Finding the Fit: Wide Receiver
Most say that the Falcons can use some help at the wide receiver position. Michael Jenkins was very disappointing this year. One could certainly make an easy argument that his dropped passes in the red zone possibly cost us two wins this year.
He simply isn’t a playmaker and if the Falcons could get someone that can create more headaches for defense, it would make Matt Ryan’s job a lot easier, as well as the other options. Coupled with the fact that Tony Gonzalez is also on the decline, it makes sense that improving this position will offset some of that.
The Falcons will have Harry Douglas coming back next year after tearing his ACL this past year. Those types of injuries aren’t easy to come back from especially for a player that as much of his game was his running ability like it is for Douglas.
How explosive a weapon he can be this upcoming season remains to be seen. He was on the rise at the end of the 2008 season, but the team can no longer count on him picking up where he left off.
The Falcons just re-signed Brian Finneran to be their fourth option this year. Finneran has clearly lost a step. He still has good hands and will make a key catch every now and then. But he’s no longer good enough to be a featured part of the gameplan. His value as a player most often came with his versatility to line up at H-back last year for the team due to injuries to Mughelli at fullback. He’s a solid blocker, and it’s likely that and special teams will be his primary roles again this year.
That leaves things open for the Falcons to add a player to the mix that can be more of a factor on offense than Finneran, and offers insurance in case Jenkins and Douglas aren’t ready to step up this year.
1. Game-breaking Ability – The Falcons need a guy with big play potential. Douglas had that before his injury, and Jenkins may make one of those plays once a month. But they need a guy that can consistently bring a big play element to the offense, and that most often comes with the ability to strike downfield. Adding a vertical threat should also help Matt Ryan break his “fear” of going downfield. Ryan will only improve as a vertical passer if he can makes a habit of throwing those passes.
2. Body Control – This is a hallmark of good receivers. The ability to adjust to throws and make catches when their body is contorted and twisted in the air. This is something the best receivers have in spades. And it’s an asset for quarterbacks, because it means they don’t have to be as accurate if receivers can adjust to passes and catch the ball when it’s not headed to their numbers.
3. Hands – The Falcons need reliable hands, because it’s something that Jenkins doesn’t have, and Roddy White will also drop some passes from time to time.
4. Outside Presence/Size – While a slot weapon could add insurance in case Douglas isn’t ready, the Falcons have other options in the slot with Gonzalez and Norwood able to make plays there. Instead, they need to add a guy on the outside that can push Jenkins in the near future for his job. This often means size, because it means the guy is difficult to jam. But he shoudl be a guy that played outside during his days in college.
Despite some fans desires the Falcons aren’t going to use a high pick on this position. Instead they will probably target a middle round guy with growth potential. So we should probably eliminate anybody pegged as a first or second round pick. And due to the traits listed above, probably should eliminate anybody under 6-feet tall. And we should probably drop anybody that cannot run a 4.5 or faster.
Mardy Gilyard (Cincinnati) has very good speed, hands, and play-making abilities. But he’s barely 6′ and weighs only 179 pounds, making it hard for him to beat jams on the outside. Shay Hodge (Ole Miss) has the size, hands, and body control you like, but doesn’t appear to have great speed (4.55 range). Similar things could be said of Jeremy Williams (Tulane).
South Florida’s Carlton Mitchell has a good mix of size, speed, and ability. But he might be a bit raw at this point to be expected to contribute much in his first two seasons. He doesn’t appear to have the best hands.
One intriguing prospect that will have to be weighed and measured is Syracuse’s Mike Williams. Williams was widely considered a first round pick until he decided to quit on his team during mid-season. It is not his first off-field issue while at Syracuse. But off-field issues aside, Williams has the size, speed, and hands to be dynamic weapon on the next level. His character issues dropped him from a potential Top 20 pick to probably a guy that will have to wait until the 3rd round or later. One could make a strong comparison between Williams and Chris Henry. Obviously the Falcons aren’t known for rolling the dice on players with character issues, making Williams a long shot. But after a certain point in the draft, the reward of his potential outweighs the risk of the draft pick/money you are giving him.
Baylor’s David Gettis is big with track speed, but he’s not the most natural receiver and likely would be a long-term project as well.
A player that the Falcons could keep their eyes on is BC’s Rich Gunnell. Frankly, Gunnell doesn’t really fit any of the traits listed above. But he was a favored target of Matt Ryan during their days in Boston, and he’s a sure-handed and polished receiver. But he lacks ideal size and speed and won’t be more than a possession target on the next level. He’ll be a late round option.
Other late round options include Cal’s Verran Tucker and West Virginia’s Alric Arnett. But as late round options both really lack the upside to be starters despite both having good size and quickness. Tucker isn’t a burner, and Arnett doesn’t have great hands.
The Final Verdict
Mike Williams is the perfect candidate, but I’d be shocked if the Falcons rolled the dice on him. Carlton Mitchell and David Gettis are nice options, but I’m not sure either possess the ability to overtake Jenkins in the near future. They possess great physical tools, but I think like Jenkins don’t have “it” factor to best utilize them. So drafting them would essentially be more of the same.
Outside them, there’s really no player that is a strong fit. If Hodge runs well at the Combine though, he can get back on the radar.