The Atlanta Falcons are a team wrapped in a mixture of certainty and uncertainty. While some of their players (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones) will produce week-in and week-out, there remain questions about many other players (Roddy White, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman). There’s a new head coach (former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn) and new offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan). So hopefully the new leadership will help the offensive line and running game. If so, this team could return to being a top offensive juggernaut. Even if those positions flounder, there will still be some major fantasy relevance in the ATL.
As the Falcons have struggled to a 10-22 combined record over the last two years, Matt Ryan has been a steady source of production. The quarterback has produced at least 4,515 yards in each of the last three seasons, a number that has placed him in the top five each time. He’s also thrown for at least 26 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons, which has put him in the top 10 each time. Even with a renewed focus on the running game I’d expect him to match those numbers again. His passing yards might dip a bit, but 26 touchdowns should easily be attainable.
In the FantasyPros consensus rankings Ryan ranks eighth at quarterback and in the consensus ADP data he is being selected ninth among quarterbacks and 67th overall. I can see him outperforming both those spots, so if you want to wait a while on quarterback Ryan makes a great option.
The running back situation in Atlanta is as murky a situation you’ll find in the NFL. The early leader in the clubhouse is Devonta Freeman, the second-year back who rushed for only 3.8 yards a carry and one touchdown last year in 16 games. Freeman’s single-high game in rushing yards last year was 38, and while he did well catching the ball (30 receptions in limited PT) he still has to prove himself to the new coaching staff. Atlanta drafted Tevin Coleman 73rd overall out of Indiana this spring. It’s obviously too early to tell who will start the season opener for the Falcons, but ESPN’s Vaughn McClure says Freeman is the frontrunner for the starting spot as training camp nears. McClure says both backs fit the zone-blocking scheme that Atlanta will use this season, so again there’s no indication as to whom to target first in drafts. I think Coleman has more upside due to his big-play ability (25 runs of 40 or more yards last season at Indiana), so I’d target him as a RB3/flex.
It’s hard to believe Julio Jones only has two 1,000-yard seasons in his four-year career, but he’d be 4-for-4 if it weren’t for injuries. Jones had 959 yards in 13 games in his rookie season, and he was well on his way to a monster 2013 (116 yards per game) when his season was cut short after five games. Yes, he’s injury-prone but the 26-year-old is averaging seven catches, 109 yards and almost .4 touchdowns per game in his last two seasons. He’s a top-five wide receiver. Roddy White will turn 34 this season and is coming off the worst two seasons of his starting career. But I wouldn’t be scared off by that as long as you don’t make him a starter in most leagues. He still caught 80 passes last year on 122 targets, and if he stayed healthy he would’ve passed 1,000 yards. He doesn’t have the upside some who are being drafted around him do, but he should be a perfectly capable bye-week fill-in.
A rookie to watch is Justin Hardy, a fourth-round pick out of East Carolina. Hardy holds the NCAA career mark in receptions with 387 catches in 63 games. Hardy should work out of the slot this season after passing Devin Hester on the depth chart. He could be a PPR monster that costs you nothing in drafts.
As training camp nears Jacob Tamme is the best tight end on the Falcons’ roster. Tamme hasn’t done much outside of 2010, but we’ve seen Matt Ryan connect with Tony Gonzalez before so he does like connecting with an in-line receiver. I don’t think he’s draftable, but if injuries hit and Tamme stays healthy he could be OK in PPR leagues.
Atlanta gave up 6,372 yards last year, which was over 200 more than the second-worst team defense, and it also recorded the second-worst sack total, 22. The Falcons added Vic Beasley, arguably the best pass-rusher in the draft, in the first round, and a top cornerback, Jalen Mills, out of LSU in the second round. Both players should help the defense, but they won’t make it worth rostering unless it has a good matchup.
Player to Watch
Coleman – Shanahan had success with Steve Slaton in Houston and Alfred Morris in Washington as rookies, and Coleman is arguably better than either of those players. I think Shanahan will make a concerted effort to get Coleman on the field and improve the running game, and in this offense that should be enough to make Coleman fantasy-relevant.
Julio Jones averaged 106.2 receiving yards per game last year, second only to Odell Beckham, Jr. It’s just that his six touchdowns were fewer than Eddie Royal‘s and Coby Fleener‘s seven scores. If Julio can grab 10 or more touchdowns he could become the No. 1 fantasy receiver.