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32 Teams in 32 Days: Atlanta Falcons

For most fantasy owners and fans of the NFL, the NFC South has been one of the most competitive and high-scoring divisions since Cam Newton got drafted in 2011. The Atlanta Falcons are a big-time reason for that, as they are perennially one of the more consistent offenses, and it has been largely due to their porous defense. Throw in some high scoring divisional games, and there are a lot of reasons why the Falcons have consistent fantasy producers year in and year out. They have studs across the board, but it will be interesting to see how they choose to build this offense after re-hiring Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator. He was previously the OC in Atlanta from 2012-14, when they were an extremely pass-heavy offense. This is great news for the pass catchers, and I will dive into this further, but it seems clear that this should be good news for fantasy owners. The Falcons decided to hire a familiar face, rather than trying to poach Sean McVay’s receptionist, with hopes that they’ve seen the playbook. That being said, let’s dive into Hotlanta and take a look at the fantasy-friendly Falcons (say that 3 times fast).

Rushing attack

Studs:

Devonta Freeman 

  •    Projections: 211 car, 950 yards 8 TDs. 47 tar, 37 rec, 299 yards, 3 TDs (225.73 PPR, RB18)

Busts:

Ito Smith

  •   Projections: 129 car, 490 yards 4 TDs. 35 tar, 28 rec, 170 yards, 1 TDs (120.41 PPR, RB52)

Notable Addition: Qadree Ollison (5th round Pick in 2019)

Notable Subtraction: Tevin Coleman (FA signee to SF)

With the return of Dirk Koetter to the Falcons, I would suspect a much heavier workload for the primary running back in 2019. Notice how I didn’t say, Devonta Freeman. In Koetter’s, 3 previous years in Atlanta, he used his primary back for the lion’s share of the carries. In 2012, he featured an aging and run-down Michael Turner for his final year in Atlanta. Koetter followed up by featuring Steven Jackson for ‘13 and ’14, who at the time was playing in his age 30 and 31 seasons. This included 2014, when Koetter gave 31-year-old Steven Jackson 195 carries, while Freeman–then a 4th round rookie running back out of Florida State–only received 65. While it is difficult to hate on Jackson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 8 consecutive seasons with St. Louis, it was safe to say that his time in the NFL had come to halt. This is all to say that the days of two successful RBs in Atlanta may be over for now, and we can only look to the primary ball carrier for consistent fantasy production. This leads me to Freeman, a player who I have a lot of respect for because he’s a great talent, but only playing 16 games over the past two years is concerning. Additionally, he will play banged up, which isn’t great for fantasy owners. Freeman is a great asset when healthy, but he can also be quite frustrating because he has had recent issues staying healthy. He should be a reliable RB2 for the following season with a good upside if he can stay on the field. The biggest question will be health, not talent.

Primary Backup: If Freeman ends up missing any time, Ito Smith would be the lone beneficiary, with Ollison falling into that backup role. Koetter does not use the running backs as much and runs a very pass-heavy system, so I wouldn’t expect more than one usable running back for fantasy.

Quarterback Play

Studs:

Matt Ryan

  •   Projections: 394/563, 4710 Yards, 32 TDs, 7 INT. 25 car, 110 yards, 1TD. (315.01 FPS QB7)

Matt Ryan was the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft and has been teams franchise quarterback ever since, after going 11-5 in his rookie season. While right now Ryan seems to be a favored option amongst dynasty and redraft players, this hasn’t always been the case. Many have put him in the good but not great clump of quarterbacks, where he struggled to be a consistent QB1. The only thing to be careful of is the fact that Ryan recently turned 34 and his value may slowly decline due to his age. Negativity aside, I think Ryan is in for a monster season. Coming off a year where he quietly finished as the QB2 overall, I see no reason why he would slow down in 2019. When previously connected with Koetter he struggled to get the ball into the endzone and wasn’t the quarterback he is today. Ryan has 2 great receiving weapons outside, a capable pass-catching running back, a 4th-year tight end who can stretch the field, and the experience in the league to continue to be a reliable fantasy starter. Not to mention in his 3 years with Koetter in Atlanta, Ryan never threw the ball less than 615 times in any season. While I don’t expect that many attempts due to a drastically improved defense, it’s safe to say he will throw a lot this year. I’m expecting him to be a mid-range QB1 with high-end upside. I’m drafting him with confidence in all formats. Listed as our consensus QB14 he’s got much more upside than that and is a great price for contenders simply due to his age. He’s a perfect quarterback for a #2To3YearWindow.

Receivers & Tight Ends 

Studs:

Julio Jones

  •   Projections: 153 Tar, 99 Rec, 1539 yards, 8 TD. (301.25 PPR FPS, WR7)

Calvin Ridley

  •   Projections: 91 Tar, 70 Rec, 939 yards, 7 TD (207.97 PPR FPS, WR23)

Austin Hooper

  •   Projections: 72 Tar, 57 Rec, 544 yards, 6 TD (147.64 PPR FPS, TE5)

The Falcons have done a great job at consistently surrounding Matt Ryan with offensive weapons, and this continued last offseason when they drafted Calvin Ridley. Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot to explain when it comes to Julio and Ridley; they are both locked-and-loaded studs. Julio is coming off another dominant performance in 2018, finishing as the WR4 in PPR. He shouldn’t have a problem putting together another WR1 season, as he’s arguably the most dominant wide receiver in the NFL. Julio has a size/speed combination that defensive backs simply cannot handle. Calvin Ridley is now everybody’s favorite “old” wide receiver. He went from unathletic and old, to a top-50 startup pick after putting together a fantastic rookie season. He proved that opportunity is still king and one of the most important aspects of fantasy football. You can have all the talent in the world, but without an opportunity, you’re essentially Kenyan Drake. I’m looking to both of these guys to carry my fantasy rosters in 2019, as they both possess elite traits. Julio wins with his size and dominance even when being doubled. Ridley is reliable with his masterful route running and stop-and-start ability, along with his knack for the endzone, making him a perfect player primed to have a repeat performance in 2019.

My surprise stud is actually Austin Hooper. Now it’s not going to be news that Hooper should have ample opportunity this season. He is coming off his 3rd professional season, where he again took another step forward, seeing 88 targets, catching 71 passes, for 660 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He finished as the TE6 overall, right behind the top TEs and Jared Cook. In such a fantasy-friendly offense, I’m expecting more of the same out of the 24-year-old tight end. He may never be a “stud” because of all the weapons around him on that team, but he’s connected to a great QB who will continue to throw the ball a lot. Whether he re-signs with the Falcons or decides to leave as a free agent, I can only suspect that his talent will be fully utilized by whatever team he plays for, and that’s why I think Hooper is a stud that you don’t need to pay a whole lot to acquire today. The best comparison would be to look at how Cameron Brate was used in Tampa Bay, and I would expect Hooper to see similar opportunity on this great offense, except with more talent.

Overall, this roster is a very top-heavy offense, and Matt Ryan is the type to really force feed his stud players. I wouldn’t get too cute trying to find a diamond in the rough. All of these guys are locked and loaded for the foreseeable future, unless there is an opening at running back for a player to be drafted in 2020. The only other player of note is Mohammed Sanu. If there is ever an injury to Ridley or Jones, he would be the beneficiary. He’s not flashy, just a chain mover, but he’s still a serviceable player on a good offense. Atlanta drafted both a tackle and a guard in the 1st round of the NFL draft, which should improve the pocket for Matt Ryan and the running lanes for the backs. This offense should see improvement in 2019 as far as efficiency goes, and with a defense that is fully healthy, the Falcons can really make some noise this season.

Additional Notes

•    Drafted two offensive linemen in the 1st round of the 2019 NFL draft 

•    Defense struggled with injuries, led to many high scoring games. That should change this year, with shorter fields and a better pocket to improve efficiency of the offense.

Thank you for checking out this piece and continuing to follow along with our “32 Teams in 32 Days” series. If this is your first time checking out this series, there have been MANY others completed and posted for you to check out. Thanks for reading, and as always hit me up on Twitter if you want clarity on anything or have any questions about this article. 


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