At first glance, nothing jumps off the page when reviewing Russell Gage’s season-long body of work to this point in his NFL career (or even in his college career for that matter). After shipping off a deteriorating Mohamed Sanu for a 2021 second-round pick in a rare fleecing of New England, the Falcons coaching staff put their trust in Gage to take over the team’s third receiver position. Gage enjoyed a 16% target share after taking over for Sanu, as his average offensive snaps per game increased from 12 to 48. He finished the season with 49 catches for 446 yards and one TD (but in the nine games post-Sanu he had 45 catches for 402 yards and one TD).
Gage served as a reliable presence for Matt Ryan when he was on the field, earning a PFF grade of 66.3 which. While not an excellent score, this ranked him in the top 10 on the Falcons offense in what was viewed as an underwhelming season for the team. Gage possesses burst and short-area quickness, as well as a penchant for working out of the slot, and has shown savvy and improvement as a route runner over his career, as shown below:
The Atlanta coaching staff and front office displayed confidence in Gage when they decided to pass on CeeDee Lamb in April and instead drafted A.J. Terrell. This spoke volumes in terms of their confidence in Gage as their third WR. That confidence was reaffirmed several weeks later, as both Head Coach Dan Quinn and OC Dirk Koetter spoke highly of him in interviews. Keep in mind, the Falcons used three or more WRs on 67% of their offensive snaps last season.
For the 2020 season, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Russell Gage if you have him on your roster or can acquire him for cheap. The Falcons vacated a league-high 258 targets from last season’s offense. While big free agent signing Todd Gurley should see some of those targets, he most likely cancels out what Devonta Freeman and company were getting. The Falcons also sent second- and fifth-round picks before the 2020 draft to the Ravens for Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick. While Hurst is a fine TE and is due for massive progression this season, I do not envision him seeing all the 97 targets Austin Hooper had thrown his way in 2019.
The Falcons brought in Laquon Treadwell as well this offseason, but based on his film and production he looks to be vying for a role as the WR4 on the team. Russell Gage already has more of a rapport with Matt Ryan than Hurst or Treadwell will have coming to the team during a pandemic-shortened offseason.
You have to love what we’ve seen from Gage in the second half of the 2019 season. The entire team, from the front office to the coaches, and his teammates, appear to have confidence in him. While his average depth of target was just 8.4 yards (less than the average slot receiver), he did have more red zone targets and receptions than DJ Chark, A.J. Brown, and Odell Beckham Jr. last season, which tells you Matt Ryan trusts him. Over the last five seasons, the Falcons as a team have had more PPR fantasy points scored by wide receivers than any other NFL team, so looking ahead the next few years, the forecast for targets is favorable.
At just 24 years of age and heading into his third season (the season in which typically WRs break out), Gage still appears to be a “value purchase” this offseason, but perhaps not for long. You can probably draft him any time after round 16 of your superflex startups and feel good about it, and any time after round 28 of your full IDP startups. He could have stand-alone flex value with WR3 upside, especially if Julio Jones (missed one game in 2019) or Calvin Ridley (missed three games in 2019) misses time. When you consider the ability, the potential, and the opportunity, Russell Gage is a player that can sneakily strengthen your roster.
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