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Offseason Lowdown

Falcons Fantasy Preview

by Evan Silva
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Falcons Offensive Profile Under Dan Quinn

2015-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 8th, 26th, 20th
2015-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 16th, 12th, 16th
2015-2017 Play Volume Rank: 7th, 26th, 25th
2015-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 11th, 1st, 3rd
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017 (Rank): 740 (24th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017 (Rank): 10 (29th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Devonta Freeman
WR: Julio Jones
WR: Mohamed Sanu
WR: Calvin Ridley
TE: Austin Hooper
LT: Jake Matthews
LG: Andy Levitre
C: Alex Mack
RG: Brandon Fusco
RT: Ryan Schraeder

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Passing Game Outlook

Although 2017 was considered a down season for 2016’s NFL MVP, Matt Ryan’s efficiency metrics like completion rate (64.7%) and yards per attempt (7.7) aligned with his career norms, and Ryan engineered an Atlanta offense that ranked third in the NFL in both yards per play and yards per drive. The Falcons dipped from first in points per game (33.8) to 15th (22.1), however, and Ryan’s touchdown rate (TDs/pass attempts) was sawed from an otherworldly 7.1% to 3.8%. Had Ryan’s TD rate simply matched his career average (4.6%), he would have thrown 4.3 more touchdown passes. Ryan entered his magical 2016 season as a positive-touchdown-regression candidate after managing a career-worst 3.4% TD rate in his first year under then-OC Kyle Shanahan. Ryan enters season two under current OC Steve Sarkisian as a positive-touchdown-regression candidate again. Atlanta also projects to face one of the NFL's softest pass-defense schedules. Now carrying the Average Draft Position of a fantasy backup, Ryan will be one of my highest-owned quarterbacks in leagues of all types this year.

Julio Jones was a 2017 testament to not only the fickle nature of touchdowns, but their impact on fantasy football perception. Widely viewed as a disappointment despite finishing second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,444) and as a top-seven wideout in both PPR and non-PPR scoring, Jones managed three TDs as a byproduct of red-zone woes that also bogged down Ryan’s fantasy bottom line. It wasn’t for lack of trying; Jones ranked eighth among wide receivers in red-zone targets (19) and third in targets inside the ten-yard line (11). Advanced metrics show Julio lost nothing off his open-field fastball, leading the entire league in PFF’s predictive Yards Per Route Run metric (3.08) and demonstrating elite Game Speed in Josh Hermsmeyer’s Next Gen Stats study. It’s important to remember that football is a small-sample sport. Players don’t get 600 at-bats or take 2,000 shots each season, and the resulting game-to-game and year-to-year variance helps make the NFL great. After experiencing the right side of touchdown variance in 2016, Julio and Ryan were on the wrong side last year. I like both to bounce back.

Mohamed Sanu enters his third year in Atlanta as a high-efficiency interior receiver with a sparkling 71.2% catch rate over two seasons, running 63% of his routes in the slot and converting 9-of-25 (36%) red-zone targets into TDs to dwarf Julio’s dismal 3-for-29 (10.3%) mark. Sanu has shown an unexciting ceiling, however, never reaching 800 yards or exceeding five TDs through six NFL seasons. And he must now additionally contend with Calvin Ridley for targets. Sanu could become a re-draft asset if Julio went down, although Jones has missed just three games in the past four years. As is, Sanu is best approached as a high-floor, low-upside WR5/6 roster-filling pick in best-ball leagues.


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First-rounder Calvin Ridley survived atrocious quarterback play to log the second-most catches (224) and receiving TDs (19) in Alabama history despite turning pro after three seasons. Although he’s been knocked for his old-ish age – Ridley turns 24 later this year – he showed early dominance with a career-best 89/1,045/7 receiving line as a 20-year-old true freshman. Ridley’s strengths are straight-line speed (4.43), pro-ready route running, and short-area quickness, a combination that lends itself to early NFL impact. Unfortunately, his available opportunity is limited in an Atlanta offense missing the NFL's fourth-fewest targets (80) from last year's team. Although Ridley is an exciting addition to the Falcons’ three-receiver package, his murky path to targets renders Ridley little more than a low-probability last-round fantasy dart.

Austin Hooper took only a small second-year leap, playing 77% of Atlanta’s 2017 offensive snaps but finishing 17th in targets (65) and sixth in drops (6) among tight ends. Hooper exploited two Week 1 coverage busts against the Bears for a 2/128/1 receiving line, then went 17 straight regular season and playoff games without topping 50 yards. Hooper did rank No. 2 among tight ends in Next Gen Stats' average yards of separation at target (3.7). The Falcons made no offseason tight end upgrades, giving Hooper post-hype breakout appeal that would have been stronger without the Ridley pick. As is, Hooper is a back-end TE2 who probably needs a Julio or Sanu injury to make a 2018 fantasy difference.

Running Game Outlook

Devonta Freeman endured an injury-impacted first year under OC Steve Sarkisian, suffering a preseason concussion, missing Weeks 11-12 with another concussion, and wearing down while playing through MCL and PCL sprains. Freeman’s stretch-run efficiency plummeted, averaging 2.64 yards per carry in Atlanta’s final four games. Freeman avoided surgery, but admitted in May he wasn’t yet 100%. Still, indications are Freeman will regain full strength well before training camp to return as the job-secure lead back in an offense primed for positive-TD regression. Including playoffs, Freeman and Tevin Coleman played 14 games together in 2017, and Freeman out-touched Coleman 16.2 to 10.7 per game. Freeman also out-carried (34, 23) and out-targeted (8, 4) Coleman in the red zone. In my Best-Ball Running Back Tiers, Freeman leads off tier three as the RB11 off the board.

Tevin Coleman showed his 2017 floor with a second-straight top-25 fantasy back finish, and flashed his upside with 155 total yards and three TDs in spot starts against the Bucs and Seahawks. Coleman enters his contract year with a secure but limited role behind Freeman, handling 9-12 touches per game. He maintains injury-dependent upside that, combined with his safe floor, makes Coleman an attractive best-ball pick. Coleman is a weekly flex option in re-draft leagues. The Falcons drafted Southern Miss all-time yards from scrimmage leader Ito Smith in the fourth round as Coleman’s likely 2019 replacement.

2018 Vegas Win Total

The Falcons’ Win Total opened at 9.0, a number they’ve eclipsed in consecutive seasons (11-5, 10-6). Having built one of the NFL’s most underrated defenses, the Falcons have the look of a truly complete team. Although Sarkisian's debut year was viewed as a disappointment, the Falcons moved the ball consistently on offense and should be more efficient in the red zone in year two. Including the playoffs, Atlanta managed a 6-5 record in one-score games, and they have room in that area for positive-regression growth. There is coaching and scheme continuity on both sides of the ball. Opponent factors are largely neutral; Warren Sharp rated Atlanta with the 18th-softest schedule in the NFL. We need injury fortune to go our way, but I like the Falcons' trajectory and the over on their 9.0-game Win Total.

Evan Silva
Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .