Atlanta Falcons position preview: wide receivers

The Atlanta Falcons begin training camp July 31 at their home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia.

Leading up to the start of camp, we'll take a look at the team, position by position. We started with the quarterbacks and followed with the running backs and offensive line. Now, we move on to the wide receivers.

The cast: Julio Jones (5th season), Roddy White (11th season), Leonard Hankerson (5th season), Devin Hester (10th season), Eric Weems (9th season), Carlton Mitchell (3rd season), Justin Hardy (1st season), Nick Williams (3rd season), Freddie Martino (2nd season), Bernard Reedy (2nd season), Marquez Clark (1st season).

2015 cap numbers: Jones ($10,176,000), White ($5,556,250), Hester ($3,708,333), Weems ($1,132,500), Hankerson ($1,000,000), Mitchell ($585,000), Hardy ($570,205), Martino ($510,000), Williams ($510,000), Clark ($436,167), Reedy ($435,000).

The coach: Terry Robiskie (8th season with team)

Key number: Jones was targeted 163 times last year, the third-most targeted receiver in the league behind Denver's Demaryius Thomas (185) and Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown (180). Jones ran 518 passing routes, which ranked 12th in the league. And his 31.5 percent target rate per route ranked fifth in the league, with Cincinnati's A.J. Green the league leader at 36.6 percent.

For starters: It all starts with Jones, who set a franchise record with 1,593 receiving yards last season. Even in a new offense under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Jones will be the focal point. He's too dynamic a threat not to be, and he potentially could have even more big plays thanks to an anticipated improved running game which should open up more play-action passes. No one has truly shown the ability to cover Jones one on one, although Carolina cornerback Josh Norman would like to think he's capable of the job. Jones revealed he's been learning all the receiver positions in the new offense, so Shanahan surely will put Jones' versatility to good use. Opposite Jones, the coaches really like newcomer Hankerson based on his strong offseason. Hankerson played in Shanahan's system while in Washington and appears to be healthy coming off a gruesome left knee injury in 2013. But Hankerson's emergence doesn't necessarily move White aside. It simply means the veteran White has to have a strong training camp and show the left knee injury that has plagued him won't be a lingering issue. White was given some time off during the offseason to rest. When Shanahan opts for three-receiver sets, the rookie Hardy could be the third receiver running out of the slot. Hardy already has drawn praise from quarterback Matt Ryan as a key figure to the offense's success this season.

Backup plan: It would be hard to imagine White accepting a reserve role after he established team records in both career receptions (765) and receiving yards (10,357) through 10 years with the franchise. Again, it will all depend on how White's body holds up throughout the season. He's been nagged by various ailments over the last two seasons, including hamstring and ankle problems to go with the knee. And White turns 34 in November. It will be interesting to see how Shanahan uses Hester, another aging veteran but a guy who still possesses some playmaking ability. Hester's primary role, again, will be as the team's return man, but he caught 38 passes last season and averaged 6.66 yards after the catch, which ranked fifth in the league. Weems actually had some moments last season, including a 40-yard reception in a 56-14 blowout of Tampa Bay, so he's capable of contributing in a pinch. Williams is worth keeping an eye on during the preseason simply because he played under Shanahan with the Redskins, and familiarity with the scheme always helps.

Friday: Tight ends