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Atlanta Falcons – 2019 A Look Inside

Contributions from Joshua Hudson & Joe Zollo 02_NFLDraft With no picks in the second or third rounds due to trades, the Falcons have to be sure their two first rounders pan out. They went both the safe and the logical route, selecting two offensive linemen to protect franchise QB, Matt Ryan. Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary were highly ranked linemen who should both be plug-and-play starters. The Falcons line ranked twelfth best according to Pro Football Focus, but injuries to veterans played a role in what should have been a Top Ten line. When your quarterback makes $30 million a year, you protect your investment. That’s exactly what the Falcons are trying to do. Fifth rounder Qadree Ollison should see action sooner rather than later; the departure of Tevin Coleman, and Devonta Freeman’s recent history with injuries, opens up competition for the number two spot at RB. Ollison will be competing with holdovers Ito Smith and Brian Hill, and neither were overly impressive in 2018. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson 03_Projected This offense is dangerous. Very dangerous. They’re led by a former NFL MVP (Ryan) and have arguably the league’s most dangerous wide receiver (Julio Jones). Add to that a former number one scoring running back in fantasy (Freeman), and you have a strong set of triplets teams would kill for. Oh, and I didn’t even mention their top ten tight end (Austin Hooper), their 2018 first round pick (Calvin Ridley), and a third receiver who finished in the top 35 in Fantasy (Mohamed Sanu). Seriously, this offense is stacked, and you should know the name of EVERYONE on it. The return of former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in the same role only instills faith that the Falcons will remain a strong offense for Fantasy in 2019. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson 04_Upside There isn’t anyone on this team whp deserves the title of “Fantasy Upside” more than Devonta Freeman. Playing in only two games in 2018, Freeman had his season cut short due to injuries, and his 2017 campaign was not too hot either. His last great season was in 2016 when Atlanta appeared in the Super Bowl with Kyle Shanahan as his Offensive Coordinator. With Tevin Coleman out of the picture and reunited with Shanahan in San Francisco, the backfield is wide open for Freeman to be an every-down back.  The reason for Freeman’s upside is not so much for his ADP, as he is being drafted as an RB2 currently. If healthy, Freeman is easily an RB1 due to his skill both on the ground and through the air. In 2016, Freeman had over 1,000 yards on the ground and almost 500 yards with over 50 receptions through the air. The biggest question that lies with Freeman, and the thing that makes him the ultimate upside, is his health. If Freeman can stay healthy, you will get exactly what you pay for when you draft him- a guy who will, at a minimum, be an RB2. The scary thing is that if Freeman ultimately cannot stay healthy, then you wasted an early round pick on a guy who will scarcely be in your lineup, ultimately setting you back the whole season. Please just be prepared to take either Ito Smith or Qadree Ollison as one of your backups, just in case Freeman goes down. – Joe Zollo 05_Downside If RB Devonta Freeman plays a full season (not a given with his track record, but there’s optimism for 2019), don’t expect a repeat of 2018 from TE Austin Hooper. Hooper’s production year-to-year has increased, but it’s come with circumstance. 2016 was his rookie year, which is a hindrance in and of itself. Only 82 of Matt Ryan’s targets went to the TE position (15.35% market share), and Hooper saw 27 of those (5% market share). 2017 saw regression from Ryan following his MVP season, and while Hooper’s targets and market share skyrocketed (65/12.3%), Ryan targeted his TEs fewer than 15% of the time, and 2018 wasn’t much different. Matt Ryan threw 608 pass attempts, his most since 2015. Hooper finished 4th on the team in targets (88), and had a 14.47% market share. The top three target shares went to Jones, Ridley, and Sanu (combined for 356 targets, or 58.5% market share). It’d be safe to assume Hooper will see around 14% of Ryan’s targets (so he should remain in the 70-80 target range), but the biggest outlier relies in the running game, where the Falcons expect a full season of Devonta Freeman. A fully healthy season with Freeman in the backfield should result in about 20% target share to the RB position. In 2015 and 2016 when Freeman was RB1 and RB6, respectively, Ryan passed targets RBs 22.5% and 21.9% of the time. The last two years, with Freeman banged up (14 games in 2017, 2 games in 2018), those market shares dipped to 17.8% and 14.63%, respectively. Last year was Calvin Ridley’s rookie season, and he accounted for a 15% market share- a little less than what Freeman normally averages. If Jones, Ridley, Sanu, Hooper, and Freeman remain in the mix for the better part of 2019, where do all of Ryan’s targets go? Hooper is my candidate for clear regression- his market share could easily dip to 12%. If Ryan’s pass attempts align more with his career averages (563, but for this exercise, we’ll go an even 570), that would leave Hooper with only 68 targets. At his career catch percentage of 77.2%, you’re looking at 52 receptions. His yards per catch the last three seasons have decreased from 14.3 to 10.7 to 9.3. Let’s meet in the middle at 11. That would give him 572 yards for three TDs (his average). You’re looking at fewer than 130 fantasy points in PPR formats. That would’ve ranked as TE13 last year. His current ADP (TE17) leaves room for upside, but when you consider his TE6 finish (151.30 fantasy points) from a year ago, regression for Hooper is inevitable. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson 06_TrustFall Not to state the obvious, but Julio Jones is a rock star. He has posted over 1,400 receiving yards for five straight seasons, the only wide receiver in history to accomplish that. In fact, only Jerry Rice has more career seasons of 1,400+ receiving yards. Jones is consistently in the WR1 conversation. Here at Club Fantasy FFL, we’ve written a lot over the years about Jones’ lack of consistency, where one hugely productive game elevates his entire fantasy season. Last year, though, he was as consistent as ever. Julio Jones scored as a WR1 (top 12) 62.5% of the time. That was the highest mark of any WR in Fantasy last year. He had only one game under 10 points (a Week 13 stinker with only 3.8 points), and had nine games with over 20 fantasy points. He had eight touchdowns, the most he’s had in a season since 2015. In the three seasons he played with new OC Dirk Koetter’s first stint in Atlanta (2012-2014), Jones had TD totals of ten, two (only five games played), and six. He sported a 27.6% market share last year, which given his history as a target monster in this offense, is hardly shocking. He averages 6.3 receptions per game over his career, so over a full season, you’re looking at about 101 catches. His market shares with Koetter at the helm were 20.97% (2012; was WR2 behind Roddy White), 9.2% (played only 5 games), and 26.11% (overtook White as WR1). It’s fair to assume Jones has no fewer than 25% of the targets in 2019. It’s also fair to assume that Jones will top at least 1,200 yards (he averages 96.7 yards per game over his career, which over a full 16 games, actually comes out to 1,547 yards per season). Add in the potential for 6+ TDs with Koetter calling plays, and how can you think Jones will be anything but a top five receiver in 2019? (The question is rhetorical. Bank on it.) – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson 07_Rookie Given the Falcons history as a team with multi-dimensional running backs, the drafting of Qadree Ollison in the fifth round certainly didn’t fit their M.O. He’s not a great pass catcher and is below average in pass protection. But at Pitt, he posted 1,000+ yard rushing seasons to bookend his collegiate career. It’s those in between years that leave teams and fantasy owners wondering what they’re getting by taking a chance on Ollison. He’s 6’1” and 228 pounds. Devonta Freeman is entrenched as the starting running back, but has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons (only 16 games played). Ito Smith, last year’s fourth round pick, is first in line to see backup duties after the departure of Tevin Coleman. He’s solid in the passing game, but nothing special on early downs. Ollison has an opportunity to excel on early downs, where he posted the sixth best Breakaway percentage (760 yards after first contact!) among college RBs in 2018 (per Pro Football Focus), and in the red zone — he had 29 rushing TDs in college, 11 each in his Freshman and Senior years. He’s a late round flier, if that, but in TD-only leagues he could definitely be someone to keep an eye on. Just make sure you know the name if/when Freeman succumbs to the injury bug. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson 08_Sleeper With a career high in yardage last season, Mohamed Sanu is being wildly overlooked due to the emergence of Calvin Ridley during his rookie season. With a career-high 838 receiving yards, Sanu also tacked on 66 receptions and four touchdowns, quietly finishing as WR32 last season. He finished around the likeness of Mike Williams and Chris Godwin last season, yet he is nowhere near their draft status. While Godwin and Williams are being taken, on average, inside the Top 30 of WRs, Sanu’s current ADP is WR74. Yes. WR74. He is being taken with names that include Adam Humphries, Demarcus Robinson, and Josh Gordon. Sanu is being considered in the same sentence as a guy who currently cannot play in the NFL. I am not a big fan of Atlanta’s offense, but if Sanu can give me high WR4 numbers and I can take him in the thirteenth or fourteenth round, sign me up. – Joe Zollo 09_IDP One of the best Linebackers in the NFL that many may have forgotten about due to his injury in 2018, is Deion Jones. While Jones only played six games in 2018 (but played all 16 in 2017), he finished fifth among LBs in fantasy football. While he is questionable for training camp, I wouldn’t worry too much as he should be good come the start of the season. The best thing about this guy is that he does almost everything exceptionally well. Pass coverage, run stuffing, rushing the Quarterback- you name it, he can probably do it. In the secondary lies another player who was taken by injury in 2018- Keanu Neal. Appearing in just one game, but suffering an injury early in that game, Neal was not able to duplicate the success he had in 2017, finishing second among DBs in fantasy football. While his backup, Damontae Kazee, produced in his absence, he was not at the level of Neal. The Falcons have two stud defensive players that had their 2018 seasons cut short by injuries, but if they can regain their health in 2019, they will find themselves atop the leader-boards once again. – Joe Zollo