FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Arthur Smith didn’t want anyone to think he was against the little guy. He repeated this sentiment more than once on Saturday — whenever the opportunity presented itself. Atlanta FalconsTerry Fontenot, the general manager, was asked by second-year coach about the wide receivers they have assembled.
He is fine with shorter receivers. He mentioned Kalif Raymond(5-foot-9), whom was he coached as the offensive coordinator Tennessee Titans before becoming Atlanta's head coach, and the Falcons’ Olamide Zaccheaus(5-8) Receivers below 6-feet, with whom he especially enjoyed working.
However, almost all of the Falcons receivers and pass-catchers are now tall.
“It’s a factor, but it’s not. … I know the popular narrative is it has to be this height or we want the bigger receiver,” Smith said after drafting 6-foot-4 receiver Drake LondonWith the No. With the No. “It’d certainly help, but that’s not [it]. … There’s some really good players that got taken.
“We’ll play with anybody that can help this team.”
It's trending to “bigger is better” this season. London was recently acquired in the receiver room. Bryan EdwardsAnd Auden TateThey are 6-5. They could be, along with Zaccheaus, Atlanta’s top four players at the position this fall.
Last year’s first-round pick, tight end Kyle Pitts, is 6-6 and every tight end, except for John RaineAt least 6-2 Cordarrelle PattersonHe is 6-2 and led the team's rushing efforts last season.
Five of the 12 Falcons receivers are at least 6-3. This includes Edwards and London, who could be a starter. London was a slot player at USC so the Falcons may have a lineup that has their pass-catchers as 6-2 (Patterson), 6-foot (Tate), 6-3 (Edwards), and 6-4 (London). Other vertically-helpful combinations.
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While Smith, a noted basketball fan, isn’t necessarily putting together an NBA roster, it certainly could look that way. It could help a quarterback to get used to starting from scratch again. Marcus MariotaHe would be the best candidate for the first job.
This could also be beneficial to rookie quarterbacks Desmond Ridder,Should he be allowed to play this season?
“Being able to go up and get the ball, but being able to just make plays when plays aren’t there to be made,” Ridder said. “Play scrambles down, break down and it’s a one-on-one matchup, trusting in your guys and knowing that maybe if it was a smaller guy that maybe he’s not jumping as high or maybe they got a little bit of a matchup with a bigger corner or whatever it may be.
“But just having that catch radius and [knowing] that you’re able to throw it anywhere and them going make the play, I think that’s huge.”
It is uncommon to have this type of pass-catching group. According to ESPN Stats & Information, just two teams have had four players catch 50 or more passes in a single season at 6-2 or taller — the 2013 and 2014 Chicago Bears.
The Bears’ top four targets in 2013:
Brandon Marshall, 6-5 wide receiver, 164 targets, 100 receptions, 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns
Receiver: 6-3 Alshon Jeffery (148 targets, 89 catches, 1,421 yards, 7 touchdowns)
6-2 running back Matt Forte (95 targets, 74 catches, 594 yards, 3 touchdowns)
6-6 tight end Martellus Bennett (94 targets, 65 catches, 759 yards, 5 touchdowns)
The following season, Chicago’s top six targeted players were all at least 6-2 when receiver Marquess Wilson and tight end Dante Rosario were Nos. 5, 6, Jay Cutler, Jimmy Clausen and only two other players had double-digit targets in the 6-2 season.
Smith has used taller players in his offense before. In 2020, Smith was running back for Tennessee. Derrick HenryReceiver is also 6-3: Corey DavisThe Titans' starter was, Their other top receiver? A.J. Brown6-1.
All of Smith’s tight ends in 2020 were at least 6-2, including Anthony Firkser, who could be the Falcons’ No. This season, there were 2 close ends. Smith also had a very high receiver corps in 2019 — Davis, Brown, and 6-2 Tajae SharpeAll of them started at least six games, but there were four receivers under 6 feet who did at least one game.
It’s similar to last season in Atlanta when Zaccheaus started eight games because of an injury to Russell Gage(6-foot) and the lack of Calvin RidleyMental health prevented the Falcons from playing (6-1) in the second half. Five Falcons receivers were under 6'0 on this roster.
Smith was adamant “we’re not going to sit here and discriminate against under 6-foot receivers if that’s what you’re trying to imply.”
So no, Smith isn’t exclusively looking for bigger receivers — but this offseason, Atlanta has seemed intent on acquiring them.