Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Falcons Fantasy Preview

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Falcons Offensive Profile Under Dan Quinn

2015-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 8th, 26th
2015-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 16th, 12th
2015-2016 Play Volume Rank: 7th, 26th
2015-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 11th, 1st
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 73 (22nd)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 3 (32nd)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Devonta Freeman
WR: Julio Jones
WR: Mohamed Sanu
WR: Taylor Gabriel
TE: Austin Hooper
LT: Jake Matthews
LG: Andy Levitre
C: Alex Mack
RG: Wes Schweitzer
RT: Ryan Schraeder

Passing Game Outlook


After Matt Ryan openly admitted the complexity of OC Kyle Shanahan’s offense was “too much” during their first season together, Ryan rocket launched in year two of Shanahan’s system with league highs in yards per attempt (9.3), yards per completion (13.3), QB rating (117.1), QBR (83.3), PFF’s deep-ball passer rating (135.4), and touchdown rate (7.1%) en route to NFL MVP honors. In fantasy scoring, it was Ryan’s first-ever finish above QB7 in his nine-year career. Ryan’s TD rate (touchdowns/pass attempts) was nearly two full percentage points above his previous career high, and 2.6% above Ryan’s prior career average. Regression is a virtual lock to depress Ryan’s 2017 touchdown total, while his fifth-round Average Draft Position on Fantasy Football Calculator is far too aggressive. Savvier fantasy owners in My Fantasy League best-ball drafts have Ryan pegged as the QB6 near the seventh-/eighth-round turn. In addition to inevitable statistical regression, concerns include Shanahan’s departure for San Francisco, top receiver Julio Jones’ long-bothersome left foot, and an increasingly talented defense that appears primed for liftoff, which would allow the quick-strike Falcons to dial back their offensive aggressiveness. Last year’s Falcons scored the most points in the NFL (540), but also allowed the sixth most (406).

Julio Jones underwent his third career left-foot surgery on March 6. Whereas Jones’ first two operations addressed foot fractures, his latest removed a bunion and is considered far less severe. Jones seems to limp around the field more than any NFL player, but he has appeared in 45-of-48 games over the past three seasons and is firmly in his prime at age 28. Year over year, yards per route run is one of Pro Football Focus’ most predictive metrics. Julio has been a top-five performer in that statistic four straight years. Jones remains the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards per game (96.3), and new playcaller Steve Sarkisian has pledged to increase Julio’s red-zone involvement. Despite leading the NFC in receiving yards (1,409) last year, Jones ranked 86th in the league in red-zone targets (9). Jones ranked tenth in red-zone targets (21) the season before, so his 2016 total seems fluky. Sort of like his doppelganger Andre Johnson, Julio has rarely been a high-volume touchdown scorer in his career.

Mohamed Sanu signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract with Atlanta last offseason, only to suffer a separated shoulder in late September and play through it the rest of the way. Logging 59% of his snaps at slot receiver, Sanu was held under 50 yards in 10-of-15 appearances. Sanu did rank second on the Falcons in targets (81), catches (59), and red-zone targets (13), but he was never truly usable in fantasy, finishing as the PPR WR56. Healthier now and entering his second year in the offense – Sarkisian is supposedly keeping Shanahan’s principles in place – it’s conceivable Sanu’s role could grow slightly. Still, he’s unlikely to emerge as a legitimate asset barring a multi-week injury to Julio. Albeit without any real upside, Sanu is a good bet to beat his ADPs of WR72 (MFL10s) and WR75 (Fantasy Football Calculator).

Atlanta claimed Taylor Gabriel off waivers from Cleveland at final cuts, reuniting him with ex-Browns OC Shanahan. The diminutive (5’8/167) speedster (4.40) emerged as the Falcons’ third receiver beginning in Week 8, averaging 59.0 yards per game and 17.5 yards per reception with six touchdowns from that point on. Gabriel never topped six targets in a game and played just 50% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps during his Weeks 8-16 run, before missing Week 17 with a foot injury. As a rotational, manufactured shot-play receiver whose usage was heavily impacted by Atlanta’s playcaller, it’s fair to wonder if Gabriel will be as involved with that playcaller now gone. He’s a mere late-round dart throw in best-ball leagues.

Austin Hooper took over as the Falcons’ lead tight end after Jacob Tamme’s year-ending shoulder injury in Week 8. Although Hooper never earned a prominent passing-game role, his catch rate (70.4%), yards per target (10.04), and yards per catch (14.3) were all exceptional. Hooper also received Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 pass-blocking grade and No. 12 run-blocking grade among 65 qualified tight ends. A third-round pick out of Stanford who posted the No. 3 SPARQ score at his position in the 2016 draft, Hooper looks to have the requisite tools to become a true three-down NFL tight end. So long as Tamme remains unsigned, it’s the role for which Hooper is positioned entering 2017. In a high-octane offense, Hooper is an intriguing sophomore-leap candidate who usually lasts until the 13th and 14th rounds (MFL10 ADP).

Running Game Outlook

Devonta Freeman enters his contract year as the NFL’s only running back to exceed 1,000 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons while coming off career highs in yards per carry (4.75), yards per catch (8.56), and PFF’s yards after contact per attempt (2.2). Despite the emergence of Tevin Coleman as one of football’s most explosive change-up backs, Freeman registered RB6 PPR results after finishing as the overall RB1 the year prior. Although Coleman’s enhanced role cuts into Freeman’s volume and ceiling, it also lowers his injury risk without severely curbing his touchdown potential. Not only did Freeman rank third in the NFL in red-zone carries (50), he led the Falcons in red-zone targets (17). Locked into lead back duties in the NFC’s top offense, Freeman is worthy of a second-round pick in re-draft leagues.

Tevin Coleman missed three games with a hamstring injury in his breakout second year, but he averaged 11.5 touches for 72.4 yards across 13 appearances and made a big leap in the passing game by catching 31-of-40 targets (77.5%) after topping out at 25 receptions in college and securing a pathetic 2-of-11 targets (18.2%) as a 2015 rookie. While last year’s 11 all-purpose TDs on 149 touches are primed for regression, Coleman's role is safe as an every-week flex play who would explode into a league winner with a Freeman injury. The high-scoring Falcons return 4-of-5 starters from an offensive line that Pro Football Focus credited with creating the NFL’s third most yards before contact per rushing attempt (2.12) last year. Coleman’s floor-ceiling combination makes him attractive in best-ball leagues. If his ADP stays in the fifth round this re-draft season, however, Coleman will likely be priced out of my personal range.

Fifth-round pick Brian Hill will be given every opportunity to win Atlanta’s No. 3 tailback job ahead of holdover Terron Ward. Freeman’s contract situation and Coleman’s injury history make Hill a back to monitor in Dynasty and deeper seasonal leagues. At 6-foot-1, 219, Hill is a plus-sized runner who posted top-12 SPARQ results among the 30 backs drafted in April after setting Wyoming’s all-time records in rushing yards (4,287) and touchdowns (35). A true workhorse on the ground, Hill averaged 24.9 carries per game in 2016, although he caught just eight passes and was a poor pass blocker on college tape.

2017 Vegas Win Total

Atlanta has built a top-five roster since hiring Scott Pioli as assistant general manager three years ago, crushing all three drafts in which Pioli has participated. They are flush with young talent and quality depth. Last year’s Falcons went 11-5 with a Pythagorean Win Expectation of 10.9-11.4, so they were far from an overachieving fluke. This year’s club has a Vegas Win Total of just 9.5 with a slight lean (-125) toward the over. While the Super Bowl Loser narrative may be thrown around as a reason to bet the under on Atlanta, their schedule (NFC North, AFC East, vs. DAL, @ SEA) is more favorable than last year’s, and I believe their arrow is still pointing up. I expect the Falcons to be a 10-11 win team again in 2017.



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



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