Russell Gage was the Falcons’ primary slot WR under OC Dirk Koetter. He was in the slot on 68% of his snaps last season.
With Julio Jones hurt last season, Gage stepped up big time at the end of the year.
Should we expect more of the same in 2021? There are several factors as to why he probably won’t live up to the hype.
With Julio out of town, there are more reasons for the Titans to go 12-personnel (2-TE sets), which means less 11-personnel (3 WR). When they do go 11-personnel, they likely will still line up Kyle Pitts as one of their 3 WRs.
The more 2-TE sets on the field, the less likely Gage will be in the slot – where he was most productive in 2020.
More than 70% of Gage’s production last year came out of the slot. He was very effective in the quick passing game on relatively shallow targets (9.2 aDOT).
If Gage is kicked to the outside in 12-personnel or in 11-personnel with Pitts in the slot, he will have more of a challenge, and he isn’t quite proven at that level.
From Weeks 12-17, Gage played a lot more on the outside due to Julio’s injury. During that span, he caught 11 balls for 88 yards in man coverage, with 251 yards coming in zone. 50% of his production was out of the slot during that span.
Keep in mind that Dirk Koetter is one of the most pass-heavy coordinators in the NFL, so passing volume was never an issue for this offense on his watch.
Arthur Smith comes in after having Tennessee play the highest rate of 12-personnel in the league in 2020, and the 2nd-lowest rate of 11-personnel. When slot WR Adam Humphries was healthy last year, Tennessee was still bottom-5 in 11-personnel frequency, and he didn’t play more than 55% of snaps in any game last season.
Last year, Gage competed with Ridley and Hurst for targets while Julio was out. This year, he’ll be competing with them and Kyle Pitts, on either less snaps or in tougher coverage.
Would I take a shot on Gage late in drafts? Maybe? He doesn’t scream upside as of now, so he likely won’t be one of my targets unless he’s making a ton of noise in camp.