By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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One season after being the most dangerous offense in the NFL and blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history, the Atlanta Falcons regressed to the mean. Quarterback Matt Ryan fell back to Earth in a big way, dropping from QB2 in 2016 to QB15 in 2017. Wide receiver Julio Jones’ 55 point performance in Week 12 vaulted him to a WR6 finish, making up for an otherwise unremarkable campaign. Running back Devonta Freeman continued to prove his value as a top 10 player at his position, ranking as fantasy’s ninth best running back during the 13 weeks he was active. And kicker Matt Bryant racked up a top 5 finish for the third time in four years. You know Club Fantasy doesn’t talk about kickers much, so when we do, it’s probably pretty notable.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|RB3||(R) Ito Smith||N/A||N/A|
|WR3||(R) Calvin Ridley||N/A||N/A|
|TE2||Logan Paulsen (w/ SF)||N/A||N/A|
Every year, someone in my league inevitably falls in love with Matt Ryan, aka Matty Ice. I happily let them because I know what Matt Ryan is: he’s a very good NFL quarterback who rarely produces eye-popping fantasy numbers. Case in point, from 2013 – 2017, Ryan finished as QB11, QB8, QB20, QB2, and QB15. That QB2 finish in 2016 with Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator was the first time in his career that he finished higher than QB8 in fantasy. Throughout his career, Ryan’s been a QB2 and nothing more. With talent at the position deeper than ever, there’s no sense in drafting Ryan unless it’s very late in your draft and you want to double up with Julio Jones. The Boston College alum is a mid-tier QB2.
Devonta Freeman is a touchdown machine. He has 29 rushing touchdowns over the last three seasons and has six receiving touchdowns in that same time frame, averaging nearly 12 total touchdowns per season. He posted back-to-back 11 touchdown campaigns (rushing) in 2015 and 2016. Had he not missed three games in 2017, he may have eclipsed the 10 touchdown mark again. He also plays a decent role in the passing game, having caught at least 34 passes each year since 2015 (and again, remember that he missed three games last season, so his 34 catches likely would have turned into 45). He’ll flirt with top 8 numbers at his position even with Tevin Coleman behind him. Top 8 numbers with a competent running back to spell you and preserve your health? As the kids say: yes, please.
Tevin Coleman is the best and most important running back handcuff in the league. Even as he’s sat behind Devonta Freeman, he’s still finished as fantasy’s 21st best running back in 2016 and 2017. That’s freaking insane. No backup running back behind someone as talented as Freeman should be putting up those types of numbers, but Coleman continues to defy logic. Freeman is injury-prone, so Coleman’s likely going to start a couple of games. But even if Freeman plays all 16 games, Coleman’s good for top 25 numbers and a spot as your RB2/FLEX player. Draft with confidence.
When you compare him against his peers, you can make the argument that Julio Jones is, pound-for-pound, the best wide receiver in the NFL. And on the surface, his fantasy numbers would support that argument: since 2014, he hasn’t finished lower than WR7 in fantasy. But there seems to be a spectre of disappointment hanging over Jones’ head among fantasy owners. Why? Quite simply, it’s his lack of touchdowns. Jones only caught three touchdowns in 2017 and has only caught more than six touchdowns once since 2013. And it’s not like he’s being ignored in the paint, as he received the seventh most end zone targets in the league in 2017.
This lack of paydirt causes Jones to be wildly inconsistent. Consider this: Jones averaged 16.26 points per game last season. Again, on the surface, that’s a really good number, but a deeper dive reveals a big problem. Jones scored below his average in 11 of 16 games. He had a MONSTER performance in Week 12 against the Bucs, catching 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, good for 55.80 points. Take away that performance and Jones’ average points per week drops to 12.54. Averaged over a full 16 game season, 12.54 points per game would mean a WR15 finish — putting him behind Robby Anderson.
Let’s be real. Jones is an otherworldly talent and at the end of the 2018 season, he’ll probably put up WR6 or better numbers. But I don’t think Jones deserves to be your WR1. The real question is, can he truly produce 16-17 points per week or will he have one blow up week and 15 average ones? I think the latter is far more likely, putting Jones in the WR2 category for me. I value week-to-week consistency far more than I do the potential for 50+ point games.
Behind Jones in the pecking order is Mohamed Sanu, the seven-year veteran who quietly put up WR31 numbers last season. Ryan clearly trusts him, as in 2017 he enjoyed the 34th best target percentage and 28th most targets in the league. No one’s going to write Sanu in as their number two wide receiver — he’s never broken the 800 yard receiving plateau — but he’s the clear number two option in Atlanta. That means he can serve as a decent WR3/FLEX play for your fantasy team.
The Falcons drafted Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the 2018 draft, causing Atlanta fans to salivate at the possibilities of what a dual threat Bama alum receiving corps provides. I’m excited about the possibilities but not in 2018. Ridley’s got to put on a bit more size to compliment his separation skills before I become truly convinced he can compete against some of the better corners in the league. That said, Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian coached Ridley when he held the same position at Alabama, so there could be a connection there. I don’t think you should get too excited about Ridley in 2018 as anything more than a deep stash, but in dynasty drafts, he’s certainly worth a pick.
I had high hopes for Austin Hooper entering 2017 but he just didn’t produce. His 115.10 points were good for only 16th at the position, and I don’t really see any reason to expect a massive leap in production this year. The tight end position is really volatile after the top 5 or so, but you can certainly find less risky prospects than Hooper. If you’re content to wait until the very last minute to draft a tight end you probably can wait even longer and add Hooper from the waiver wire starting in Week 1. He’s got TE1 potential but it’ll take a lot for it to be realized. You can do better at the position.
Rookie to Watch
Former Alabama standout WR Calvin Ridley was a sensational route-runner in college with excellent hands in tight coverage and in the open field. In his three years at Alabama, Ridley has either broken or matched school records set by current NFL studs like Amari Cooper and Julio Jones, who just so happens to be his new teammate. Ridley will be a mismatch at the next level due to his play-making ability in big games. When teams focus solely on covering Jones, Ridley will be lurking. – Chris Tyler
Another team where it is tough to pick out a sleeper who could give your team a boost in the late rounds of drafts, so let’s go with the rookie who played in Mercedes-Benz stadium this past January — Calvin Ridley. Ridley is by far the most polished route runner in the entire 2018 draft class and that is a crucial aspect to being an effective rookie. Yes, it is true that there has not been a successful rookie WR for several years but Ridley is in a good spot to succeed. He has no pressure to take the #1 or #2 role from Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu and he has a decent QB in Matt Ryan with a solid run game in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Not much attention will be given to Ridley and that will allow him to use his route running skills on lesser skilled DBs and offer some help during bye weeks. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
I really can’t stress enough how much of an enigma Julio Jones is from a fantasy perspective. Antonio Brown is probably the only wide receiver you can truly say is a better pound-for-pound athlete than Jones. But the gap in fantasy consistency is so wide between Jones and his contemporaries. This is going to sound insane, but I will reiterate that I would not draft Jones as my WR1. If I have to doubt your ability to eclipse six touchdowns, you are a WR2 and nothing more.
|1||9/6 (Thurs)||@ PHI|
|7||10/22 (Mon)||vs NYG|
|8||** BYE WEEK **|
|12||11/22 (Thurs)||@ NO|