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Team Previews

Falcons Fantasy Preview

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 24, 2020, 6:02 pm ET

2019 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 6,075 (5th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 39 (16th)
Offensive Plays: 1,096 (2nd)  
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 734 (1st)     
Rush Attempts: 362 (29th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 258 (1st) 
Unaccounted for Carries: 190 (5th)

 

Coaching Staff

Atlanta ditched any efforts to #EstablishIt in its first year under OC Dirk Koetter, leaning on an NFL-leading 42.8 pass attempts per game at the fifth-fastest pace (26.2 seconds) between plays. Diving deeper, the Falcons passed the ball at the league’s highest rate when trailing (77%) and kept their foot on the gas at the fourth-highest rate (55%) while protecting an in-game lead. Hayden Winks projects this offense with the second-most plays per game at season’s end, slating all protagonists (see below) with a salivating weekly floor no matter the game script at hand. This offense has also proven to be explosive under coach Dan Quinn and his play-callers, ranking 13th, 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 15th in yards per play over the past five seasons.

Passing Game

QB: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub  
WR: Julio JonesOlamide Zaccheaus
WR: Calvin RidleyChristian Blake
WR: Russell Gage, Laquon Treadwell
TE: Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham

Absent for a single game in the last decade, Ryan delivered his ninth-consecutive season with 4,000 yards, 20 passing scores, and 14.3 fantasy points per game in 2019. Barring injury, the 35-year-old remains one of the summer’s easiest projections; Ryan’s raw completion rate hasn’t dipped below 66% since Ridley first tag-teamed with Julio in ‘18, propelling the veteran signal-caller to QB11 and QB2 finishes the past two years. He’s currently being valued as the QB8 in high-stakes leagues and should continue being treated as a confident QB1 given the team’s inevitable negative game scripts against the league’s toughest schedule based on Vegas Win Totals.

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With at least 129 targets in six consecutive seasons, Jones yet again joins Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and DeAndre Hopkins as the unwritten Big Five at their position. Julio’s yards per target (8.9) dipped below his career rate (9.7) on the surface, but the 31-year-old still led the entire league with 1,913 air yards (127.5 per game) across 15 appearances. Frustratingly, he infrequently strikes pay dirt, but Julio remains worthy of his top-five recognition given that he hasn’t finished outside the top-six receivers since sustaining a foot injury during the 2013 season. Atlanta also has a league-high 18 targets inside the 10-yard line missing from last year, a majority which should be sponged by Julio’s massive 6’3/220 frame in red zone territory.

The 25-year-old Ridley enters his third year in the league as one of the offseason’s biggest risers following the losses of both Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper; a key reason the Falcons have the most available targets (258) up for grabs from last year’s production. Ridley quietly led the team in both targets (49) and air yards (653) in the six games he played once Sanu was dealt to the Patriots, averaging 17.4 fantasy points — a mark that would’ve ranked seventh among wideouts at season’s end — in that stretch. Coupled with receiving lines of 8/143/1, 6/85/1, and 8/90/0 in the three contests Hooper was unavailable for last year, it’s easier to forecast Ridley as a low-end WR1 than it is to fence him out of the top-12 altogether. I have him ranked as the overall WR10 for re-draft purposes.

Negligent competition in Atlanta’s three-wide sets is all the more reason for fantasy players to back Julio and Ridley as this season’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combo. Russell Gage was the team’s incumbent slot receiver in place of Sanu but pasted a median 10.2 fantasy points per game from Week 8 on. Olamide Zaccheaus is an intriguing second-year pro but totaled just 87 snaps in year one (though his 93-yard double move is worth re-watching). Laquon Treadwell’s first-round draft capital is the only positive in his Bumble profile.

The Falcons shipped second- and fourth-round picks to the Ravens for Hayden Hurst, who remains only two seasons removed from exiting South Carolina with school records in catches (100) and receiving yards (1,281) for a tight end. Already 27 in August, Hurst played second fiddle to Mark Andrews in Baltimore but does land as the direct shoo-in for Hooper’s position-high 39.3 routes per game. For what it’s worth, Jaeden Graham was offered that same opportunity in three spot-starts for the latter last year and totaled the seventh-most routes among tight ends — usage that’s expected to fall into Hurst’s lap. His athleticism and explosiveness may be up for debate, but Hurst’s routes run and snap rate under Koetter will compete with the upper echelon of players at his position. He’s a high-floor TE1 whose involvement should trump any concerns over switching playbooks during the offseason. 24-year-old Graham and former DC Defenders standout Khari Lee will compete as Hurst’s backups.

 

Running Game 

RB: Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, Brian Hill    
OL (L-R): Jake Matthews, James Carpenter, Alex Mack, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary

Less than 24 hours after Gurley was released from Los Angeles, the Falcons brought the injury-plagued 25-year-old home to Georgia on a one-year, $5.5 million deal to compete with the same group that failed to lend any amount of confidence in place of Devonta Freeman last year. Transitioning from the Rams’ offense, which targeted running backs at a league-low rate (10%) while finishing 19th-overall in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards metric, to Atlanta’s up-tempo attack gifts Gurley an abundance of opportunity — Falcons enter the year with 190 unaccounted for carries — behind a healthy o-line that lost a combined 16 games from former first-round starters James Carpenter (concussion) and Chris Lindstrom (broken foot). Gurley’s chronic knee issues and screaming ankles are certainly a concern, but they’re already baked into his Average Draft Position as the overall RB15. Having recently passed his physical, he remains my favorite hold-your-nose selection among the group of runners (Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, David Johnson) currently being discounted for both injuries and recency bias. 

Collegiate standouts at their respective alma maters, Ito Smith (5’9/195) and Brian Hill (6’1/219) have been replaceable players in their two years with the squad. ‘Judge’ Ito averaged 6.2 touches on 40% of Atlanta’s snaps in the five full games he handcuffed Freeman. Hill caused fantasy players to have nightmares (24/44, 1.83 YPC) in his two starts off waivers. I’ve only selected Smith as a flier in dynasty startups and 28-round redraft leagues.

 

Win Total

The organization reached for a need in drafting Clemson CB A.J. Terrell with the No. 16 overall pick rather than strengthening a strength and going to war with CeeDee Lamb, Julio and Ridley in three-wide sets. Atlanta is also projected to lean on their aerial assault, the bread-and-butter of this offense, against Warren Sharp’s third-toughest slate of secondaries. That may be a recipe for fantasy success given the proven veterans engineering a voluminous blitzkrieg throughout the year, but it doesn’t bode well for any tickets backing the franchise’s 7.5 (-130) Season Win Total. I pencil the Falcons as more of a 5-11 or 6-10 team, falling well short of their Vegas expectations.