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Falcons' Future: Assessing Redraft and Dynasty Value in Atlanta


The Atlanta Falcons’ downward spiral from Super Bowl LI in 2017 has continued and reached new lows this year. Last year’s 7-9 record seemed like a massive disappointment at the time, but with the team now sitting at 1-6 through seven games, the franchise is clearly in a position where it needs to start reassessing its future plans.

There are still some positive signs, at least from an offensive/fantasy standpoint. The team ranks second in the league in passing yards per game (299) and they’re tied for first in passing touchdowns per game (16). However, the team’s defense has been atrocious, and their rushing offense ranks among the bottom five in the league in yards per game.

Mohamed Sanu has been traded out of town, head coach Dan Quinn is on a flaming hot seat, Ito Smith (concussion) has been ruled out for Week 8 and star quarterback Matt Ryan (ankle) is looking doubtful for the team’s next game and could miss more time after that. So what do we do with the fantasy-relevant Falcons the rest of this year and in dynasty formats?

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Julio Jones

After Week 3, it looked like Jones was on pace for his best fantasy season yet, which is really saying something for someone with a year of 1,871 receiving yards under his belt. Jones had 19 catches for 265 yards and four touchdowns through three weeks but has just 21 catches for 295 yards and no touchdowns in the four games since.

Jones has proven he can be a high-end WR1 even when the Falcons struggle to win games. His 1,871-yard season came in 2015 when the team won just eight games. The year before that, he had 1,593 yards and the team went 6-10. He’s still a clear high-end WR1 the rest of this year and should be valued highly in dynasty as well as there’s little to suggest he won’t be one of the first receivers off the board in 2020 drafts.

 

Matt Ryan

As of this writing, Ryan’s injury has been considered an ankle sprain and he is yet to be ruled out for Week 8, and there's now speculation he might play. The team has a bye week in Week 9, so if Ryan does sit out Week 8, he’d have a full three weeks off to nurse the injury.

While the ankle injury knocks him down a notch or two in the rankings, there have been so many quarterback injuries and struggling quarterbacks this year that Ryan still projects as a mid-tier QB1 for the rest of the year. As long as he takes the field, he’s going to be forced to throw a lot since the team can’t run and they’ll be chasing points regularly. Ryan will be 35 next year, but should still have at least a few years of QB1 production left, so don’t sell him for pennies in dynasty formats.

 

Devonta Freeman

Running back Devonta Freeman has struggled the most amongst the team’s primary offensive weapons this year. He’s averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry and would be one of the biggest busts in fantasy if it weren’t for his 209 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns.

No. 2 running back Ito Smith has already been ruled out for Week 8, which helps Freeman’s playing time, but getting opportunities hasn’t really been the obstacle. He’d been receiving around 20 touches per game before Week 7, when he was ejected in the third quarter. It's been a matter of effectiveness for Freeman, who hasn’t finished a year as an RB1 since 2016.

Freeman needs to be owned in all fantasy formats just because his touch count is so high and his offense scores a lot of points. He’s a low-end RB2 going forward this year, but that could change if the team wants to give younger running backs more looks or if Ryan misses extended time and the offense suffers as a result. In dynasty formats, his outlook isn’t great going forward. It’s hard to imagine the team would feel comfortable with him getting around 20 touches per game in 2020 unless he really turns things around this year. He’s signed on with the team through 2022, but the Falcons have a potential out next year and could take a small cap hit if they decide to move on. For fantasy owners looking beyond 2019, don’t make Freeman a priority.

 

Calvin Ridley

Calvin Ridley is the biggest riser on the team after the Sanu trade. He and Sanu had been about even in targets this year – 44 for Ridley, 42 for Sanu. If Ryan is sidelined Ridley loses some of his upside potential, but he could still be effective with No. 2 quarterback Matt Schaub, who would be throwing plenty in Ryan’s absence.

In season-long fantasy, Ridley looks like a more secure WR2 with Sanu out of town. He also gets a bit of a bump in dynasty formats. He’s the youngest pivotal member of the team’s offense and the offense should feature Ridley as the unquestioned No. 2 behind Jones going forward.

 

Austin Hooper

The Falcons’ struggles as a team this year certainly haven’t had a negative effect on tight end Austin Hooper, who is in the midst of a dominant, breakout season. Hooper has a team-high 46 receptions through seven games and has tallied 526 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Tight end is such a thin position that Hooper is an unquestionable must-start until further notice, even if Schaub is under center in their next game. In dynasty formats, the soon-to-be 25-year-old figures to be one of the top five or six assets at the position.

 

Ito Smith

Currently in the concussion protocol, it’s yet to be seen how much time Ito Smith will miss. Smith has shown some promising flashes in limited playing time so far this year. He’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry, which dwarfs Freeman’s 3.5 season average. He’s shown an ability in the passing game as well, catching 11 of his 14 targets for 87 yards.

Smith stands to gain from two things as soon as he’s able to rejoin the team: 1) Freeman’s struggles and 2) the team’s struggles overall. As the team is trending towards a lost season, they’re going to want to take a longer look at what they have in their young skill players and Smith should have every opportunity to earn a shot as a feature back. He needs to be owned in all leagues of 14 or more teams. Owners will need to be patient as they'll have to wait out his Week 8 absence and the team's Week 9 bye, but he could be a guy who really, really helps in the playoffs, when the Falcons might have seen enough of Freeman.

In dynasty terms, Smith is a great sleeper to target. Freeman might be on his way to playing himself out of a job next year and that would open up an opportunity for Smith to become an RB2 in 2020.

 

The Others

The three skill players not yet mentioned who could work their way into the picture are Justin Hardy, Brian Hill, and Qadree Ollison.

Hill saw his first action this past week after Smith’s injury and Freeman’s ejection. He gained just 11 yards on five carries, unfortunately picking up right where Freeman left off. He also caught both of his targets for 14 yards. Hill should take over Smith’s role in Week 8, which means he should end up somewhere between five and 10 touches in the game. Hill is in the midst of his second stint with the Falcons. The fact that the team previously cut him is a strong indicator that they don’t see him as their future feature back, so don’t expect him to be run away with a starting job. However, he could still be a potential fill-in flex starter in deep leagues depending on the overall health of Atlanta's backfield.

Going forward, Hardy should soak up some of the targets Sanu was receiving. Granted, Sanu was a pretty unreliable WR3/flex option in deep PPR leagues this year so it’s hard to expect much better from Hardy. However, if Ridley or Jones were to go down, Hardy would become a must-add.

Ollison might be the most interesting of this group overall. The rookie was a fifth-round pick this year and has yet to make his NFL debut. Make sure to keep him on your radar. Smith figures to receive his opportunities before Ollison, but Ollison’s opportunity should certainly come before the end of the year. At 6’2” and 231 pounds, Ollison’s the biggest back the team has by a considerable margin. Smith and Freeman are both 5’9” and Smith is a slight 195 pounds.

Last but not least, Matt Schaub. If Ryan is out, Schaub is a great mid-tier QB2 option in two-quarterback leagues and he could also be a viable low-end QB1 in deep one-quarterback leagues. He stands to benefit from the same things Ryan has: the team’s dreadful defense, the lack of a running game and the dynamic offensive playmakers on the team.

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