The Atlanta Falcons acquired wide receiver Bryan Edwards and a seventh-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft from the Las Vegas Raiders over the weekend in exchange for a 2023 fifth-round selection. It represents a quality addition for a Falcons receiving core that was lacking a true starting secondary receiver on the boundary opposite first-round pick Drake London. Edwards should immediately take up a starting spot in Atlanta’s offense.
The Falcons entered the offseason with the most concerning situation at the receiver position across the entire league following an early-March announcement regarding a year-long suspension for superstar receiver Calvin Ridley. Ridley’s absence, paired with Russell Gage’s departure in free agency initially left the Falcons with a depth chart spearheaded by Olamide Zaccheaus and Frank Darby at receiver. Salary cap-related issues prevented Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot from being a heavy player in unrestricted free agency and the Falcons only originally added to this group by signing Damiere Byrd, Khadarel Hodge and Auden Tate to low-cost prove-it deals. Not exactly a murderer’s row of pass catchers.
Unsurprisingly given the situation, the Falcons opted to use their first-round selection of the 2022 NFL Draft (No. 8 overall) on London, who immediately became Atlanta’s No. 1 receiver. The Falcons did not draft another receiver in the draft despite making a grand total of eight selections, opting to instead focus on their lackluster defense, while also prioritizing the drafting of a mid-round developmental quarterback in Desmond Ridder. As a result, a sizable hole opposite London remained, which has now been adequately filled with the acquisition of Edwards.
A third-round selection of the Raiders in their infamous-for-all-the-wrong-reasons 2020 NFL Draft, Edwards enjoyed a largely successful sophomore campaign in 2021, having recorded 34 receptions for 571 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Edwards has an affinity for big plays, too, averaging an impressive 16.8 yards per reception in 2021. Still just 23 years of age, Edwards is viewed as an ascending talent that’s fully capable of taking advantage of an opportunity to play a bigger role in a passing offense. He’s now expected to receive that opportunity in Atlanta.
The key to what makes Atlanta’s acquisition of Edwards such a shrewd and wise decision (besides the obvious need he fills) is the existing relationship between Edwards and new Falcons starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Edwards spent his two professional seasons to date in Vegas alongside Mariota, who was serving as quarterback Derek Carr’s backup. While it’s true Mariota and Edwards were rarely on the field together during regular season action, the two players have undeniably built a relationship and chemistry through an abundance of offseason and practice-field reps. Mariota will appreciate having a familiar face to work with in Edwards as he embarks on his second true opportunity to serve as a starting quarterback in the league. Any familiarity and cohesion the Falcons can achieve ahead of the 2022 campaign is a welcomed accomplishment for all parties involved.
Edwards quickly became Vegas’ third-most reliable option in the passing game behind tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow in 2021. The dynamics of Vegas’ offense changed going forward following the blockbuster offseason trade for Davante Adams, but Edwards was still expected to start opposite Adams on the outside with Renfrow continuing to man the slot. Why the Raiders would move on from a productive Edwards, who is set to enter the third of a four-year controlled rookie contract that averages an annual salary of just $1.1 million per season, is mind-boggling. It’s obvious that new Raiders Head Coach Josh McDaniels likely prefers to work alongside a secondary receiver of his own personal choosing. McDaniels wasn’t a part of the regime that drafted Edwards initially, and he’s now shipped him out the door in exchange for a future day three draft selection. Edwards will probably be replaced by a player-to-be-named later in Vegas, because the current in-house options (Keelan Cole, Demarcus Robinson) leave something to be desired. The departures of Zay Jones and Henry Ruggs III only makes Vegas’ decision to part with Edwards in exchange for peanuts more confusing.
Edwards now receives a golden opportunity to work under the tutelage of Falcons Head Coach Arthur Smith, who’s a brilliant offensive-minded leader. Smith routinely maximized the production he got out of his receivers in Tennessee while working as the Titans’ offensive coordinator, including a career-best season by Corey Davis in 2020. Although Smith’s offense failed to reach the desired heights throughout his first season as Atlanta’s head coach in 2021, he quickly proved capable of utilizing first-round pick Kyle Pitts as a mismatch in the passing game. Pitts recorded an astounding 1,026 receiving yards as a first-year player despite Atlanta averaging a middling 218.4 passing yards per contest. Pitts’ presence as the No. 1 target in Atlanta’s passing offense made their need for high-level receivers a tad less glaring but they still entered the offseason with an unacceptable group.
Make no mistake, Atlanta’s offense is still littered with question marks at its core. Little was achieved this offseason to improve an underwhelming offensive line and Mariota qualifies as a bridge quarterback at best. Pitts is primed to take another step forward as a dominant pass-catcher as a sophomore but the Falcons may be overly reliant on London’s first-year contributions at receiver. This overall group is far from being considered a finished product, but acquiring Edwards moves the needle forward immediately and he still possesses the upside to possibly develop into a long-term solution as the third or fourth option in their passing game.