Following the departures of franchise cornerstones Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the suspension of wide receiver Calvin Ridley, things couldn’t be bleaker for the Atlanta Falcons in the second-year Head Coach Arthur Smith. They’ve had four years of sub .500 football and now Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady back in the NFC South. While the division has regressed as a whole the last few seasons – so has Atlanta – and in what has become such a pass-happy NFL, a receiving corps touting the names of Olamide Zaccheus, Damiere Byrd, and KhaDarel Hodge has left much to be a desired for an offense expected to be led now by quarterback Marcus Mariota. With round one set to kick off in Vegas in a little over a week, here is how the totem pole of pass-catchers should rank on General Manager Terry Fontenot’s extensive draft board.
Now, there are lingering injury concerns, but the Falcons aren’t in their window for success this year. What that translates to is an ability to grab the top wide receiver on my board, and a talent that would be able to complement tight end Kyle Pitts seamlessly in Atlanta’s aerial attack for seasons down the road. A burner at all three levels, after transferring in from Ohio State, Williams immediately asserted himself as one of the top receivers in the country. While the stigma surrounding linear athletes often turns people away from the true speedsters of the college game because of how said skill sets translate to the more physical NFL game. But Williams is a unique talent with the hands, route-running ability, and game-breaking burst to represent Mariota’s top target on the perimeter.
One of the smoothest athletes in the class, Wilson has all the tools in the bag to become the centerpiece of an NFL offense. A quick-twitch athlete with the ability to dominate outside at the ‘X’ receiver spot, in the slot or on designed touches, there aren’t many boxes that Wilson has left unchecked during the pre-draft process. He’s an aerial artist with glue-like hands and the shiftiness to constantly present quarterbacks with a vacant throwing window and could be the belle of Fontenot’s ball.
Similar in a multitude of ways to his running mate in Columbus, Olave is the most NFL-ready wideout in the class. He would have been a first-rounder had he declared following the 2020 season but Olave’s route-running and exquisite detail to the art that is creating separation has been evident since he stepped foot on Ohio State’s turf. While he lacks the elite-level burst of Williams or highlight-reel ability from Wilson, Olave has Pro Bowl talent dripping off his frame and a deep skill set that should fit seamlessly into any NFL offense.
If you’ve based your evaluation on Burks due to his 40 time, you can stop reading here. However, if you’ve turned on the film, seen his success in the most competitive conference in college football and project his skill set to what should be a ‘run n’ gun’ style of offense for Atlanta, you can see that Burks could be the optimal fit. Now, taking him at No. 8 seems a little rich (for now) but Burks is an impressive football player headlined by a 225-pound frame that will wear down defenders on every single touch he earns. He’s the ultimate chess piece and he will quickly silence doubters come the fall.
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