With Julio Jones officially out of Atlanta, the Falcons will have a tough time replacing the production and attention he drew on the field, even with Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley in the fold. There isn’t a player on this planet that can step into an offense and do what Jones does, but I still expect the Falcons offense to run at a very efficient rate with the supporting cast that they still have. I already talked about how I expect Calvin Ridley to become a superstar, but what about the heir apparent to the WR2 role — Russell Gage?
I expect Kyle Pitts to get a ton of looks on the boundary; his wingspan, size, catch radius, and athleticism will allow him to create many mismatches as an X receiver. While he commands that attention, Calvin Ridley can use his smooth route-running skills and football IQ to get open consistently. So what does that leave for Gage?
While he served much of his time as a slot receiver and third option in 2020, Russell Gage had some big games. He announced himself to the NFL in Week 1 in a loss to the Seahawks, as he, Jones, and Ridley all racked up over 100 yards. Gage had nine catches for 114 yards — showing that he could be a serious threat. Not only can Gage get vertical, but he also has some serious “turn and burn” skills:
Russell Gage is turning heads pic.twitter.com/XzOhPtRqhF
— Hotlanta Highlights (@HotlantaHlights) August 9, 2019
Is it too late to get on the Russell Gage bandwagon? The shake he put on the CB at the top on the first clip is exactly what I wanna see out of #Falcons slot WR next year. Followed by his double move on 2nd. pic.twitter.com/wpjTYx11OL
— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) August 16, 2019
Gage also made some nice plays in the Red Zone, finishing with four touchdowns in 2021.
Matt Ryan goes 6-for-6 on the opening drive, with a TD to Russell Gage! #RiseUpATL
— NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
Not to mention, he throws seeds!
However, I’m here to focus on what Gage will do in 2021, not what he has done in the past. Looking at Calvin Ridley in 2020, he finished with 1374 yards and nine touchdowns as Atlanta’s second option in 2020. I’m not sure Gage will quite reach those numbers, but with an improved offensive play-caller, I think he’s a lock to crest 1,000 receiving yards.
Kyle Pitts will undoubtedly get a large share of the targets, but with defenses focused on him and Ridley, Gage should get his fair share of targets in 2021. He averaged over 10.9 yards per catch in 2020, and with Julio Jones no longer a part of this offense for the first time in a decade, Gage will have to step up. I think he has a breakout year, and the Falcons reward him with a contract extension in 2022. Hopefully, Gage does more than eclipse 1,000 yards because Arthur Smith has a tall task ahead of turning this team around without arguably the best receiver in football.