The Atlanta Falcons apparently have the worst receiver group in the NFC South according to Pro Football Focus.
Pro Football Focus recently unveiled their rankings of the best receiving corps around the league and placed the Atlanta Falcons at the 13th spot.
When you have a guy like Julio Jones, placing the Atlanta Falcons at the 13th spot seems ill-advised and a heavy punch to the gut. While the Atlanta Falcons may not have a top-five receiving group, is placing the Atlanta Falcons at 13 and worst in the NFC South the correct idea?
Julio Jones ended the 2019 season just six yards shy of yet another 1,400 yards receiving season on 99 receptions (157 targets). Calvin Ridley didn’t really see the sudden improvement you would hope for with the departure of Sanu mid-season. His performance stayed relatively the same over the course of the next few weeks once Sanu was gone.
However, Ridley did see an increase in production over the course of Weeks 11 through 14. This stretch is where Ridley saw 37 targets (27 receptions) and nearly 400 yards receiving. Ridley ended his 2019 season short after suffering an abdominal injury in Week 14 against the Carolina Panthers.
Had his season not ended short, Ridley would have eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his two year career and saw over 100 targets.
The problem is that the Falcons don’t have much behind those guys. Hayden Hurst should do a solid job of replacing Austin Hooper’s production, but the depth chart at wide receiver quickly falls to relatively unproven options like Russell Gage and Laquon Treadwell.
The player who saw the direct benefit from the Sanu trade was the second-year receiver, Russell Gage. The first seven games of the season saw Gage only record four receptions on eight targets with just 44 yards to show for. The following nine games saw Gage record 45 receptions on 66 targets and 405 yards. A much-improved stretch of the season compared to that of the first seven games.
The Atlanta Falcons will go into 2020 with 256 targets up for grabs from players who left the team (Austin Hooper – 97, Mohamed Sanu – 89, Devonta Freeman – 70).
We already know that Gage has the potential to cover the loss in targets left by Sanu, but the addition of former first-rounder, Laquon Treadwell, will hopefully offer viable competition that improves both players’ production in 2020.
However, it is entirely unknown how productive newcomer Hayden Hurst will be when tasked to replace one of Matt Ryan’s favorite targets, especially in clutch moments. After being an afterthought in Baltimore, Hurst hopes to reinvent his career in 2020 and has already begun working out with Matt Ryan during this offseason.
Whether or not Hurst can actually replace Hooper, he will have an ample amount of opportunities to prove his worth. While I don’t believe 97 targets are realistic for Hurst in his first season, I can see 60-70 targets as being a realistic benchmark for him in 2020.
Can Todd Gurley see 60+ targets in 2020? Maybe. The answer isn’t based on his athletic ability as he saw 80+ receptions in 2017 and 2018, however, will his body allow for him to see that many targets?
The unknown around Todd Gurley is his arthritic knee and if he can last all 16 games plus playoffs. Even the offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, has stated the Atlanta Falcons don’t know the true extent of his knee troubles.
On the bright side, it’s great seeing Todd Gurley makes it a point to strengthen his knees.