For the Atlanta Falcons offense to reach its optimum level, Julio Jones needs a complementary piece at wide receiver. All eyes will be on the pass catchers at training camp.
Leonard Hankerson was the man last year ready to form a strong trio with Jones and Roddy White, but injuries derailed his season. White’s production hit a wall, putting all of the weight onto Jones’ shoulders.
Hankerson and White have since departed. In comes Mohamed Sanu from the Cincinnati Bengals. Sanu will be asked to fill a higher role on the depth chart than he has done in recent years for the Bengals, operating as the number two behind Jones in Atlanta.
This is a big training camp for not only Sanu, but second-year receiver Justin Hardy. The former fourth-round pick was used in a limited role at the backend of last season, but in that time he flashed potential as a number three receiver in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Holding Hardy back at the beginning of last year was his comfort levels with the playbook. Hardy struggled to grasp everything right away and had to sit out for the first half of the season before getting his first opportunity against Tampa Bay.
Can Hardy build on his 21-catch, 194-yard rookie campaign? His potential weighed a lot more than his production last season. Hardy made some key catches on third down, highlighting his strong hands. He ran good routes and showed some chemistry with quarterback Matt Ryan.
Both Sanu and Hardy will be expected to play important roles in the Falcons passing game. Sanu will likely work the boundary opposite Jones, with Hardy being most effective in the short and intermediate passing game. His best role might come in the slot.
Training camp is the time to establish chemistry with the quarterback and nail down the intricacies of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Sanu will need to show he can be the second read Ryan lacked last year, while Hardy needs to display a second-year jump expected of him.
We all know how good Jones is. The key to his training camp is to stay healthy and shake off some rust. Jones will have a keen eye on his fellow receivers. If they step up to the plate, the potential for the Falcons offense is off the charts.
The wide receiver position will be one of high interest entering camp. At the very least, the hope is Sanu and Hardy offer an upgrade on White and Hankerson.