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2023 Fantasy Football Outlook: Atlanta Falcons - Breakouts, Busts, and Locks

Drake London - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

It is easy to embrace the onset of training camps after a lengthy offseason as the frenetic activity and continual news that emerges from all 32 NFL camps serve as a reminder that Week 1 of the regular season is steadily approaching. That’s why the team at RotoBaller is delivering continual updates from each camp, along with comprehensive articles and updated rankings that will help you prepare for your upcoming drafts, and navigate the challenges of managing your rosters.

That includes our ongoing series of Breakouts, Busts, and Locks, which shifts the spotlight toward determining how you should value players who will be operating with integral roles for their teams. This article will focus on the Atlanta Falcons, including a trio of players that have been selected early in Round 1 during the last three NFL Drafts.

That has positioned Bijan RobinsonDrake London, and Kyle Pitts to accumulate favorable numbers within the Falcons’ offense, which will also be spearheaded by second-year signal caller Desmond Ridder. Robinson, London, and Pitts are also being drafted within the first five rounds in FFPC best ball drafts, and the top six rounds in NFFC leagues - which elevates the importance of determining whether you should target them at their current ADPs.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!

 

Fantasy Football Lock - Bijan Robinson 

The frenzy surrounding Robinson’s prospects of thriving at the NFL level has continued throughout the offseason, as the most enticing prospect from this year’s rookie class possesses an elite level of talent that should quickly propel him to the top tier at his position.

Robinson accumulated 3,410 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns during his three seasons at Texas, including 2,707 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground during 2021-2022. He also secured a single-season record with 104 broken tackles in 2022 according to PFF, while also generating 805  yards and a school-record eight touchdowns as a pass catcher during his three years with the Longhorns.

Robinson’s collection of attributes has positioned him to flourish as an every-down back, and  enthusiasm for his arrival at the professional level  was sustained by his performance at the NFL Combine. Robinson completed the 40-yard dash in 4.46, along with a 1.52 10-yard split. He also registered a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10’, 4” broad jump, which expanded his runway toward the early-first round selection by Atlanta during the NFL Draft (8th overall).

This has infused him into an attack that will retain a steady commitment to the ground game, which firmly positions Robinson to operate with an enormous workload while thriving with his three-down role. The Falcons accumulated a league-high 599 rushing attempts during 2022, which was a byproduct of Arthur Smith’s penchant for a ground-oriented strategic approach. Atlanta also led the league in rushing attempts per game (32.9), while finishing second in run play percentage (55.3%).

2022 Rushing Offense Attempts Per Game 
Atlanta 32.9
Chicago 32.8
Philadelphia 32
Washington 31.6
Dallas 31.4
Cleveland 31.3
Baltimore 31.2

 

2022 Rushing Offense Run Play %  
Chicago 56.2
Atlanta 55.3
Baltimore 50.2
Carolina 49.5
Tennessee 49.1
Philadelphia 48.4

 

2022 Rushing Offense  First Down %  
Chicago 53.2
Baltimore 49.2
Atlanta 46.1
NY Giants 42.4
Carolina 42.4
Philadelphia 41.8

The Falcons should continue to deploy a zone-blocking scheme while providing Robinson with an ongoing opportunity to capitalize on his excellent blend of size, decisiveness, acceleration, and explosiveness. He will also supplement his production as a rusher by collecting receptions and assembling yardage as a pass-catcher, which should propel him to numbers that justify the tremendous hype that has accompanied his entrance into the league.

The insertion of Robinson into the Falcons’ backfield has also dislodged Tyler Allgeier from the top of Atlanta’s depth chart. Allgeier was one of just three rookie backs to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards last season (1,035/64.7 per game) which also placed him 12th overall. Allgeier was also 12th in yards before contact (609), and 11th in yards after contact per attempt (2.0), while finishing 15th in rushing attempts (210/13.1 per game)

Allgeier also vaulted to third overall in rushing yards from Weeks 9-18 (711/ 79 per game), while assembling a league-best 431 yards (107.8 per game) from Weeks 15-18. However, his opportunity to build upon his statistical eruption was eviscerated when the Falcons secured Robinson during the NFL Draft. Allgeier should operate with a weekly allotment of carries, but Robinson should stockpile the vast majority of touches that are distributed within the backfield, including coveted opportunities in the red zone. That makes him a virtual lock to reward anyone who invests a first-round selection in redraft leagues or has already seized him first overall during their rookie drafts.

 

Fantasy Football Breakout - Drake London

London was the first wide receiver to be selected during the 2022 NFL Draft when Atlanta seized him with the eighth overall pick. He was not afforded the opportunity to function in an offense that was largely reliant on their aerial attack, as the same strategic approach that will be beneficial to Robinson also created an obstacle that restricted London's opportunities within an offense that ranked 31st in both pass play percentage (44.7%), and passing attempts per game (24.4).

London’s overall numbers were constructed during a rookie season in which he garnered a favorable percentage of targets when Atlanta did rely on their passing attack. This propelled him to third among all wide receivers with a 29.95% target share from Weeks 1-18, while he finished 22nd overall and third among rookies with 117 targets (6.9 per game). London also finished eighth in targets per route run (29.2%) and also finished 11th in PFF’s grades for wide receivers. 

He operated with a 32.9% target share from Weeks 1-3, which was only exceeded by Cooper Kupp, CeeDee Lamb, and A.J. Brown. He also entered his Week 14 bye with a target share of 28.7%, which placed him ninth overall. That easily eclipsed the 15.9% share that had been attained by Olamide Zaccheaus which was second among Atlanta’s wide receivers. London’s 10 red zone targets were also five more than any other member of the Falcons.

However, he was also averaging 6.2 targets, 3.6 receptions, and 41 yards per game during that span, while residing outside the top 30 at his position in each of those categories. He had also been targeted on 27.7% of his routes while averaging 1.83 yards route run. London also registered 6.6 yards per target and 11.3 yards per reception, with an aDOT of 9.9 during those matchups.

Weeks 1-14 Targ/Gm Rec/Gm Yards/Gm
Drake London 6.2 3.6 41

 

Weeks 1-14 YPT YPR TPRR% YPRR aDOT
Drake London 6.6 11.3 27.7 1.83 9.9

However, Desmond Ridder replaced Marcus Mariota under center prior to the Falcons' Week 15 matchup at New Orleans, and that transition fueled a significant rise in London's numbers. His target share increased to a league-high 33.0% with Ridder spearheading Atlanta's attack, while London also vaulted to second in targets per route run (33.0%), third in yards per route run (3.66) from Weeks 15-18. He also finished inside the top 10 in targets (36/9.0 per game), receptions (25/6.3 per game), and receiving yards (333/83.3 per game) during that sequence, while experiencing an increase in yards per target (9.3), yards per reception (13.3), and aDOT (10.9) during those contests.

Weeks 15-18 Targ/Gm Rec/Gm Yards/Gm
Drake London 9 6.3 83.3

 

Weeks 15-18 YPT YPR TPRR% YPRR aDOT
Drake London 9.3 13.3 33 3.06 10.9

 

Weeks 15-18 TPRR% YPRR Targets Targ/Gm
Christian Watson 35.2 2.96 25 6.3
Drake London 33 3.06 36 9
Keenan Allen 32.8 2.89 40 10
Mike Williams 32.1 3.2 27 6.8
Michael Pittman 31.5 1.57 34 8.5
Chris Olave 29.6 2.18 21 7

 

Weeks 15-18 Rec Rec/Gm Yards Yards/Gm
CeeDee Lamb 33 8.3 398 99.5
Keenan Allen 32 8 352 88
Chris Godwin 31 7.8 321 80.3
DeVonta Smith 29 7.3 421 105.3
Justin Jefferson 29 7.3 309 77.3
Drake London 25 6.3 333 83.3
Jerry Jeudy 25 6.3 385 96.3

London will operate with a dearth of competition for targets from Atlanta’s remaining collection of wide receivers (Mack Hollins/Scott Miller/KhaDarel Hodge/Frank Darby), while the involvement of Pitts, Robinson, and Cordarrelle Patterson will not preclude him from garnering another massive target share. His exceptional talent will enable him to maximize his opportunities while positioning him for a breakout season.

 

Fantasy Football Riser - Kyle Pitts

It is understandable if you are wondering where this leaves Pitts, who is the remaining member of Atlanta's trio of first-round picks. His outlook for 2023 will also be included in this article as a bonus, even though he will not be classified as a lock, breakout, or bust.

Anyone who has Pitts contained on their rosters remains hopeful that his exceptional blend of size, speed, and athleticism will result in production that rewards them for their investment. That also bolsters the rationale for addressing these expectations in this breakdown of Atlanta’s most critical offensive weapons.

The hype surrounding Pitts was unrelenting following his collegiate career at Florida, which culminated with becoming the first tight end to be named as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, and winning the John Mackey Award, which is presented to the nation’s premier tight end.

His unique blend of attributes was fully displayed during his Pro Day, as he completed the 40-yard dash in 4.4, while also delivering impressive numbers during multiple events.

Pitts later became the first tight end in NFL history to be selected inside the top five during an NFL Draft, but an unwelcome mixture of substandard quarterback play, his placement in a run-oriented attack, and a torn MCL have conspired to prevent him from fulfilling burgeoning expectations in his first two seasons.

There have been promising numbers during that span as Pitts finished fifth among all tight ends in targets (110/6.5 per game), third in receiving yards (1,068/60.4 per game), and seventh in receptions (68/4.0 per game) during 2021.

He was also targeted on 22.3% of his routes, averaged 2.08 yards per route run, and completed his rookie year with an average of 10.4 points per game - which placed him 11th overall. However, he only generated one touchdown, which was a frustrating result for anyone who had seized him near his Round 3 ADP during the 2021 draft season (31/TE4).

Any opportunity to achieve breakout status during 2022 was sabotaged by Mariota's inadequacies even before Pitts sustained the aforementioned MCL injury in Week 11. He had risen to third among tight ends in target share (25.9%), and air yards (639), prior to his injury, and had been targeted on 28.5% of his routes. However, those favorable numbers were hardly beneficial to fantasy managers, while his averages of 35.6 yards/2.8 receptions per game and 1.7 yards per route run all declined when contrasted with 2021.

His yards per target also dropped when compared to his first season (9.3/6.0), as did his yards per reception (15.1/12.7). These numbers were also a byproduct of Mariota’s deficiencies as a passer, as Pitts led all tight ends in unrealized air yards (411.2) according to PFF. This also contributed to Pitts' catch rate of 47.5%.

The potential for improved play under center is an essential component in the optimistic outlook for London, and that should also apply to Pitts. If Ridder operates with greater efficiency than Atlanta received from Mariota then Smith might be incentivized to entrust Ridder with a higher percentage of attempts. This would be similar to the slight boost in passing that transpired when Ridder replaced Mariota last season. Pitts also possesses the talent to capitalize on any rise in his level of opportunity if it occurs.

It will still be difficult for Pitts and London to attain breakout status while functioning in a Falcon offense that will remain steadfast in its utilization of the ground game. However, that should not preclude Pitts from surpassing the expectations of his current ADPs in FFPC (50/TE5) and NFFC leagues (69/TE5).

 

Fantasy Football Bust - Desmond Ridder 

Robinson, London, and Pitts should not remotely approach bust status this season, while Ridder and Allgeier are the only other Falcons who should be considered as roster options. That elevates Ridder as the most viable bust candidate due to the continued uncertainty regarding his ability to guide an NFL offense.

For the sake of clarity, you aren’t planning to rely on Ridder in any capacity unless you are managing rosters in Superflex leagues, and his proficiency this season should surpass Mariota’s during 2021. However, but that does not eliminate the possibility that he could still fail to retain his starting role throughout the season, or register disappointing numbers that do not reach modest expectations.

Atlanta selected Ridder in Round 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft (74th overall), and he did not register his first regular season snap until Week 15. Ridder’s four-game sample size as the Falcons’ starter is not conducive to making firm conclusions surrounding his ability to operate proficiently as the team's signal caller beyond 2023. However, he will enter Week 1 with the opportunity to guide Atlanta's attack.

Quarterback Att Att/Gm Comp Cmp% Yards Yards/Gm
Marcus Mariota 300 23.1 184 61.3 2219 170.7
Desmond Ridder 115 28.8 73 63.5 708 177

There is a rationale for projecting Ridder to perform more effectively than Mariota and the Falcons did increase deployment of their passing attack after Ridder emerged under center. He finished 13th among all quarterbacks in passing attempts from Weeks 15-18 (115/28.8 per game), which represented an increase from Mariota's average of 23.1 per game in Weeks 1-14. Ridder also tied for 12th in completions (73/18.3 per game), although his completion percentage of 63.5% placed him 15th overall. However, that percentage also surpassed the 61.3% that Mariota attained during his matchups.

Quarterback Bad Throw %
Zach Wilson 25.20%
Davis Mills 23.20%
Marcus Mariota 22.50%
Derek Carr 20%
Carson Wentz 20%

Mariota was just 25th overall in passing attempts (300) from Weeks 1-14 and only Zach Wilson and Davis Mills registered higher percentages of bad throws than Mariota (22.5%) according to Pro Football Reference. Mariota also received a grade of 66.3 from PFF, which placed him 28th overall. He also finished 32nd among all starting quarterbacks in deep passing performance according to PFF which included a deep completion percentage of 27.1% on throws of 20+ yards, and a passer rating of 37.

Ridder eclipsed 200 yards during two of his four matchups while attaining his season high of 224 during Atlanta's season finale. He also launched 30+ attempts during two of his outings, which tied the number of games that Mariota had during his 13 starts. Atlanta's pass-play percentage also rose to 48% during Ridder's final three contests, while his impact on London's output after he was inserted under center supplies a reason for optimism that the tandem can sustain their short-term statistical success during 2023.

Ridder's percentage of bad throws (18.2%) was hardly exceptional but it did represent an improvement over Mariota's aforementioned percentage  (22.5%).  However, there is an inherent risk for anyone who secures Ridder as their QB2 that he does not provide the Falcons with a long-term solution at quarterback.

Taylor Heinicke also looms as a threat to ascend into the starting role if Ridder struggles, and Smith could be compelled to make another change under center if he believes that the Falcons have a better chance of contending in the NFC South with the five-year veteran guiding the offense. That reinforces the rationale for managing your expectations regarding Ridder's outlook while retaining hope that he will accumulate enough opportunities as a passer to help London and Pitts secure career-best numbers.

 

 




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Christian McCaffrey - Fantasy Football Rankings, DFS and Betting Picks, NFL Injury News

Early PPR Rankings for 2024 Fantasy Football Drafts: Justin Jefferson, Josh Jacobs, Stefon Diggs, Trey McBride, Malik Nabers, Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Hey, RotoBallers! The 2024 NFL Draft is over, and it's an exciting time for football as players are starting to report to offseason workouts. The heart of fantasy football draft season is around the corner. Week 1 will be here before we know it, and it's never too early to start preparing for your fantasy... Read More


Jaylen Wright - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, RB, NFL Draft Sleepers

Fantasy Football Dynasty League Rookie/Free-Agent Draft Review: FFPC Deeper Targets

In the offseason and preseason, as soon as the NFL Draft is over, I eagerly jump into slow fantasy football drafts. I am a big fan of the slow draft format. It extends the fun over many days and always gives me something to look forward to throughout the day. Waking up to find out... Read More


Chase Brown - Fantasy Football Rankings, Waiver Wire Pickups, Draft Sleepers

Second-Year Fantasy Football Players Who Will Break Out in 2024 - Sophomore Bounce-Back Candidates

For many years, fantasy football players tried their best to avoid rookies in drafts. Recently, it's become more common for rookies to make an impact. We've seen players like Ja’Marr Chase, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley finish in the top five at their positions. Even last year, we saw C.J. Stroud and Puka Nacua emerge... Read More