There have been whispers the last few years regarding the Atlanta Falcons receiving corps. Thomas Dimitroff hasn’t added a new receiver through the draft or free agency since his very first days as General Manager when he added Harry Douglas in the third round and decided to re-up Michael Jenkins to a whopping 4 years deal worth $20 million dollars. Jenkins and Brian Finneran were holdovers from the previous regime and he recently drafted Kerry Meier in the 5th round only to see him go down with an ACL injury and be lost for the year. Eric Weems has solidified his spot on the team as an excellent special teams player and returner, but has had almost no impact in the passing game.
Roddy White doesn’t even merit mention in this conversation since he’s absolutely one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League, whose made the Pro Bowl two years in a row and just was named to his first All-Pro team. In theory, the Falcons won’t be adding any new receivers unless they take some away because the roster almost seems set in stone with Roddy White, Jenkins, Douglas, Meier, and Weems slated to fill the 5 spots when the 2011 season rolls around.
But anyone who has witnessed the last two Super Bowl Champion runs, the Saints and Packers, knows how important a deep and talented receiving corps can be. The 2010 playoffs should be fresh in the mind of Falcons fans where 3rd and 4th Green Bay receivers, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, torched the Birds up and down the field and looked as good or better than the Falcons starting receivers.
The running theme on the Falcons has been a prevalent and painful one: double cover Roddy White, bracket Tony Gonzalez, and the other receivers can’t beat you. How many times has that actually happened in the Mike Smith/Mike Mularkey Era? This is not a conversation, per se, about Matt Ryan, Mularkey, or the type of offense the Falcons run, just purely on the level of talent at receiver. Ryan has a long way to go on his deep balls and certainly needs to improve on his decision making and has almost no deep game.
He’s by far not elite or great yet, but he’s by far one of the best young QB’s in the league. The argument for Ryan vs. offense is for another time. This one is purely on the need, or lack thereof, to interject speed and youth on the receiving corps for the Atlanta Falcons. Are the Falcons perfectly fine with their current set of receivers? Or is it finally time to add a legit threat to help Roddy White out?
Michael Jenkins has had an up-and-down career as an Atlanta Falcon. He was drafted in the first round by the Falcons when Rich McKay was the General Manager. In fact, McKay traded picks to get up into the end of the first round to get Jenkins at #27. The debate on whether Jenkins has lived up to his first round potential has been debated and rehashed to death. Most of that depends on what you think a #2 wide receiver should do in an offense. The part here is the thought that Jenkins was drafted to be a number 1 wide receiver, not a #2.
Roddy White was still in college when McKay pulled the trigger to get up and grab Jenkins. His physical tools are off the chart at 6’4, 217 and supposedly having speed to burn. His production, however, is another story altogether. His best year in terms of yards receiving was Matt Ryan’s rookie year with 777 yards, but his best year in terms of touchdowns was in 2006 with 7 TDs. Seemingly, the arrival of Tony Gonzalez has meant a decrease in production for Jenkins.
In 7 years as an Atlanta Falcon, he has only nabbed 20 total TDs and only hauled in 50 or more receptions 3 times, with 2 out of those three years being right at 50. Some believe that he plays the appropriate role for a 3rd target in an offense, since White is the #1 option and Gonzalez is the 2nd option. You can draw your own conclusions on if Jenkins is legit #2 receiver, but has Jenkins ever been the go-to guy when White and Gonzalez are double-covered? A list of true #2 wide receiver comparison has Jenkins ranked as follows (note: stats are done purely on the second most productive wide receiver for each team. If RB’s or TE’s were more productive or more targeted, for instance, they were not counted. This ranking also doesn’t take into account types of offense. Top five and bottom five are also given for reference):
Receptions – Yards
1) Desean Jackson – Eagles – 56 – 1,056
2) Mario Manningham – Giants – 60 – 944
3) Jabar Gaffney – Broncos – 65 – 875
4) Anthony Armstrong – Redskins – 44 – 871
5) Chad Ochocinco – Bengals – 67 – 831
23) Michael Jenkins – 41 – 505
28) Jacoby Ford – Raiders – 25 – 470
29) Arrelious Benn – Bucs – 25- 395
30) Chansi Stuckey – Browns – 40 – 346
31) Sidney Rice – Vikings – 17 – 280
32) Chris Chambers – Chiefs – 22 – 213
1) Mario Manningham – Giants – 9
2) Lance Moore – Saints – 8
3) Derrick Mason – Ravens – 7
4) Mike Sims-Walker – Jaguars – 7
5) 6 Players Tied at 6 TDs including Davone Bess, Dez Bryant, and Nate Washington
T – 8th) Michael Jenkins – 2 (tied with Jacoby Ford, Arrelious Benn, 4 others)
T – 9th) Steve Breaston, Patrick Crayton, Chris Chambers
10th) Chansi Stuckey – 0
Obviously, there are a ton of variables that weren’t included in the preceding #2 wide receiver comparisons such as TE options, RB options, types of offense, and missed games, but some cold hard facts stick out. Even when compared to similar amount of receptions, Jenkins had 300 yards less than Anthony Armstrong and only had 30 more yards receiving than rookie Jacoby Ford with a full 15 more catches. An excuse of being productive for a 3rd option behind a strong wide receiver and tight end also falls flat. Brent Celek had over 500 yards with 42 receptions and 4 TDs and the Desean Jackson (1056) and Jeremy Maclin (70 – 964 – 10 TDs) still had plenty of touches, not even including Lesean McCoy with over 500 yards receiving himself.
The Chargers #1 receiver was a tight end in Antonio Gates and Jenkins still had fewer yards than Patrick Crayton as a #2 WR (25 rec – 514 yds). Another reason may be due to having a running back with tons of yards. That also is hard to defend when Arian Foster runs for over 1,600 yards and their #2 WR Kevin Walter still has 621 yards and 5 TDs. The Saints 3 tight ends (Shockey, Graham, Thomas) even combined for over 900 yards and their #3 receiver Robert Meachem had 638 yards, 5 TDs, and 5 TDs on 44 catches.
The yards aren’t even that bad, but the touchdowns are really painful to examine. Rookie Dez Bryant had triple the amount of TDs as Jenkins. Mario Manningham had triple the amount his TDs, and two other rookies had the same amount of touchdowns as Jenkins at 2 (Jacoby Ford, Arrelious Benn). Throw in the fact that Jenkins had less catches (41) than the backup running back (Jason Snelling – 44) and an argument could be made that an upgrade is needed at the #2 Wide Receiver position.
It’s doubtful that Dimitroff will go this route since there are so many other pressing needs such as defensive end, cornerback, and even the Falcons own free agents that have to be re-signed. Add to that the fact that receivers have shown a pretty remarkable ability of coming in and contributing right away in recent years and you get the feeling that this won’t be the direction they go, but you never know.
Malcom Floyd – 6’5 – 225 – Age: 29
A big deep threat that could be an amazing complement to Roddy White and a player that has proven he can be a vertical threat. Will probably looking for a huge deal since he’s nearing 30.
Sidney Rice – 6’4 – 201 – Age: 24
Southern product from South Carolina and USC is one of the youngest game-breakers in the game. Seemed to really blow-up last year while making the Pro Bowl before his hip injury sidelined him. Still managed same amount of TDs as Jenkins with only 17 catches. Can’t imagine Minnesota letting him go at just 24.
Other Notable Free Agent Receivers: Santonio Holmes, Steve Smith, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Lance Moore, James Jones
While the Falcons don’t possess any gaping needs this off-season if everything goes according to Dimitroff’s plan, the Falcons may finally have the luxury of adding an immediate playmaker to the mix on offense either at wide receiver or running back. Dimitroff has only drafted a skill position on offense (WR, TE, RB) higher than the 5th round one time (Harry Douglas) since he’s been at the helm of the Falcons. Even though a first round draft pick of wide receiver may be a real option, choosing one in the second or third round has shown to give immediate impact at the #2 spot such as Jacoby Ford (3rd round) and Arrelious Benn (2nd round), and sometimes even as the #1 WR (fourth round). The Falcons have a good receiving corps, but lack a pure deep threat and there seem to be only a handful (AJ Green and Julio Jones not included due to high draft projection).
Torrey Smith – 6’1 – 205 – Forty: 4.40 – Maryland
Considered the next best receiver after the two big SEC boys AJ Green and Julio Jones get taken as expected early in the draft. One of the few top tier receivers that reportedly lacks deep threat speed. Coming out as a junior. Had over 800 yards receiving and 5 TDs as a sophomore and over a 1,000 yards with 12 TDs as a junior. Probably would have to be taken in the 1st because he likely wouldn’t last until Falcons draft in the 2nd round.
Titus Young – 5’11 – 170 – Forty: 4.47 – Boise State
Coming out as a true senior and was highly productive as a junior (79 catches, 1,041 yards, 10 TDs) and a senior (71 catches, 1,215 yards, 9 TDs). Is one of the biggest vertical threats of any of the wide receiver crop coming out in the draft. Draws comparisons to Mike Wallace of the Steelers. May not project as a true #2 receiver and probably could flourish more in the slot, but many said the same about Desean Jackson and Percy Harvin too. Likely around in the second round, but maybe not when Falcons draft.
Jernell Jernigan – 5’9 – 190 – Forty: 4.32 – Troy
May be the fastest prospect coming out in the draft. Blazing speed and the definition of a true deep threat that can stretch the field. In the right offense, may could be a #2 wide receiver, but not likely in the Falcons run first offense. Depending on his combine numbers, may go sooner than projected due to his pure speed. 1,101 yards receiving as a junior with a 15.2 yards per catch, but only nabbed 4 TDs. Production dropped off as senior taking in barley over 800 yards receiving and a fairly low 9.8 yards per catch, which is not great for a burner.
Other Notable Prospects: Randall Cobb – Kentucky, Edmond Gates – Abilene Christian, Niles Paul – Nebraska, Terrence Toliver – LSU, Darvin Adams – Auburn
So there you have it. Do the Falcons need an upgrade at the wide receiver position, specifically the #2 wideout spot? Another topic covering the #3, #4, and #5 receiver spots will be covered later at some point, but do the Falcons need another #2 wideout or is Jenkins just fine?
-Simple to you: Do the Falcons need another #2 wide receiver?
-What’s your opinion of Jenkins?
-Is Jenkins production perfectly fine for you, given his targets?
-Has Jenkins lived up to his first round status?
-Are there simply more pressing needs than WR?
-In your opinion, who SHOULD be starting opposite Roddy in 2011?
-In your opinion, who WILL be starting opposite Roddy in 2011?
-Should the Falcons explore the free agent market for a wideout?
-Should the Birds consider a wideout in the first round?
-Who sticks out to you in the upcoming draft?
-Can the Falcons find a game-changer at WR later in the draft?