Everybody knows that Julio Jones is one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. The guy is an absolute beast, which he has demonstrated many times throughout his career to this point. When Julio first joined the Falcons in 2011, the entire city of Atlanta was excited for what he could bring to the team.
While the franchise paid a relatively steep price (for a wide receiver) to acquire him with the sixth overall pick in the draft, he began to pay dividends immediately, with 18 touchdowns in his first two seasons as a pro. Julio helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl just a couple of seasons ago, and he made several jaw-dropping grabs in the big game as well. Yes, they gave up what seemed like an insurmountable lead to Tom Brady and the Patriots, in what went down as one of the absolute worst collapses in NFL history. But it was not because of Julio, who was studly throughout the game.
When Julio entered the league, he played alongside another great receiver in Roddy White. But it was clear that the young kid had more raw talent than the veteran. In the midst of the 2018 offseason, Atlanta began looking for another wide receiver option to help take some of the defensive pressure off of Julio, who was often shadowed and double covered by opposing defenses. And they got that help in the form of another former Alabama wideout, in Calvin Ridley with the 26th overall pick in the draft.
We have already mentioned that Ridley will top 1,000 yards as a rookie this year. The guy was by far the best wide receiver prospect on the board heading into the draft. That’s what makes it so difficult to understand how the Carolina Panthers, who also were in dire need of receiving weapons, decided to take their chances on D.J. Moore and pass up the chance to select Ridley. That’s not to say that Moore is not talented, but simply a mistake in judgment on the part of Carolina’s front office.
After the Falcons failed to get Ridley the ball in the season opener, they made sure to target him more the following week, and he turned his opportunities into four receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown. But in Week 3, we finally saw what this guy can do at the NFL level, when he exploded for seven catches, 146 yards, and three touchdowns. Ridley is well on his way to having a monster rookie season, and helping Matt Ryan and the Falcons have one of the most potent passing offenses in the league.
When you consider that Austin Hooper has also contributed nicely in the early going this year, this team could be very difficult to slow down, particularly as the season goes on. Running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are both strong weapons in the passing game, with the former capable of taking a screen pass to the house at any moment.
Despite Mohamed Sanu often underperforming, the Falcons are certainly in the discussion of having the most potent collection of receivers in the entire league. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster would obviously argue that point, but time will tell which group will have the best season.