WR Russell Gage named Falcons’ biggest offseason standout

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The biggest storyline of the Falcons’ offseason has been the departure of All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones. Those around the league will be watching to see how Atlanta’s offensive dynamic changes with Jones out of the picture.

Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski took a deep dive into all 32 NFL teams and named one player as the biggest offseason standout for each. For the Falcons, Sobleski highlighted fourth-year wide receiver Russell Gage:

No one will ever truly replace Julio Jones in the Atlanta Falcons’ lineup. Still, the franchise’s greatest player does leave a void that someone must try to replace. After all, the 32-year-old wide receiver, whom the Falcons traded to the Tennessee Titans, leaves behind a significant role.

Calvin Ridley will pick up some of the slack. Russell Gage is the obvious candidate to flourish without Jones. Gage finished last season with 72 receptions for 786 yards. His usage should dramatically increase under new head coach Arthur Smith.

“Russ has done a nice job in the slot, but we’ll move Russ all over the place and then we got to make a decision as we get closer to the season, all right, we’re giving him a shot here,” Smith told reporters. “He’s done well. He’s grown his game. Done this with a lot of players, and everybody’s on a different timeline.”

The initial reaction to the Falcons trading away Jones was to elevate Gage because he’s next up on the depth chart. However, the 2020 season doesn’t necessarily support this case.

Over the seven games that Gage played without Jones in the lineup, his production remained relatively unchanged, and even saw a slight decrease in a per game average. With Jones playing, Gage averaged 49.56 yards per game. Without him, his yardage dropped to 48.57 per game. He even saw one less target on average in the seven games without Jones.

While we don’t want to overreact to these numbers, they don’t allow for the working narrative that Gage’s production will increase. Even Pro Football Focus’ early 2021 season projections have Gage below his total posted in 2020.

The addition of Kyle Pitts will no doubt cut into the targets for Gage. The rookie tight end is projected to have a better season in terms of receptions, yards and touchdowns than Gage. The real standout for the Falcons this offseason may end up being Olamide Zaccheaus. PFF projects the speedy wide receiver to be the immediate benefactor without Jones and to post a career-high 514 yards this season.

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