New Falcons WR Named ‘Potential Breakout Player’

Bryan Edwards

Getty One veteran Falcons WR is primed to be the team's breakout player in 2022.

Getting better at the wide receiver position was always going to be a tough needle to thread for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. Calvin Ridley’s indefinite suspension for betting violations and Russell Gage’s decision to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency robbed the Falcons of their two best targets on the outside.

Compounding the lack of talent at wideout was the decision to trade longtime starting quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. It left the Falcons needing receivers who could make the job easier for Ryan’s likely replacement, Marcus Mariota.

One low-key trade brought in a flanker Mariota knows well from the last two seasons spent with the Las Vegas Raiders. This receiver has been named by one writer as the Falcons’ “potential breakout player” for 2022, even ahead of the team’s top pick in this year’s draft.

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Former 3rd-Round Pick Tipped to Outshine Falcons’ Top Rookie

In a list of every team’s potential breakout player for this season, Bryan Edwards was chosen by Matt Urben of Falcons Wire. Urben believes Edwards is primed to outperform Drake London, the eighth-overall pick: “London is the new No. 1 by default, but Edwards is the player to watch in this group. The former third-round pick finished the 2021 season with a career-best 571 receiving yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 16.8 yards per catch. Plus, the ex-Raider has experience with Falcons QB Marcus Mariota.”

The Falcons got Edwards for a bargain price, giving the Raiders a fifth-rounder next year for the 23-year-old and a seventh-round pick in 2023. Paying such a modest fee is a reflection of how Edwards never quite lived up to his billing during two years with the Silver and Black.

Drafted 81st-overall in the third round back in 2020, Edwards started just 15 games and caught a mere four touchdowns. What he did show was promise as a deep threat, with Edwards averaging 17.2 yards per reception during his time in the pros.

Edwards also developed a knack for making the spectacular catches, like this five-yard scoring grab against the Cleveland Browns from Week 15:

Making the tough catches in tight spaces is an essential trait for any leading receiver. Edwards showed he can make those plays, particularly against man coverage.

He hauled in a key big gain against the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, with Next Gen Stats detailing how he was able to find the ball, despite the close attention of covering defenders:

Plays like these prove Edwards has the raw tools to be a go-to receiver. It’s what the Falcons need him to be, particularly if Mariota starts the season under center.

Rapport With Mariota Key for Edwards

Edwards never caught a pass from Mariota in a competitive game, but the two did at least establish some sort of connection during offseason workouts. This throw and catch from 2020’s training camp offered an exciting glimpse of what might be for the Falcons this season:

One play in safe conditions isn’t enough to guarantee the type of quarterback and receiver rapport the Falcons will need. What can help forge this partnership into something special is each player’s understanding of what the other can do for their game.

For instance, Mariota explained what a help tall, big-bodied wideouts like 6’3″, 215-pound Edwards can be, per Falcons beat reporter Tori McElhaney: “With those guys in there, they make you look good. You don’t always have to be perfect with your throws. Being able to have these guys whether it be their catch radius, whether it’s their ability to get in and out of cuts, the receivers have really made all of us quarterbacks look good this offseason.”

Mariota’s reference to “us quarterbacks” is telling because he faces competition for the post-Ryan reins from third-round pick Desmond Ridder. Mariota ought to have the inside track thanks to his familiarity with head coach Arthur Smith, who worked with the QB as offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans in 2019.

Smith was part of the coaching staff that replaced Mariota with Ryan Tannehill, so nothing can be taken for granted about the former’s chances of starting in Atlanta. Edwards may be rooting for Mariota to win the job because he told McElhaney Mariota’s presence “makes it easier” learning a new scheme with the Falcons.

Catching passes from a signal-caller he knows well will only increase Edwards’ chances of taking his career up a level. He showed last season he can make plays in the clutch, per PFF Las Vegas Raiders:

Add this useful sense of timing to Edwards’ physical skills and he could well be primed for a banner campaign.

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