Fantasy Outlook: Atlanta Falcons
Here’s the latest in our team preview series, a look at the 2015 Atlanta Falcons.
2014 Team Record: 6-10
The Atlanta Falcons were one of the league’s worst teams in 2014. But despite having just six wins through the first 16 weeks, they were still just a single game away from a division crown. As it turned out, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers won the race for the South. But had it been decided on fantasy points alone, Mike Smith would have actually been coaching on Wild Card Weekend.
Let’s face it though, this isn’t the “N ‘if’ L.” Failure to reach the playoffs combined with a terrible defensive record saw Smith leave and be replaced by former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. But Atlanta did retain their offensive core, which accounts for a lot in fantasy football. Here’s a look at their roster ahead of the new season.
Provided he can stay healthy, Matt Ryan should be one of the top quarterbacks in the game in 2015 and he should have no trouble doing so, having missed just two games in seven years. With plenty of talent still surrounding him at the skill positions, Ryan is in a position to succeed. With Roddy White and the fantastic Julio Jones at his disposal, Matty Ice should be able to replicate his top-ten form, which saw him post double-digit points in 14 games last season.
Whether his production is spectacular could well be dependent on a sub-par offensive line that ranked 26th last year according to Pro Football Focus. The left side will need to see much better play from former first-round pick Jake Matthews to improve as a unit and give their QB enough time to get it done. Ryan is a safe pick, and should give any fantasy team a solid platform to build on.
The running back position in Atlanta is one of intrigue heading into the 2015 season. Although they may not have the best line, the potential for fantasy points is there – but the question is who, if anyone, will lead the way? That, so far, is unclear. They re-signed Antone Smith this offseason, who is capable of big plays, but doesn’t look like the lead man. 67th-ranked fantasy RB Devonta Freeman could see a large chunk of the carries after being used sparingly in his rookie year – though significant improvement is needed from him if he’s going to become a legitimate NFL player. Then there’s newly-drafted Tevin Coleman.
Atlanta’s third-round selection back in May knows how to produce, having done so at an elite level in college. In his final year, he totaled 2,036 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, even playing seven games with a broken foot. Now he enters a favorable spot with a zone blocking scheme known to produce prolific runners. Some also believe that Coleman will wind up with more carries than the rest of his teammates. As he is a rookie, he could fall in drafts, but Coleman could be worth a late-round flier, and has tons more upside than both Freeman and Smith put together.
Alongside quarterback, wide receiver is the strongest fantasy position that the Falcons’ boast. That’s mainly down to one man – Julio Jones. The former Alabama star had the league’s third-most receiving yards last year and led the Falcons in targets and receptions. The only knock on his game was his lack of touchdown production, recording just 0.4 touchdowns per game for the second consecutive year. But with over 1,500 receiving yards, Jones made up for it and is shaping up to have another good year should his health permit it.
And if one solid receiver wasn’t enough, the Falcons have Roddy White across from Jones. Though White wasn’t as impressive as his fellow WR, he still managed 80 receptions on the year, fell just shy of quadruple-digit receiving yards and led his team in touchdowns scored. He may not be a high draft pick, but White provides value as a WR3 after breaking the top 25 at his position, and should be drafted accordingly.
Devin Hester, Leonard Hankinson and Eric Weems are all players who can produce on their day, but they won’t do so frequently or consistently enough to be viable options for your team. There’s also a chance that fourth round draftee Justin Hardy could contribute from the slot, so perhaps keep an eye on him to see how he develops.
Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki aren’t household names, and expecting a decent haul from them seems unrealistic. Still, the Falcons gave Tamme a two-year, $3.9 million deal, so they must think he’ll be able to at least partially fill the void left by Tony Gonzalez a couple of years ago. Moeaki is more of a blocking TE, and so is less likely to contribute to the offense. Mickey Shuler, Levine Toilolo and rookie Beau Gardner round off the group, but they’ll have to compete to make the cut before they can even think about contributing.
Atlanta re-signed kicker Matt Bryant this offseason. He was one of the best in the fantasy game last season. He finished as the fifth-highest scoring kicker, and each of his three missed field goals out of 32 attempted were from over 50 yards. He’ll still be playing on a good offense that should put him in a position to score each game. Bryant should be in the first wave of kickers off the board.
Even with, arguably, the greatest returner in history, the Atlanta Falcons still don’t seem likely to have a trustworthy D/ST heading into 2015. They had a league-worst defense but sought to address the problem in the offseason. They drafted highly-rated edge rusher Vic Beasley, Brooks Reed and Justin Durant to beef up a depleted linebacker corps that lost Sean Weatherspoon to Arizona. Rookie cornerback Jalen Collins should also solidify their back end.
Still, is there enough talent there to create a vast improvement from fifth-worst into a viable fantasy unit? Unlikely. But for a position that’s week-to-week, it would be easier to avoid the Falcons and see if they’re worth a mid-week waiver claim.