I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 24th-ranked player: wide receiver Harry Douglas.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 52/100
Last year’s rank: 31
Player Grade: 54/100
Teams he is starter: 10 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 30 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3
Douglas is coming off a career-best season where he led the team in receptions and receiving yards, thanks largely due to the injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White that kept both out of the lineup for two-thirds of the season.
With tight end Tony Gonzalez drawing double teams last year, Douglas was free to be Matt Ryan’s preferred target for the middle part of the season when both Jones and White were out.
It showed that Douglas’ lack of production over the years had a lot to do with the presences of better players around him like the aforementioned trio.
But Douglas’ extensive action as the team’s de facto No. 1 receiver also showed some of limitations that has plagued Douglas throughout his career. Outside his strong Week 7 performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, very little of Douglas’ production had a positive impact on the team’s ability to win games. Having just two receiving touchdowns were just one indicator of that.
Also, his 100-yard efforts against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8 and Buccaneers in Week 11 were largely thinks to production he had in garbage time when the game was out of hand.
Once White was healthy in the final month of the season, Douglas was once again relegated to being an afterthought in the offense.
However in 2014, Douglas will have to carry a heavier burden since he will be primarily tasked with filling the void left by Gonzalez’s retirement. The Falcons are expected to play a lot more three-wide receiver sets this year to try and compensate for that lost production in the passing game, with Douglas likely seeing as much as action as Jones and White will.
Douglas will have to show that he can be a more reliable and consistent playmaker, particular when the outcome of the game has yet to be decided.
A lot will be on offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to find ways of making Douglas more effective.
Douglas is not as effective when asked to win against man coverage, and should benefit from the presences of White and Jones to draw coverage and open up some throwing windows. Crossing routes and other shorter routes designed to maximize Douglas’ ability after the catch should be in regular usage by Koetter.
It’s going to be an important year for Douglas. His contract runs through the end of 2015, but his cap hit next year of roughly $4.4 million might become a bit prohibitive if his production is subpar this year.
Basically every impact play Douglas makes this year will decrease the chances that the Falcons seek to exploit the $3.5 million cap savings they could reap by cutting him next offseason.