One of the biggest and first jolts of news to come out of the 2009 Atlanta Falcons Training Camp was the news that Harry Douglas went down with an ACL injury and was quickly lost for the year. Some may have overlooked Douglas and the explosive dynamic he brought to the offense with returning Pro Bowlers Roddy White and Michael Turner, and the addition of Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. Granted, the 2008 schedule was really weak (particularly in hindisight), but Harry Douglas had a big year for a rookie working in the slot (320 yards receiving, 1 TD; 69 yards rushing, 1 TD; 226 punt return yards, 1 TD). Douglas made it impossible for defenses to key on White on the perimeter and stack the box in order to stop Michael Turner. #83 was able to stretch the field and really open holes for both Turner and White. Enter Marty Booker.
Booker broke out as a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears in 2001 when he went over 1,000 yards receiving two years in a row and had 8 touchdowns in 2001 and 6 touchdowns in 2002. Booker was a legit number 1 receiver for spell, and was definitely a number 2 receiver on his worst days back in his prime. From years 2003 to 2006, Booker had seasons from 600 to 800 yards receiving and a ranged between 6 to 3 TDs after spending time in Miami as a Dolphin. Booker saw a pretty significant dip in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2007 and barely eclipsed 200 yards back in Chicago in 2008. With Roddy White’s holdout and Douglas’ injury, Dimitroff called in several wide receivers to audition for several spots on the roster. Booker and Robert Ferguson made the first round of cuts, with Booker getting the nod to fill in as the 3rd or 4th receiver, depending on how much Brian Finneran got in the game. Booker played in all 16 games, but only came away with 16 catches and 181 yards with one touchdown.
While Booker didn’t have a fantastic year at wide receiver, he did show relatively good hands when thrown the ball. The wideout didn’t get a ton of chances throughout the year, but caught most balls thrown his way. He had an 11.7 yards per catch average on the year in a limited role. The passing attack in general certainly had its share of setbacks and Booker can hardly be blamed for its issues. The fault likely may have been due to play-calling since really no receiver could make an imprint in the slot, not Eric Weems and not even Brian Finneran made much of an impact in the aerial attack. Booker may not have a ton of gas left in the tank, but he would be a great (and cheap) insurance policy for the wide receiver situation as it stands: Harry Douglas coming back from major knee injury, Michael Jenkins having his fair share of struggles, Eric Weems inability to establish himself in the passing game, and the likelihood that any receiver drafted will be in the late rounds and have issues adjusting to the NFL. Add to that he knows the offense and he could make a push for a roster spot.
While the passing attack in general took a small step back in 2009, Booker was extremely unproductive and inconsistent as the slot receiver. Booker had bounds of opportunities to make plays with the hard running styles of Turner and Snelling, Roddy White stretching the field, and Tony Gonzalez absorbing constant double teams. Booker even dropped some big catches where he was expectedly wide open. The possibility was there for the slot receiver to have a big year and there was absolutely no threat whatsoever from the #3 wideout. Granted, both Eric Weems and Brian Finneran also failed to make an impact in the slot, but Weems is young and will only get better, and Finneran was money on important 3rd down possessions coupled with injury problems again. Booker is 33 years old and will hit the 34 year mark in July. #80 had his breakout years in 2001 and 2002 and has been on a steady decline since that point. With all the weapons on the Falcons offense, the chance was there to make some big plays and failed to do so. Its time for the Falcons to get younger in the wide receiving attack. Dimitroff is loaded with 8 likely picks and it will be shocking if he doesn’t pull the trigger on a young wide receiver to couple with White, Gonzalez, Jenkins, Weems, and a hopefully returning Douglas. It is very true that the receiving corps now has question marks abound with the injury to Douglas and Jenkins vast inconsistencies, which solidifies the point even further that the time to draft another wideout is upon Atlanta.
A newly drafted receiver could eventually compete for the slot and possibly even the number 2 spot with Jenkins issues. The quick emergence of Mike Wallace (3rd round), Louis Murphy (4th round), Austin Collie (5th round), Johnny Knox (5th round), and Miles Austin (undrafted free agent) has cemented the fact that good quality wide receivers are plentiful throughout the draft and its time for the Falcons to get younger at wide receiver.
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