgers spent the year on the practice squad. He had a solid summer last year, coming fairly close to locking down one of the return spots. He’s an undersized offensive player, but if he can regain the explosiveness he lost due to an ACL tear in 2010, it should aid him greatly.
Marcus Jackson may be the most polished receiver of the group of last year’s practice squad players. Jackson was able to showcase solid hands last summer and an ability to get open, a necessary trait to be a productive NFL receiver. But the key for him will be to not only continue to make strides offensively, but also show he offers value on special teams. Otherwise, he’s looking at another year on the practice squad.
The Falcons also have three undrafted rookies in the mix in Darius Johnson, Rashad Evans, and Martel Moore. Johnson and Evans are helped by the fact that they have return experience while at SMU and Fresno State, respectively. They will hope to do what Rodgers couldn’t last summer and steal one of those jobs. Both are undersized but possess speed that could be assets on special teams. Moore offers a bit more potential as a wide receiver on offense due to his superior size and capable speed. Like Jackson before him, he’ll likely be pushing for a chance to earn a practice squad spot with a good summer.