Three summers ago, I made predictions about what the Atlanta Falcons roster might look like in 2015. Recently, I revisited those predictions to discover just how oddly accurate and wildly inaccurate they were in most cases.
But in so doing, it got the creative juices flowing once more to try and do it again, this time predicting what the Falcons roster might look like three years from now in 2018. As I did then, I will break down each position group with the goal of examining a pathway that the Falcons roster could go down.
Julio Jones gets paid in the summer of 2015 and there has been absolutely no reason for the Falcons to regret that decision. Going into 2018, Jones has led the team each of the past three years in receiving and has definitely cemented his status as one of the league’s elite receivers.
Only at age 29 entering 2018, Jones is perhaps a year or two away from becoming the team’s all-time leading receiver, surpassing the benchmarks set by Roddy White. Speaking of White, he was let go by the team following the 2016 season. White put together one more quality season as a starter in 2015, but the following year it was much clearer that there wasn’t a whole lot left in the tank thanks to a bum knee. White opted to call it a career at age 35 in 2017.
Helping ease the transition in a post-White world was 2015 fourth-round pick Justin Hardy, who quickly carved out a role as the team’s slot receiver. By 2016, Hardy had already surpassed White as Matt Ryan’s second favorite target and continues to hold the role as the veteran quarterback’s go-to option on third downs.
The Falcons made a big splash in 2017 to replace White in the starting lineup by going out and signing ex-Cleveland Browns phenom Josh Gordon. After being reinstated in the NFL in 2016, Gordon is motivated to prove his many critics wrong. The Falcons gamble on Gordon’s upside and it pays off for the team in 2017, as they once again have put one of the league’s premier trios of receivers around Ryan, much like the team did in 2012 with Jones, White and Tony Gonzalez.
Gordon has matured since his 2015 suspension, and the older Jones has proven a valuable mentor for the 26-year old receiver much in the same way that White was for Jones when he entered the league back in 2011.
As far as depth goes, the Falcons used a late-round pick in 2016 on Ohio State wide receiver Corey Smith. Smith hasn’t proven to be a major asset on offense, but easily replaces Eric Weems as one of the NFL’s premier gunners on special teams.
Also helping out on special teams is Bernard Reedy, who took over for Devin Hester as the team’s return specialist in 2016. Reedy also helps out on offense, taking over the niche of Antone Smith as a guy that is often a threat to score anytime he gets a chance. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was able to turn Reedy into an exciting, situational playmaker as the fourth receiver, a trend that continues after Shanahan’s departure in 2017 under his replacement Matt LaFleur.
As for other current Falcons receivers, Leonard Hankerson spends two solid years adding depth for the Falcons in 2015 and 2016, but upon the arrival of Gordon in 2017 is passed off in free agency.