The backup positions at wide receiver will likely be some of the most contested positions on the roster this summer in training camp. The Falcons are pretty much locked in at the top of their depth chart, but are intent on seeing what competition can brew on the back-end.
Roddy White and Julio Jones will remain starters this year, and the team is looking for the latter to really step up this year. Jones showed flashes of his ability, particularly in the latter half of last season. The team hopes that with a complete off-season this spring and summer, he’ll be better prepared to be able to play at a similarly high level throughout the course of the entire 2012 season.
White is one of the more reliabe players on the entire team, and you can be certain he’ll play very well this year. He is coming off a year where he had a large number of drops, and he’ll be looking to redeem himself in 2012. But you can expect White to be the team’s top wideout throughout the season. And if that is not the case, it’ll likely be because Jones has really stepped up his game rather than any fall-off from White.
Behind them on the depth chart, but playing what in today’s NFL is practically a starting position himself is third wideout Harry Douglas. Douglas showed improvement a year ago after having a full season coming off his knee injury, and the team hopes he will also continue that upward trend this year. Douglas is at home in the slot, but he got a lot more opportunities on the outside last year due to injuries to Jones. The team is hoping that getting stronger should help allow him to contribute more there this year.
Behind those three receivers is really where the question marks lie. The Falcons have a large number of unproven wideouts and prospects expected to compete for what will likely be two, possible three roster spots.
The player who is most likely to emerge from that group for a spot is third-year player Kerry Meier. The Falcons traditionally have given their fourth and fifth wideouts extensive reps on special teams rather than offense. But for Meier unlike the others, the team may be paying more attention to his contributions this summer on offense. His size, hands, and blocking potential gives him some upside to contribute on offense, but he hasn’t quite put it all together in his two previous summers. The team knows what he potentially brings to the table on special teams, which gives him an edge there, but it doesn’t fully know his potential on offense.
Returning from last year’s practice squad are Kevin Cone and D.J. Davis. Cone is a player that has a good combination of size, athleticism, and speed. He got some work on special teams in the season finale. If he can impress in coverage as well as showcase some big play ability in preseason will likely give him an edge over the others. Davis is more quick than fast that flashed some ability last summer. Between the two, much larger expectations are being heaped on Cone.
Among the rest of the position group, the team will have a bunch of undrafted free agents competing for spots. And it’s likely their ability on special teams will trump any offensive production they may be inclined to show. Also the vacant return duties will factor in here, as whoever becomes the team’s kickoff and punt returners could shake up depth across the roster. That mainly goes for James Rodgers, the brother of Jacquizz, who is competing for the open kick return duties. Rodgers was one of the few undrafted free agents that the Falcons signed that was productive throughout his college career on kickoff returns. He is now nearly two years removed from a major knee injury similar to Douglas, and the team is hopeful that similarly he can regain some of that explosive burst he showcased prior to the injury.
Mike Calvin was a backup throughout his Cal days. But that gave him a large amount of experience working on special teams. Like Cone, he has a good combination of natural size and speed which can be effective as a gunner on special teams. Marcus Jackson began his collegiate career as a quarterback, but made the eventual switch to wideout. Kenny Stafford’s biggest claim to fame is that his uncle is former NFL wideout Cris Carter, but he hopes that his play on the field this summer in camp and preseason will give the team and its fans another reason to remember his name. All three of these players weren’t super-productive while playing in college, but unlike most summers they all have a fairly strong chance to make the roster rather than just trying to impress enough for a practice squad position.
But an issue the Falcons may have to address in the late summer is that if none of the young guys really step up to be able to fill those depth roles, the team may have to sign a veteran player. A number of proven wide receivers will find themselves out of a job come late August and September as roster cuts are made, and the Falcons might make the decision to try and bolster it with a more known commodity than these untested players. That could especially become relevant based around how the competition at the return spots shakes up. Any veteran player the Falcons add between now and the start of the season is likely to be a guy they want to help as a return man rather than any potential offensive production.