Olamide Zaccheaus of the Atlanta Falcons makes the catch in the first quarter during a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on August 8, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images
Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

Zaccheaus turning heads with play-making ability

The wide receiver knew that teams were drooling over physical specimens like Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf, while not paying  Zaccheaus’ 5-foot-8 and 190-pound highly-productive frame much attention. “Muscle Man” Metcalfe went in the second round to the Seahawks, while Zaccheaus, the No. 1 all-time receptions leader in Virginia history went undrafted. 

“It was not something that I worried about,” Zaccheaus told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ve always been over-looked coming out of high school and even in college. I already knew that size was going to be a big question for the NFL. I’m just always confident in what I’m able to do no matter the size or whatever. I’m just trying to make an impact and help this team win.”

Zaccheaus, who’s trying to make the Falcons at one of their deepest positions, has been one of the bright spots in exhibition losses to the Broncos and Dolphins.

Zaccheaus left Virginia No. 6 all-time in ACC history with 250 career receptions. He finished his career No. 2 all-time at Virginia with 2,753 receiving yards. 

Against the Broncos he caught 2 of 6 targets for 31 yards, including a 17-yard grab. In the loss to the Dolphins, he caught 2 of 3 targets for 43 yards, including a spectacular 28-yard catch to help jump-start the game-opening touchdown drive.

Backup quarterback Kurt Benkert, who was on the Falcons’ practice squad last season, was advising wide receivers coach Raheem Morris about his former college teammate. 

“He’s coming in and has done a really nice job,” Morris said of Zaccheaus. “He’s smart. He can run. He’s starting to learn our lingo. He’s doing a really good job in there.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub didn’t hesitate to throw the ball up to a tightly covered Zaccheaus on that big play against the Dolphins. 

“He seems to be a guy who’s really picked up on things and understands his responsibilities,” said Schaub, also a Virginia alum from an earlier era. “He does a great job with contact catches. The (defensive back) is there. Just like the play down the sideline. It was good coverage, but he went up and made the contested play. He’s been finding a way to do that all throughout camp.”

Zaccheaus, a three-star recruit, was lightly recruited coming out of high school in New Jersey.  

“I was recruited as a running back,” Zaccheaus said. “I only had say five true offers. Virginia was my best offer and was a really good school. I went there and in fall camp we had injuries at receiver and I was switched to receiver. I’ve been a receiver since then trying to perfect my craft.” 

Zaccheaus’ ability to battle for the ball against bigger defenders perhaps can be traced to his days as a running back. 

“It’s really just being keyed in the ball and being aggressive,” Zaccheaus  said. “I guess you can attribute some of that to my running back background, but I’m really just making a play when my number is called.”

It has not been perfect for Zaccheaus, who dropped a punt against the Broncos. 

“I just trying to make a splash on special teams,” Zaccheaus said. “That’s going to be my main way of making this team. Obviously, redemption after that first time. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in live action with a punt. I just have to bounce back from that.”

The Falcons have an opening at punt returner and kickoff returner. Zaccheaus returned punts in high school and during his freshman year at Virginia.

The Falcons are set at their top three wide receiver spots with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley. The fourth receiver has been the trusted Justin Hardy with Russell Gage set to move up to the fifth spot. Marvin Hall, who had the sixth spot, was not re-signed.

“Marvin (Hall) is the thing that we are missing right now,” Morris said.

Unless Zaccheaus can unseat Hardy, the Falcons essentially have six receivers competing for one position. 

“Obviously, at the end of the day, this is a business,” Zaccheaus said. “The numbers may not be in your favor. But that’s not anything that you can control. That’s been my focus. I can’t control anything, but my performance and my effort, things like that. I’m not worried about anything like that right now. I’m just trying to maximize each day and become better.”

The competition has been fierce.

“Receiver is one of those spots where you are looking at roster spots five, six and seven and who has developmental experience to push through,” coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s a big deal. That’s why the next three weeks, for a number of these guys, to show what you can do in those moments is a big thing.”

Quinn likes the depth at the position and special teams will be a factor.

Zaccheaus is missing Benkert, who suffered a toe injury and was placed on injured reserve.  

“He definitely helped me,” Zaccheaus said. “I’m grateful for him and his support. It’s definitely been huge for me.”

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