Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire
Wow, what an offseason for the Atlanta Falcons. Fans everywhere held their collective breath in hopes that Julio Jones would not holdout for the regular season. Luckily, the team worked out a deal with the superstar wide receiver and all is back to normal in Atlanta. The Falcons are now over a year and a half removed from perhaps the biggest heartbreak in sports history. Atlanta experienced another heartbreaker at the end of last season, when they fell just one play short in Philadelphia to move on to the NFC title game. They will begin this season where they ended the last. The Eagles and Falcons kick off the NFL season on September 6th, and the Falcons begin their journey to try and be the first team ever to play in a Super Bowl hosted in their home city. There is no question this is a talented team, but much different than the one that surrendered the 28-3 lead against New England almost two years ago.
|Key Offseason Additions||Key Offseason Losses||Draft Picks|
|Justin Bethel, CB||Taylor Gabriel, WR||Calvin Ridley, WR, Round 1|
|Logan Paulsen, TE||Adrian Clayborn, DE||Isaiah Oliver, CB, Round 2|
|Brandon Fusco, G||Dontari Poe, DT||Deadrin Senat, DT, Round 3|
|Ron Parker, S||Levine Toilolo, TE||Ito Smith, RB, Round 4|
|–||–||Russell Gage, WR, Round 6|
|–||–||Foyesade Oluokun, LB, Round 6|
*All players’ grades based on current ADP
Julio Jones (WR1)
Let’s start with the obvious. Julio Jones is most likely going in the first round of your drafts. There are many, including myself, that have shied away from owning Julio in fantasy due to the inconsistency. Last year was Julio’s second lowest touchdown total since coming into the league. The bright spot is that Julio garnered his third highest target total (148) in his career. That was one behind Michael Thomas for seventh most in the league. He turned those targets into 88 catches, which was good enough for ninth in the NFL. On those 88 catches, Julio amassed the second best yardage total (1,444) only behind Antonio Brown. With the target share Julio receives, there is clear improvement to be had in terms of touchdowns and receptions. If he can improve in those categories, to put alongside his monster yardage totals, he will be unstoppable. Having rookie Calvin Ridley there to stretch the field, and take some of the coverage off of Julio; should do just that. The Falcons’ wideouts also boast the seventh easiest schedule to start the year. Look for Jones to turn in top three fantasy wide receiver production.
2018 Prediction: 105 catches, 1378 yards, 8 receiving TDs
Devonta Freeman (RB2)
Many were disappointed by Devonta Freeman last season, and rightfully so. His attempts were 20th best in the league and his 865 rushing yards finished 18th overall. Luckily, he was able to finish 12th in rushing touchdowns, despite the Falcons’ red zone woes. He was also decently sure-handed in the passing game, catching 36 balls on 47 targets. Freeman was the top running back in fantasy during 2015. He clearly has the ability to reach RB1 numbers, but his production will be contingent upon his usage and the Falcons’ ability to convert red zone opportunities. He remains active in the passing game and this alone gives him a RB2 floor. His ADP is still hovering around 15, which is a bit high considering the slump he had last year. However, you could get lucky and have him slide to you late in the second round. This would not be a bad get, especially if you draft a stud wideout with your first pick. In PPR leagues you could do a lot worse than Freeman, but only time will tell if he produces somewhere near his 2015 self; or disappoints owners yet again. My prediction is that the Atlanta Falcons’ offense gets on track and Freeman finishes somewhere in between his 2015 and 2017 performances. This would put him closer to RB1 territory, rather than the RB2 draft price you can get him for.
2018 Prediction: 205 attempts, 1037 Rushing Yards, 43 catches, 403 yards, 10 total TDs
Matt Ryan (QB2)
If you have read my earlier article, which you can find HERE, then you are well aware that Matt Ryan is in for a bounce back year. His 2017 attempts were the third lowest of his career. His passing yards were fourth lowest and his touchdowns were second lowest only to his 2008 season. Ryan is only two seasons removed from being the best QB in the league. He has had another year to gel in the Steve Sarkisian scheme and has perhaps the best collection of weapons in the NFL. Ryan may not perform like his MVP season again, but he certainly cannot get any worse than last year based on his history. The best part is that he is going near pick 104 and later in drafts. For those of you who love to wait on quarterback; this is your chance to get a guy who may end up finishing inside the top eight, when all is said and done.
2018 Prediction: 530 Attempts, 4,437 passing yards, 30 passing TDs
The Other Guys
No, this is not a sub-section about the Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg comedy. These are the rest of the guys on the Atlanta Falcons’ roster that I think will provide significant fantasy value at some point this season. Let’s start with Tevin Coleman. Coleman is a gifted runner and receiver. He had almost 40 more rushing attempts last season than the year prior, but did less with them. His yards per reception were also down. Steve Sarkisian has vowed since the start of training camp to get Coleman more involved. If he can be sprinkled in effectively, especially in the passing game, Coleman is a fringe RB3 who could provide RB2 numbers some weeks. That quickly becomes RB1 possibility if anything were to happen to Freeman.
Austin Hooper has spent a ton of time with Matt Ryan in the offseason. That chemistry showed in the Falcons’ second preseason game, when Hooper caught a pass from Ryan, and then proceeded to hurdle a defender to score a touchdown. Hooper has shown flashes as a gifted receiver, but struggles with drops and red zone looks. There are a lot of mouths to feed in this offense, but the Falcons made a statement by not signing or drafting a significant tight end. This could be the year that he finally realizes his potential. At the very least he is a good bye week fill in for a possible score or two.
Calvin Ridley is a game changer. If you are not a believer, just watch the highlights of the Falcons’ latest preseason game. He has the ability to play in the slot or out wide. His route running is already pretty polished for someone so young, but his biggest asset is his speed. Ridley is going to take the top off of defenses and leave room for Jones to operate. He will be a WR 4 or 5 starting out, but could quickly climb the ladder. Ridley would produce, at worst, WR2 numbers if Jones or Mohamed Sanu go down.
Mohamed Sanu led the Falcons in touchdowns in 2017 and had the second most receiving yardage. He picked up many key first downs and is someone Ryan trusts to move the chains. He is also a player the Falcons like to use in their version of the wildcat, or as they call it, “Wildbean”.We also learned last year that Sanu may just be the best emergency quarterback in the league. All jokes aside, Sanu is as sure-handed as they come and someone Ryan looks for in the end zone. He may not put up near the numbers from last season, but he would be a hot waiver add if Jones were to get injured. Sanu is not a bad plug and play flex when bye weeks begin.
Lastly, Ito Smith is a name not many people know. My colleague Stephen Dudas published an article recently; highlighting Smith’s potential to be fantasy relevant. You can find that HERE . The Falcons took him in the fourth round, while passing up on many other positions of need. Smith does many things well, but he is not used to playing against the level of talent he will see in the NFL. He does excel in pass-catching and could be groomed to take Coleman’s spot if the Falcons choose to let him walk. Many do not know this, but Ito Smith actually had more rushing and receiving yards than Saquon Barkley his final three years of college. All that being said, Smith will not come into consistent fantasy production; unless a back in front of him goes down. However, he certainly has the ability if his number is called.
Atlanta finished as the eighth defense overall last season. They placed ninth in yards allowed, but were bottom of the league in takeaways. This leaves room for improvement heading into 2018. Since Dan Quinn took over, Atlanta has gotten progressively better on the defensive side of the ball. Young stars Deion Jones and Keanu Neal were named to the pro bowl last year and have established themselves as the leaders of this defense. Atlanta extended field general Ricardo Allen this offseason and have plans to resign Grady Jarrett. The Vic Beasley experiment is over and he will be transitioning back to a legit 4-3 defensive end. Atlanta lost key players, Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe in the offseason, but picked up promising talent in the draft. Isaiah Oliver will join Neal and the rest of the secondary as a skillful corner who has shown the ability to play at safety. Deadrin Senat is undersized, but has shown he can play at the next level. He projects as a rotational pass rusher on the defensive line. The two most intriguing names to watch are Damontae Kazee and Foyesade Oluokun. They have been impressing in camp and all over the field during the preseason. Both could have significant roles right out of the gate. Dan Quinn has put together a talented young defense that has the ability to finish within the top five, and at the very least, will finish top ten again.
The Atlanta Falcons are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. If the team can stay healthy, there is no reason they cannot make it all the way to the NFC title game and possibly the Super Bowl. With another year under OC Steve Sarkisian, the offense should perform closer to that of the 2016 season. The young defense has had another year of experience and should improve their turnover numbers from last year. The Falcons are a legit contender in the NFC. The chance to play for it all in Atlanta, should propel them to do everything in their power to achieve that goal.