Atlanta Falcons best moves of the 2015 offseason – #4


Today, we move on in our “Falcons 50” series, looking at the best offseason moves the Atlanta Falcons have made this year. What ranks at number four?

You can find the full list of “Falcons 50″ posts here.

We are now under two weeks away from the Falcons’ regular season opener with the Philadelphia Eagles. Our “Falcons 50” countdown is into the final stretch, so from here on out we won’t be looking at history, but this upcoming season. It’s been a busy offseason for Atlanta, but there’s been plenty of positive change. What’s the fourth best move?

No. 4 – Strengthening the wide receiver depth

The Falcons’ passing game was strong last year, largely due to the production of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but it is poised to be even more dangerous this season. Jones caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns in 2014, solidifying his spot among the elite class at wide receiver. He was helped out by veteran Roddy White, who added 80 receptions, 921 yards and seven scores.

The third target, Harry Douglas, has departed and joined Marcus Mariota in Tennessee. Atlanta needed to add a wide receiver, and they did a great job bolstering the unit. First was the free agency acquisition of Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson was never truly able to settle in Washington, with injuries plaguing his career and wrecking his 2014 season. With a fresh start in Atlanta, he has the chance to finally back up his talent with strong numbers.

Signing Hankerson was a smart move. He has played under Kyle Shanahan in Washington so he understands his offensive system. Injuries have allowed him to slip under the radar also. He is a talented receiver when healthy and enters a favorable situation as the Falcons’ third receiver. The way he’s been playing in preseason, albeit in meaningless games, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him take over as the No. 2.

I don’t foresee that happening, at least not yet. But it’s a credit to him how well he’s played in the opening preseason games, and there’s reason to be excited. Although an injury to Jones could be catastrophic, it’s comforting knowing there is depth on the roster who can step up and make plays with Ryan under center.

Hankerson isn’t the only talented player added at the position. In the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Falcons selected wide receiver Justin Hardy out of East Carolina. Hardy will primarily line up in the slot, and he is already an excellent route runner with good hands. In three preseason games, the rookie has made nine receptions for 114 yards with an average 12.7 yards per catch.

Hardy could become an excellent slot receiver and will benefit from having so much talent above him on the depth chart. When Jones and White are on the field, defenses will be forced to accommodate the threat they both pose, which could potentially open up space for Hardy.

Let’s not forget about veteran Devin Hester, either. While Hester will make the majority of his impact in the return game, he’s still a useful player to have on offense. Last season, he caught 38 passes for 504 yards and two touchdowns, with an average of 13.3 yards per reception.

All in all, this depth chart is both talented and deep. In the grind of an NFL season, there will be injuries to this unit. With plenty of depth, the Falcons can suffer injuries and still field playmakers at wide receiver. Of course, the one exception is Jones. Losing him would leave a huge hole on offense.

The focus was rightfully on defense this offseason, but Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff did a nice job of strengthening what was already the Falcons’ most talented unit.

Next: The Falcons' fifth best move this offseason

More from Blogging Dirty