The Falcons came into the 2022 NFL offseason needing a lot on offense, but at least one of the starting receiver positions was supposed to be settled.
Atlanta was expecting 2018 first-round pick Calvin Ridley to return and reprise his role as the team’s No. 1 receiver. He had missed all but five games in 2021 after stepping away from the Falcons to focus on his mental health and well-being, but seemed ready to return in 2022.
However, Ridley was suspended indefinitely by the NFL after an investigation revealed that he had bet on NFL games during a five-day span in November of 2021. At the time, Ridley was not with the Falcons; he did bet on a game in which Atlanta participated.
The NFL has strict rules about players gambling and opted to slap Ridley with the indefinite ban. He is eligible to apply for reinstatement on Feb. 15, 2023.
The Falcons are now very thin at the receiver position with Ridley out. They will have to rely on a mishmash of young, unproven receiver talent and middling veterans to get the team through the 2022 NFL season. Their group is an eclectic mix of body types, as the team has four receivers who are at least 6-3 and four who are 5-9 and under.
What does the receiver room look like for the Falcons? Here’s a breakdown of Atlanta stacks up at wide-out according to the team’s official preseason depth chart.
MORE: Why Drake London is “probably not” available in preseason Week 2
The Falcons spent the No. 8 overall selection on London and envision the USC product becoming their long-term No. 1 receiver.
London (6-4, 219 pounds) racked up 88 catches, 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns during his final season with the Trojans. He did all of that in just eight games with the team before suffering an ankle injury that knocked him out for the season.
So long as London stays healthy, he should rack up plenty of targets for Atlanta. The 21-year-old caught one pass for 24 yards in his preseason debut before exiting the contest with a minor knee injury.
There’s the rookie @DrakeLondon_ making plays. 📈
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Things thin out considerably behind London. If Ridley were available, they would be dynamic two-man punch. Instead, Zaccheaus and Bryan Edwards are jostling for the No. 2 receiver position with Zaccheaus having the early edge.
Zaccheaus, 25, has developed into a solid playmaker for the Falcons after going undrafted out of Virginia. He posted 31 catches, 406 yards and three touchdowns in 2021, all of which were career highs.
Zaccheaus has averaged 14.7 yards per reception as a true deep threat, so he figures to be a field-stretcher for Atlanta in 2022. His only issue is that he’s just 5-8, 193 pounds, but that is mitigated by his ability to play the slot in three-man formations.
Edwards was acquired via trade from the Raiders during the offseason. The third-round pick in 2020 didn’t burst onto the scene like the team hoped but the Falcons are hopeful a change of scenery can do him well.
In 2021, Edwards caught 34 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns. He has averaged 17 yards per catch during his career; that makes him a dangerous deep threat when paired with his 6-3, 212-pound frame.
Edwards, 23, may not start games that the Falcons begin in two-receiver sets, but he should get plenty of action when Zaccheaus kicks inside to the slot. He could eventually climb up to the No. 2 role, as many anticipated he would, but for now, Atlanta’s depth chart lists Zaccheaus ahead of him.
WHAT A PLAY BY BRYAN EDWARDS 😱
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The Falcons’ top three receivers are one of the weakest trios in the NFL; their depth behind them isn’t much better. Hodge (5-11, 183 pounds) is currently listed as the Falcons’ fourth receiver and would enter the lineup in three-wide sets with London out of the lineup.
Hodge has played in 55 NFL games with two starts and has 30 career catches for 430 yards. He has never scored a touchdown.
The Falcons are the fourth team that Hodge has played with since entering the league in 2018. The 27-year-old lasted one year with the Rams, two with the Browns and one with the Lions before coming to Atlanta.
Khadarel Hodge puts on tackling clinic vs. De’Anthony Thomas
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Allison showed promise in the early stages of his career with the Packers. The 6-3, 202-pound pass-catcher recorded 89 catches for 1,045 yards and six touchdowns over 49 games (15 starts) with the team from 2016 through 2019.
However, Allison has played in just three games since 2020 and hasn’t caught either of his two targets in those contests. The 28-year-old looks like more of a special teams contributor who could be a fine backup if he regains the decent form he once showed in Green Bay.
Darby was a sixth-round pick of the Falcons in 2021, and he was a core special teams player. Darby played 53 percent of Atlanta’s special teams snaps despite playing just 10 games and he figures to reprise that role as a key depth player once again in 2022.
Darby didn’t do much as a receiver. He played 20 offensive snaps and caught one of four targets for 14 yards. Still, he’s just 24 and at 6-1, 200 pounds, he has good size. He could overtake Hodge and Allison as the season draws nearer.
MORE: Why Falcons chose Desmond Ridder over Malik Willis in 2022 NFL Draft
Byrd is playing for his fifth different team of the last five years but has been productive at each of his last three stops. He has averaged 41 catches, 499 yards and a touchdown per 17 games played over the last three seasons, so the Falcons could try to get the most out of the 5-9, 175-pound speedster.
However, with Zaccheaus already set to start, the similarly diminutive Byrd has fallen down Atlanta’s depth chart. He could still make the roster but it is no guarantee. Either way, the 29-year-old is trending toward being a backup or practice-squad player for Atlanta.
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The rest of the members of the Falcons’ WR depth chart are all listed as fourth-string players or lower. They could battle for practice squad spots, but the odds of them making the 53-man roster are slim.
Below are the players rounding out the Falcons’ pass catchers: