Countdown to camp: Falcons looking for depth at wide receiver

Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell attempts a reception over Baltimore cornerback Brandon Carr (background) during the first half Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Falcons acquired Treadwell ahead of the 2020 season.
Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell attempts a reception over Baltimore cornerback Brandon Carr (background) during the first half Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Falcons acquired Treadwell ahead of the 2020 season.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Editor’s note: Leading to the start of NFL training camp, we’ll take a look at the Falcons. Rookies reported July 21. QBs and injured veterans reported Thursday and the rest of the veterans Tuesday. Today: Wide receivers.

Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage are established as the Falcons’ top three wide receivers.

Over the offseason, the front office made an intriguing addition by signing former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, who played four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

Treadwell, a former SEC star, was the freshman player of the year in 2013 and ended his career as Ole Miss’ all-time reception leader, with 202 catches. Even though he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 and 4.63 seconds at his Pro Day, the Vikings snapped him up with the 23rd overall pick in the draft.

Things didn’t go so well for Treadwell in Minnesota.

Treadwell, 25, played in 53 games and made 16 starts for the Vikings. He caught 65 of 107 targeted passes for 701 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s a fresh start,” Treadwell said. “Fresh perspective. It’s another great opportunity for me to pursue my dreams and continue to try to prolong my career. Obviously, everyone knows that it didn’t get off to the start I (wanted), but that’s in the past. I’m only looking forward to what is in front of me with the Atlanta Falcons.”

The Falcons believe Treadwell can be a dependable possession receiver and make a contribution to the special teams.

“Treadwell had very high expectations coming out of college,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “He was playing with some other good wideouts at Minnesota and maybe didn’t get as many targets as he would have liked.”

Treadwell is ready to move on.

“It’s a new opportunity,” Treadwell said. “That’s how I’m approaching it. I want to go out and give all that I’ve got in the film room and on the field.”

Koetter believes there’s a spot in the wide receiver rotation for Treadwell, who’s a big target at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.

“What he does have, he has size and really good hands,” Koetter said. “We have a strong wide receiver group already.”

The Falcons did the best they could to get Treadwell ready for his transition during the virtual offseason.

“I know that Laquon is talking to (wide receivers) coach (Dave) Brock, and he’s excited about joining us,” Koetter said. “Sometimes guys need a change of scenery. ... He definitely has the size and has the hands.”

Jones will continue to be the focal point of the passing attack. He had 99 catches for 1,394 yards and six touchdown receptions in 2019.

“Julio is the elite of the elite,” Koetter said. “Two guys who still have room to really grow are Calvin and Russ. I think both of those guys as they get more confident and they get more time with Matt, they are just going to get better and better.”

Ridley was having a strong season until he was placed on injured reserve with a stomach injury after the 13th game.

Ridley had 63 catches for 866 yards and seven touchdowns over 13 games and 10 starts in his second season in the NFL.

Ridley has been compared favorably with former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison. In his second season, Harrison, who was on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, caught 73 passes for 866 yards and six touchdowns.

Koetter said that Ridley needs to continue to work on his route-running and being at the right depth. With Ridley continuing to develop into a major threat that will take some of the pressure off Jones.

“I think Calvin is really good,” Koetter said. “He was on track for a 1,000-yard season. I think he would have got 1,000 yards had he not missed those last couple of games. I think the Calvin is just going to continue to grow.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan became more comfortable throwing to Gage as last season progressed. He caught 49 of 74 targets for 446 yards and a touchdown.

“When Russ got more opportunities, his talent started to show up,” Koetter said. “His confidence grew. As his confidence grew, he got better. Just for any player that goes from a role player to a part-time starter, consistency is the next phase.”

The Falcons hope that Gage can fulfill the role held by Mohamed Sanu before he was traded last season.

“I think Russ is very talented,” Koetter said. “I think we’ll see a jump in his game.”

Wide receivers Brandon Powell, Olamide Zaccheaus and Chris Rowland will compete for the punt- and kickoff-return jobs.

WIDE RECEIVER DEPTH CHART

WR 11 Julio Jones, 80 Laquon Treadwell, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 14 Chris Rowland, 12 Juwan Green

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell, 1 Jalen McCleskey

COUNTDOWN TO TRAINING CAMP 2020

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Countdown to Camp: Dan Quinn’s revamped coaching staff for 2020

Countdown to Camp: Special teams need major overhaul

Countdown to Camp: Terrell, Neal are major question marks in Falcons secondary

Countdown to Camp: Deion Jones needs to take leadership mantel

Countdown to Camp: Can Takk McKinley turn into a player?

Countdown to Camp: Activist Ryan ready to lead change on and off the field--

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