Atlanta is set to play in the franchise’s second championship game in a little more than a week when it takes on New England in Super Bowl LI. But it’s also an important time for one of the Falcons’ newcomers, Taylor Gabriel.
Gabriel is a restricted free agent — in which Atlanta has the first opportunity to match offer sheets from other teams — at the conclusion of this season, and many teams around the league will be in contact with the 5-foot-8 wide receiver.
He might not fit in the typical mold of professional wideouts, but Gabriel has excelled with his most obvious asset of speed. The Falcons have found greater offensive success this season due to someone like Gabriel becoming a viable option to take the attention off of star playmaker Julio Jones. Gabriel has definitely done so, tallying 579 yards and six touchdowns while playing in only 13 regular-season games.
The looming decision might be on Gabriel’s mind, but he is currently mum on the situation.
“It’s really not my focus,” Gabriel said. “We need to focus on the preparation for the Super Bowl, and I can’t be thinking about next year.”
For the fan base, it might be an area of concern, as Gabriel has become known for his ability to make flashy plays.
Gabriel has stated on multiple occasions how his ability to “take the top off of a defense” has been valuable to his team throughout the season. It has proven true, as he has played both in the backfield and out of the slot receiver positions and has used the versatility to put the offense in solid positions.
“I can be an asset due to the different coverages they will throw at us,” Gabriel said. “They’re trying to double-team and triple-team Julio (Jones), and I can just take advantage of the one-on-one matchups. It’s going to come down to taking advantage of the opportunities and making big plays.”
The road to Atlanta for Gabriel has been an intriguing one, and it has a lot to do with Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his relationship with Gabriel during his tenure in Cleveland.
Gabriel was claimed by the Falcons on Sept. 4 off of waivers from the Browns, a week prior to the season opener against Tampa Bay. Earlier in the season, Gabriel said he knew some of the offensive schemes due to playing for Shanahan.
Nonetheless, there’s a bit of a learning curve due to a new atmosphere and a new group of teammates. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has been alongside Gabriel throughout the season and expanded upon the scouting process and on-field development.
“Our pro scouting staff that said they have some tapes ready, and at the time of year when the roster decisions are being made, we saw a guy you know, number one, he could fly,” Quinn said. “Doesn’t need a big explanation or be a great evaluator to figure that out. But what I can say is we saw the competitor there, and so knowing Kyle, we said, ‘OK, how would we feature him? What would we do with him here?’ And that’s the part for us that we like doing. If a player is on our team, how would we feature that guy on offense, defense and special teams? So we had a clear vision of what he would do.
“Then it was up to Gabe to get it down, learn the information, connect with Raheem Morris and that group. And he kept getting better and better, to where now, that complement is fully underway. We’ve got a number of different receivers that have unique stuff, and we just try to feature them in that way.”
Gabriel, while being an impactful player, has also become a vocal leader in the Falcons locker room and fits in well as a result of the team’s culture change. Thus, the confidence of his abilities and his team in the upcoming Super Bowl matchup is evident.
“We have to be confident in the things we have been doing,” Gabriel said. “If we can go out there and play Falcon football like we have all season, I think we’ll be OK.”