A Fantasy Spotlight: The Atlanta Falcons

Written by Matt Huntebrinker, NFC South beat writer and goes by @charethcutestory on the Fantasy Life App

Quarterback

Matt Ryan- After a solid 5 year run, Mr. Ice cooled off significantly last season. (Please don’t stop reading.  I promise I will not do that again.) His numbers fell across the board, capped off by a meager 21 touchdown tosses.  This number fell short of such bland contemporaries as Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton.  Compounding this glaring average-ness was tying Big Ben for the third most interceptions.  It was not all bad, as he managed to salvage some semblance of fantasy usefulness by amassing over 4,500 yards passing, good for fifth most in the league.  This disheartening regression stemmed from new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan implementing a completely different scheme coupled with numerous baffling red zone turnovers by the veteran signal caller.  Ryan comes into this season with another camp to assimilate to the Shanny playbook, which will remedy some of the deficiencies, but the disconcerting fact remains that Matty Ice Sculpture’s lack of mobility is an ill fit for the bootlegs and QB rollouts found on nearly every page.  Then there is his inexplicable desire to give the ball to the other team whenever inside of their twenty.  Much of this can be attributed to the disruption of timing routes by corners jamming the intended target at the line and Ryan still putting the throw where the receiver is supposed to be, even if he is several yards away watching as it settles in the waiting arms of a defender.  This should improve with more reps, although this exact scenario played out again in the most recent preseason game.  This square peg in a round hole quarterback/coordinator arrangement is going to continue to limit Ryan’s ceiling, but the inevitable minimal improvements should get his numbers closer to his 2014 campaign of 4,700 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 picks, which places him firmly in low end QB1 or QB2 territory.

Running Back

Devonta Freeman- The second year back out of FSU was probably the biggest surprise of last season and helped quite a few teams to their championships, despite his production falling off a cliff in the second half.  After bursting out of the gate to the tune of 152 carries for 709 yards and 9 touchdowns over the first 8 games, he saw his 4.7 YPC drop to 3.1 over his last 7 (missed week 11 with a concussion-probably from the fall mentioned above), while managing just 347 yards on 113 carries and only finding the end zone twice on the ground.  This deterioration in production can be directly correlated to his workload.  He was not the featured back in college (never toting the rock more than 173 times as a Seminole) and the Falcons did not draft him with the intention of him bearing the brunt of the work.  Another year of NFL conditioning and the emergence of Tevin Coleman will improve this downturn in production, but the latter will reduce his touches and make it a foregone conclusion that Freeman will not repeat as the league leader in yards.  He will still get plenty of opportunities and should actually be fresh enough to help your team in the playoffs this time around.  His ADP is too high for my taste and I have noticed that many others share the same assessment, as I have watched him passed over many times at that spot until later in the second round, which is closer to bottom rung RB1 status where he belongs.

Tevin Coleman- Atlanta took the Hoosier in the third round last year with the idea of pairing his thunder with Freeman’s lightning.  As detailed in the paragraph above, that did not quite work out as planned, but why not?  Coleman was the week 1 starter and had twice as many carries as Freeman and even the next week the touches were pretty close in a game that saw the Falcons run the ball very few times, but then a fractured rib put him on the sidelines for two weeks where he watched as his backfield mate seized the opportunity.  Combine this with being a nonfactor in the passing game, fumbling a few costly times, and submitting an entry for the Most Embarrassing Injury of the Year Award (a concussion from falling in the shower) and you end up with a lackluster rookie year.  Fully healthy and fully immersed in the playbook this season, the big back is poised for a significant improvement on his forgettable season.  His game breaking top end speed and one cut running ability are both tailor made for this offense.  As a 10th or 11th round pick, Coleman presents tremendous upside and if he doesn’t let the opportunity slip away (last bad pun, I swear); he could take the baton from his teammate and be this year’s breakout candidate.  One minor injury that reverses last year’s roles and he might be the late round difference maker that wins championships.

Wide Receivers

Julio Jones- OBJ or Julio?  This is the age old question that has sparked endless debates and boggled the minds of the world’s greatest fantasy scholars.  I’m here to definitively settle this conundrum once and for all…okay; no I’m not because it is a subjective choice with no wrong answer, but I do wonder which one of the two more fantasy GMs prefer.  Maybe someone should post a poll or something.  Julio enjoyed the best season of his career last year with 136 catches and over 1800 yards and sure, double digit touchdowns would have been nice, but those are elite numbers.  The scary part is that all of these are in line to increase this season, provided that most things go as planned.  As mentioned at the onset of the article, his quarterback is poised to have an improved season which will contribute to the uptick.  Additionally, the supporting cast around him is vastly upgraded.  The receiver behind him on the depth chart is actually able to get separation from DBs and run routes farther than ten yards downfield, unlike last season (love you Roddy, but you know I’m right).  The emergence of the team’s slot receiver will only further benefit Jones, as a legitimate threat running routes underneath will really open up the quick slants that Julio uses to repeatedly gash defenses.  Just like Matt Ryan, another year to acclimate to Shanahan’s offense should make it even more important for defensive backs to make sure that their Ambien prescriptions are filled for those Saturday nights before they line up across from number 11.  In the end there is not much room for improvement with his catches; and his yards will probably only creep up a bit closer to 2000, but 11 or 12 touchdowns are a distinct possibility, which will only further entrench Julio Jones in the three man tier of premier wide receivers.  Draft him at any spot after Antonio Brown with complete confidence.

Mohamed Sanu- Atlanta found themselves in need of a piece to complement their superstar wide receiver and in the offseason the team addressed this by signing the athletic and versatile 27 year old former Bengal.  The issue with giving Sanu $32.5 million over 5 years to fill this role is that he has not been asked to operate in a capacity anywhere near that level very often at this point in his career.  They are putting a lot of pressure on a player that finished with zero receiving touchdowns and failed to catch more than five passes in a game last season.  The deal is based more on his production the year before when AJ Green missed significant time to injury and he filled in admirably.  These significant question marks have surely contributed to a number two receiver in an above average offense going around the 11th round in most drafts, often after peers that are farther down their depth charts than he is, like Phillip Dorsett and Sammie Coates.  Sanu showcased a pretty unique skill set while in Cincinnati, with his rushing ability and knack for only throwing TD passes, but will Kyle Shanahan; who hasn’t altered his playbook since his daddy let him stop using crayons to draw it up, actually utilize all of the tools in this Swiss Army knife that he has been handed?  He might pull the tweezers out and then try to figure out what the thing that just looks like a metal circle is, but I just cannot see him realizing his weapon’s full potential.  Despite having Mr. “Scoop of vanilla ice cream in a plain white bowl with a glass of 1% milk” at the helm, Sanu offers a ton of value at his current ADP and should put up numbers in the 50-600-6 range; making him a more than worthy of rostering on your bench.

Justin Hardy- Those of you familiar with the second year wide out from East Carolina have undoubtedly heard the story of him catching bricks when he was a boy.  For those of you who are not; in his younger days, Hardy learned that Jerry Rice had honed his craft by having someone throw bricks to him instead of footballs, so he decided to give it a shot himself.  While this insane technique is not likely to lead him past Rice on the NFL’s all-time receptions list, it did take him to the top of the one for FBS career catches.  His rookie season was largely forgettable, mostly because the Falcons did not even incorporate him into the offense until week eight.  Even with that small sample size, one thing is very apparent:  the kid catches everything.  I guess getting in reps with masons is not so crazy after all.  That combined with quickness and polished route running makes him a prototypical slot receiver; and it carves out a sorely needed niche in an offense that has some more balls to go around.  He might not possess tremendous upside, but as a late round flier (especially in PPR) you could do a lot worse.

Tight Ends

Jacob Tamme/Austin Hooper/Levine Toilolo-  All three of the Atlanta tight ends are combined here because none of them are likely to contribute enough to be of too much value to your fantasy team on their own.  The group combined to have 69 catches for 759 yards and 2 touchdowns last year with Tony Moeaki in the mix instead of Hooper. A few more scores would have put those numbers in starting TE territory, but I have not seen a league that has a “team” offensive skill position slot yet.  Tamme might do enough to be a suitable bye week fill in, but Hooper is going to take a substantial chunk out of his production without providing much of his own.  The rookie is worth stashing in dynasty formats, though.  That leaves us with Toilolo, who will probably catch just enough touchdowns to devalue the important players on the team and drive owners crazy.