On the Atlanta Falcons official site, Daniel Cox wrote a piece about Harry Douglas (HD) and how he is poised for a breakout season in 2012. I tend to agree with his assessment as well as the assessment of NFL.com’s Steve Wyche, who also believes that he is on the verge of a breakout season. I have said that for the past two seasons, and as a result I am going to reserve huge expectations for Douglas in this Falcon’s offense.
Harry Douglas was supposed to be THE slot receiver ever since he was drafted by Atlanta in 2008. I never thought he would be an outside receiver in the same form as Julio Jones or Roddy White, but having a receiver and a quarterback grow up together and learn the game together seemed to be the best thing possible. Having White outside and Douglas inside the slot seemed to be perfect.
Unfortunately, Falcons fans know the whole story. Douglas tore his ACL during the 2009 season, and when he returned for the 2010 season, he was not at full strength. I was disappointed by his lack of production in 2010, but the point had to be conceded that he was not yet 100% recovered from his injury. It was certainly a sub-par 2010 season, but when you have a Tight End who gets as many targets as Gonzalez, and a receiver in Roddy White who has 115 catches that season, its hard to get a whole lot of catches.
Hopes were high yet again in 2011, and Douglas posted his best statistical season. However, 39 catches for just under 500 yards and 1 touchdown was not what anyone quite expected. Julio Jones certainly drew targets away from Douglas, but the point is that he was not exceptional. Douglas’ 84 career receptions for 1,112 yards and 3 career touchdowns are closer to what his totals should be each season rather than over the course of his four year career. There were a couple games where Douglas really shined. Against the Detroit Lions, Matt Ryan returned from an ankle injury and immediately connected to Douglas for a 50-yard reception. It showed his playmaking ability to 1) get open and 2) make moves in the open field for extra yards. He was also exceptional in a Week 10 matchup against the Saints where he had 8 receptions for 133 yards. He consistently got open against linebackers, corners, or safeties, and moved the ball up the field in the Falcons no-huddle situations. His talent is undeniable, but up to this point his has not yet fully realized his full potential.
That could be different in 2012. With new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter running a Four Verticals offense, Douglas could be the lynchpin in making this offense run efficiently. The Falcons will keep teams honest by running Julio Jones and Roddy White deep down the field, or on deep corner/post/go routes. That will allow Douglas to work underneath and catch short passes and turn up the field for yards after the catch. The same will also work when White and Jones break underneath allowing Douglas to be the forgotten man streaking up the field.
This comes to the very core of how Douglas can make this team dangerous. Defenses will have to matchup against White and Jones on the outside, and roll the safeties to each side. Those two outside receivers will still be able to win those matchups, but more importantly it will leave Douglas to one-on-one matchups. He may not be an elite receiver, but he is more than capable against a defensive back or linebacker in man coverage, or finding the soft spot in zone coverage. With the multitude of weapons that the Falcons have on offense, it would be a surprise to see him get more than 60 catches. However, I could realistically see him having about 50 catches for 800 yards and about 5 touchdowns. His production level does not need to be tremendous, it only need to be enough to keep defenses honest, allow the other playmakers to make big plays, and for him to bust a couple of his own.
What are your thoughts on Douglas’ role and production level for the coming season?