Roddy White is still around, but he’s getting older (he’ll be 34 in November). He’s just not the same player or the same dangerous weapon that he was a few years ago. This is Jones’ team now, and he’s the one player you are going to keep your eye on no matter what.
Jones had 1,593 receiving yards last year with 104 receptions, both third best in the NFL. After playing in only five games in 2013, Jones played in 15 games last year. So if he is healthy and is on the field, Jones is extremely dangerous and is one of the best receivers in the NFL.
In Jones’ career, he’s averaged 15.6 yards per catch. So when he touches the ball, Jones makes something happen. For a quarterback like Matt Ryan, that’s usually all you need to make the offense move. And it also says why it is vitally important for the offensive line to give Ryan the protection and time he needs to get the ball into Jones’ hands.
White should not be ignored, regardless of his age. But keeping him on the field is an issue. He’s questionable now for Monday’s season opener due to his elbow surgery. White had several issues last season, so it’s just what happens to players with 10 years of experience as they age. If White is on the field, he’s a threat, but it’s even more of a question now with him in his mid-30s.
Devin Hester may not be the third receiver in name, but he’s the third best threat for now. Hester had 504 receiving yards and two touchdowns last year. Hester will turn 33 two days after Jones’ birthday in November, so he is also an aging player that must stay healthy. Last season was his best year as a receiver since 2009, and with Harry Douglas out a bit the Falcons turned to Hester and he delivered.
Leonard Hankerson was brought in to help replace Douglas. He had four years at the end of the Redskins’ depth chart at receiver. Hankerson played in 16 games in the 2012 season and had 543 yards. He was hurt a lot last year and played in only one game. The Falcons have been impressed with his play in August and feel confident Hankerson can be a solid option for Ryan at receiver.
Justin Hardy was drafted in the fourth round out of East Carolina. He had 4,541 receiving yards for the Pirates in 63 games. His 387 catches were the most in the history of the FBS. Hardy will help replace Douglas, and considering Hester’s age and his importance on special teams, you can expect Hardy to, in effect, potentially replace what Hester did last year. If he gets around 500 receiving yards, the Falcons will be thrilled.
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was familiar with Nick Williams in Washington, as Williams played five games for the Redskins in 2013. Williams won a job in training camp as an extra receiver.
While like Hester, he’s more important on special teams, we can’t forget about Eric Weems. He had only 10 catches last year, but Weems is a threat to do damage if he gets his hands on the ball.
This is a deep receiving corps for the Falcons, but it’s all about Jones. As long as he is healthy, this is one of the strongest units in the NFL. If he’s out for any reason, the Falcons will have to hope the depth is there to help replace his production. With the questions at running back, the wide receivers are vitally important to the offense in 2015.
Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at email@example.com.