Falcons Year in Review

2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 3rd (632)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 27th (372)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 13th (1,035)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 8th (5.8)

 

Check out the team-by-team fantasy preview schedule.

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Tevin Coleman
WR: Julio Jones
WR: Roddy White
TE: Jacob Tamme
TE: Tony Moeaki
LT: Jake Matthews
LG: Chris Chester
C: Joe Hawley
RG: Jon Asamoah
RT: Ryan Schraeder

Passing Game Outlook

On average, Matt Ryan is going late in round six of re-draft leagues as the QB8 off the board. It’s an aggressive ADP for an eighth-year player who has never finished above QB7, only once has cleared the 30-TD mark, and is armed with questionable weaponry beyond Julio Jones. The Falcons also have a below-average offensive line, where LT Jake Matthews (Lisfranc) and C Joe Hawley (ACL/MCL) are returning from severe injuries. Working in Ryan’s favor is new OC Kyle Shanahan‘s willingness to adjust his offense to maximize personnel strengths. Young Shanny is often lauded for his run-game prowess, but he also coordinated a 2009 Texans offense in which Matt Schaub led the NFL in passing and attempts with Andre Johnson as the league’s receiving-yardage leader. Even with Roddy White going on 34 and an unholy tight end triumvirate of Jacob Tamme, Tony Moeaki, and Levine Toilolo, the strength of Atlanta’s offense remains the passing game. Ryan is a solid QB1, but I doubt he’ll be a week-to-week difference maker and his production can likely be equaled or topped by QBs going after him like Ryan Tannehill (8th-/9th-round ADP), Eli Manning (9th), and Philip Rivers (9th/10th).

Julio Jones offers mammoth, WR1-overall fantasy potential as the X receiver in Shanahan’s offense, the player through whom the passing game funnels. Past Shanahan X receivers include Andre Johnson (115-1,575-8 in 2008; 101-1,569-9 in 2009), Pierre Garcon (113-1,346-5 in 2013), and Santana Moss (93-1,115-6 in 2010). Johnson finished second and first in the NFL in targets in his two years with Shanahan, Moss finished sixth, and Garcon ranked first. High-stakes player Jacob Rickrode recently appeared on the Feast Podcast with Ross Tucker and I, and argued that Julio warrants consideration at the 1.01 pick in re-draft leagues. Despite recent comments from Roddy White hinting at a more-balanced approach, I expect Atlanta to remain a pass-first team and Julio to be the primary box-score beneficiary. Only 26 years old, I believe Julio’s best football is ahead of him. He also happens to be in a contract year.

Although Jones projects as the Falcons’ clear No. 1, Roddy White isn’t going away. He does believe his role could scale back slightly, but Atlanta’s shortage of tight end talent and lack of an established No. 3 receiver should result in ample volume for Roddy. The No. 2 option in Shanahan’s offense isn’t chopped liver — journeyman Kevin Walter finished as the overall WR20 in Kyle’s 2008 Texans offense — and White has enough left in the tank to return WR2/3 value. White’s efficiency has dipped in recent seasons and he turns 34 in November, but he is coming off a solid 80-921-7 receiving line despite missing two games, and will continue to benefit from plus quarterback play. White is priced affordably at his 7th/8th-round ADP.

Atlanta will hold camp battles at No. 3 receiver and tight end. For the most part, they can be ignored by fantasy owners. Well-traveled Jacob Tamme, 30, and Tony Moeaki, 28, are the front-runners to upgrade on predictable 2014 flop Levine Toilolo, whose presence as a starter last year was essentially like the Falcons playing with ten men. Third-receiver contenders include ex-Redskin Leonard Hankerson, rugged fourth-round pick Justin Hardy, and gadget guy Devin Hester, who is going on age 33. Hankerson has played for Shanahan before and reportedly stood out during OTAs. Hardy is worth a look in Dynasty leagues. Although he is small (5’10/192) and slow (4.56/4.57), Hardy has big, strong hands and could develop into a useful possession receiver. I likened Hardy to Jason Avant after watching his East Carolina tape. There is an outside chance Hardy develops into Roddy White‘s eventual successor.

Running Game Outlook

Tevin Coleman may have been the draft community’s most polarizing figure. While Coleman is sexy for his college stats and 4.39 speed, his tape reveals a stiff-hipped, straight-linish runner with boom-or-bust qualities. Due to an inability to generate power in his lower half, Coleman lacked chain-moving tackle-breaking ability at Indiana and racked up numbers by winning open-field sprints against slow Big Ten defenses. The film concerns were borne out in Coleman’s NFL draft position; he lasted until round three as the fifth running back taken. Still, Coleman’s big-play ability is undeniable and he was one of the top pass-protecting backs in this year’s class, a quality that will endear Coleman to his NFL coaching staff. His primary competition is 2014 fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman, who was one of the least effective runners in the league last season. In Shanahan’s past offenses, undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell finished as the fantasy RB27 (2014), Alfred Morris was the RB5 and RB15 (2012, 2013), Ryan Torain was the RB32 in only ten games (2010), and Steve Slaton was the RB6 (2008).

Devonta Freeman is a 5-foot-8, 206-pound role player who managed 3.82 yards per carry as a rookie and was unable to separate himself from a four-way committee that included Steven Jackson, Antone Smith, and Jacquizz Rodgers. Although Freeman was billed as a plus pass protector coming out of Florida State, Pro Football Focus charted him with two sacks and four quarterback hits allowed on only 33 pass-blocking snaps in 2014. Despite Coleman’s far-superior upside, Falcons beat writers have projected Freeman and Coleman as likely committee partners, and Freeman indeed opened OTAs with the first-team offense. My guess is Coleman ends up as Atlanta’s lead ball carrier, but Freeman stays involved enough for this to be a frustrating fantasy situation. I’ll probably end up drafting neither, but Coleman’s current sixth-round ADP is more attractive than Freeman’s ninth-round slot.

Antone Smith teased by parlaying 36 touches into five touchdowns last season, but fractured his leg in November and generated scant interest on the ensuing free agent market, ultimately settling for a one-year, $1.4 million deal to stay in Atlanta. Smith stands 5-foot-8, 191 and turns 30 in September. His ceiling is a lightly-used scatback in Shanahan’s offense.

2015 Vegas Win Total

The Falcons were an easy “under” bet at their 2014 Vegas Win Total of 8.5. Their 2015 win total is the same. While GM Thomas Dimitroff‘s recurring personnel blunders have left this team with a flawed roster — and ultimately cost Dimitroff power in the Falcons’ front office — I wouldn’t underestimate the potentially huge coaching-staff upgrade going from Mike Smith to Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan. Most importantly, the Falcons will be able to score points and their defense should be better, even if the improvement is slight. They also have a great schedule, taking on the AFC South and NFC East, as well as Tampa Bay (6.0 Win Total) twice, Minnesota (7.0), and San Francisco (7.5). I like the over on the Falcons’ Win Total this year.

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