Falcons receiver Taylor Gabriel’s surprising production isn’t all that surprising


What happened with the Cleveland Browns and Taylor Gabriel? How could an organization which has been so receiver-poor let a guy who clearly has talent leave the team?

When he came into the NFL in 2014, Gabriel was a 5-foot-8, 170-pound wide receiver with an impressive 4.27 40 time. He made the Browns roster and put together some big plays for them in his rookie season.  Still, he never seemed to be more than a role player with occasional moments where he broke out.

With the arrival of a new regime, the Browns opted to clear him out this past summer and the Atlanta Falcons scooped him up.

Now, looking at his last four games, people are wondering whether the Browns coaching staff got into Josh Gordon’s stash before cutting him.

On the surface, Gabriel’s success does seem surprising.  While he has flourished recently, that wasn’t the case early in the season, at least from a statistics standpoint.

In his first five games as an active player for the Falcons—he was inactive Week 1—Gabriel was targeted just ten times, resulting in eight catches for a grand total of 107 yards.

A far cry from the 18 targets for 14 catches, 270 yards, and four touchdowns in the last four games.

The interesting things to note when looking at those first games, though, are all the little things which Gabriel did right. Digging deeper, you can see clues that this breakout was coming.

Early this season, Gabriel wasn’t getting a ton of targets, but he was making some key plays with what he got.

During the Week 2 game against the Oakland Raiders, Gabriel caught both his targets, one for a key first down from the Falcons’ own 4-yard line and the other an 8-yard gain on a 2nd-and-11, again in their own end.

In fact, of his eight targets in the first three games Gabriel appeared in, six went for first downs, and many of them were in the Falcons’ own end. Clearly, the coaching staff trusted him to make a play when they needed it. He even was able to create first downs by drawing pass interference penalties at key moments, as he did in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints.

Gabriel started scoring regularly against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8, with a 47-yard deep post play on the Falcons’ second offensive series of the game.  Both of his other receptions were for first downs.

After that, the Falcons worked hard to get the ball in his hands, adding him to the occasional run play and bumping his touches from two or three a game to between six and eight.

Gabriel has looked much faster than he has at any time since entering the league, and whether that was some extra training this offseason or just finally finding his comfort level, it’s made a huge difference for the Falcons.

It may also have been hooking back up with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who had been Taylor’s coordinator in Cleveland at one point.

It could also have been that getting cut from the lowly Browns was a career-making moment. If the Browns cut you, are you really any good?

Now it seems like it was more about yet another Cleveland scouting miss than it was a lack of talent and ability on Taylor’s part.

For his part, Gabriel feels like he has done all he can to prove he can be a team player.

“I think it was me just being dependable and just being a team player, being able to do anything that [Shanahan] asked of me,” Gabriel said (per ESPN). “If it’s blocking a linebacker or blocking a D-lineman, I would always do it and never question it.”

Considering the mess that is the Browns, one would think Gabriel’s work ethic would have been enough to keep him in Cleveland. It’s been to the Falcons’ benefit that they cut Gabriel loose, though, and one which could pay dividends for a long time.

About Andrew Garda

Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.