Updated: Jun 13, 2020
Projected Depth Chart:
Quarterback: 1. Matt Ryan 2. Matt Schaub
Running back: 1. Todd Gurley 2. Ito Smith
Wide Receiver: 1. Julio Jones 2. Calvin Ridley 3. Olamide Zaccheus 4. Laquon Treadwell
Slot Receiver: 1. Russell Gage 2. Brandon Powell
Tight End: 1. Hayden Hurst 2. Jaeden Graham
The Atlanta Falcons like to run a balanced attack. This balanced mindset usually comes with most defensive minded coaches. They believe that the hardest thing to defend is a balanced offense. The Falcons could not achieve balance last season. The was due to a run game that was nothing special and below average offensive line. The Falcons offensive line allowed 48 sacks last season. They spent 2 first round picks on offensive lineman in the 2019 NFL Draft. One of them, Kaleb McGary started all 16 games and allowed 13 sacks. That number should go down this year. The other rookie, Chris Lindstrom was out all of last year with injury and will be a great addition to the offensive line this season. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter uses an aggressive vertical passing attack to get the ball down the field. He loves the 15-20 yard "chunk" plays. These plays are set up by seven-step drops and play-actions. The latter you cannot do with a poor offensive line. The Falcons' offensive line will be very improved this season and with recently signed running back Todd Gurley, should be one of the top offenses in the league.
Quarterbacks - Matt Ryan has always been a solid option for fantasy quarterback. Last season he was the QB11 and passed for 4466 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Ryan has passed for over 4000 yards every season since 2011 and has had over 20 passing touchdowns every season since his rookie season in 2008. Ryan as been almost completely healthy in his long NFL career. In 12 seasons Ryan only missed 3 games.
I consider Matt Ryan to be a sleeper this year. I have him ranked as my #6 quarterback this year. I think he will bounce back and finish in the top 10 with all of the weapons around him. In the last 10 seasons, Ryan has had over 250 fantasy points 7 times and if he plays the whole season, he should have no problem getting to that number. Ryan has also thrown double digit interceptions 9 out of the 12 seasons he has been in the NFL. Matt Ryan needs to get his interceptions down this season if he wants to be considered a top fantasy quarterback.
Matt Ryan will benefit a lot this year from having a plethora of weapons around him. At running back he has Todd Gurley, who was signed to a one year "prove it" deal this offseason. Gurley should add a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield that the Falcons haven't seen since healthy Devonta Freeman. Ryan also has one of the best receiving duos in the league in Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones. Not to mention newly acquired tight end Hayden Hurst. With all of these weapons around him, Ryan should bounce back into the top 10 quarterbacks for fantasy.
Running backs - As I stated earlier, former star running back Todd Gurley was signed by the Atlanta Falcons this season to a 1 year deal. Very recently, Gurley passed his physical and the contract became official. Gurley was diagnosed with arthritis in his knee a couple of years ago and he hasn't been the same since. Gurley was feeling the full effects of that injury last year and had his worst season in recent memory.
Todd Gurley didn't look like himself last season. Gurley pushed through the pain and finished as the RB14 last year. Gurley managed to get 223 carries for 857 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground with 31 receptions for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air. Gurley had a full season to deal with his arthritis and will have a huge bounce back year this year and prove everyone wrong. When you play against the Falcons you can't stack the box because of Julio and Calvin Ridley. Gurley will be a huge benefactor of this and it will be a big factor in his bounce back.
As good as I think Gurley could be this year, there is also a huge risk associated with taken him in fantasy. His arthritis could flare up and he could also get inconsistent touches. If I were to draft Gurley this year, I would keep a close eye on backups running backs Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and Qadree Ollison. The three backup running backs are nowhere near as talented as Gurley. Todd Gurley, if healthy enough will go back to being a workhorse running back.
Wide Receivers - Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are going in the top 50 in most drafts. The Falcons are one of the only teams to have a tandem go in the top 50. Julio Jones finished as the WR2 last year with only 6 touchdowns. Calvin Ridley finished as the WR27 last season. Ridley probably would've finished higher if he didn't miss three games.
Ridley came into a zone at the end of the year. He had over 17 points in each of the last 4 games. Ridley received 8 or more targets in three of those games. For the entire season, when Ridley has 8 or more targets, he averaged 22.3 fantasy points. If Julio were to go down with injury, he would be amazing.
Julio received 7 or more targets in every game last year. That is what makes him one of the top receivers year in and year out. Julio is my #3 receiver and is one of the only receivers I would even consider taking in the first round. The massive volume that Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley get take away from the other receivers on the team and make them almost irrelevant. Julio is a late first round pick and Ridley is a sleeper you can get in the fourth round with a decent ceiling.
Tight Ends - Last season, Austin Hooper had a breakout season. He finished as the TE6 and would've finished a lot higher if he didn't miss three games. Hooper caught 75 passes last year on 97 targets. Austin was a free agent last year and wanted to get paid. The Falcons did not want to pay him what the Browns offered. Austin Hooper signed with the Browns on a 4 year, $44 million contract leaving a hole at tight end for the Falcons.
After Hooper left in free agency, it was obvious the Falcons needed a tight end. The Falcons got their tight end via trade from the Ravens. The Falcons traded a second and fifth round pick for Hayden Hurst and a fourth round pick. This was a good trade for both sides as the Ravens did not need Hayden Hurst and got some picks out of it. The Falcons didn't have to give up a fortune for Hurst and he fills a huge hole on the team.
Hayden Hurst was a former first round pick for a reason. Matt Ryan called Hurst one "of the fastest and most athletic tight ends I've ever played with." This is huge praise coming from someone who played with NFL legend Tony Gonzalez. Hurst is my #8 tight end because you can get him relatively late as a second tight end with a high ceiling. 97 targets are available for the taking and most of those should go to Hurst.
Fantasy Analysis -
Breakout: Todd Gurley
Sleeper: Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst
Deep Sleeper: Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison
Bounce Back: Matt Ryan
Star: Julio Jones
I hope you liked 2020 Fantasy Previews Part 2: Atlanta Falcons. A college football article will definitely come tomorrow with the Part 3: Baltimore Ravens on Friday.