With the departure of Eric Weems via free agency the Falcons lost a very good playmaker. No matter the NFL’s kickoff rules it is vital to have a big-time playmaking threat returning kicks and Weems provided that. That said, the Falcons, as you more than likely know, are right up against the NFL salary cap and don’t have much room to do anything big. Weems replacement won’t come from far or wide, or from a big name not currently on the roster.
The Falcons’ best option is to replace Weems with a player currently under contract and use Weems’ roster spot to try and fill depth at another position, which will be difficult in reference to quality depth without a series of roster moves cutting salary (editor note: Sam Baker says hello). Nonetheless, options are limited to some degree but certainly not bleak. Following is a list of potential replacements for Weems. Three are currently under contract with Atlanta and the fourth could be a good fit as both a kick-returner and fourth receiver.
Harry Douglas- Now that the team has Douglas locked up he is one of the best options to return kicks for the Falcons. Before his knee injury in 2009 Douglas showed legitimate playmaking ability, flashed of which returned last season with 2011 being his second year removed from the surgery. Now three years removed from the injury there shouldn't be much concern in having Douglas in a high-impact role.
Julio Jones- I know, I know, everybody is screaming at me right this moment that there is no way the Falcons should put their prized possession in such a high-impact position. Well, I’d argue that his value is a big reason that they should. Jones has proven to be one of the best playmakers in football already (and still is not finished maturing into a pro). The Falcons are already facing a season where game-breaking plays could be at a minimum. It only makes sense to put your single best weapon in position to make plays.
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Jacquizz Rodgers- In Rodgers the Falcons have yet another speed guy who’s role must increase in order for point production to be average, let alone rise. While Rodgers first season didn’t offer anything noteworthy by way of stats (not his fault), he has proven for years his ability to maximize every ounce of his 5’6” sub-200 pound body. He is no doubt an open field threat to go the distance, but he is also quite compact and strong for a smaller player which will allow him to shed & bounce, a primary function in returning kicks.
Ted Ginn, Jr- While I’m not in favor of the Falcons adding skill players in light of the major deficiencies at other positions they may choose to do so in order to save their front-line running backs and wide receivers from having to be returners. Ginn has been one the better returners in the NFL during his career and just came off being a big part of the San Fransisco 49er’s run to the NFC Championship Game. Ginn is a quality player overall who could provide the Falcons athletic flexibility overall in addition to being a very good return man.
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