|By Shawn Childs, Tuesday, August 29, 2017|
The Falcons were so close to having the best season in franchise history in 2016. They blew a 25-point lead with a quarter and a half left in the game to leave their fans with the biggest broken hearts of their football lives. In his second season at head coach, Dan Quinn led Atlanta to an 11-5 record improving his career record to 19-13 with two playoff wins and a trip to the Super Bowl. In 2013 and 2014, Dan was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. He has 14 years of experience in the NFL. The defense wasn't the key to the growth of this team in 2016. The Falcons allowed 406 points, which was the sixth most in the league and 61 more than 2015 (345). They ranked 25th in the NFL in yards allowed. Richard Smith took the ax for the Super Bowl loss leading to him dropping from defensive coordinator with Atlanta to linebacker coach with the Chargers. Marquand Manuel was promoted in to run the defense after spending 2015 and 2016 as the secondary coach. Manuel is a former NFL player with three other seasons of coaching experience with the Seahawks. Despite showing growth in offensive yards over the previous two seasons (2013 – 14th, 2014 – 8th, and 2015 – 7th), Atlanta struggled to score points in two of those three years (353 – 20th, 381 – 12th, and 339 – 21st). The Falcons finished with the highest scoring offense in the NFL in 2016 (540 points – 33.4 per game) while gaining the second most yards. Their success led to them losing offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan) who was rewarded with the head coaching job in San Francisco. Atlanta replaced him with Steve Sarkisian who's making the jump from college to the pros. Sarkisian has seven seasons of head coaching experience while spending 2016 as the offensive coordinator for Alabama.
The Falcons lost a couple of low-level WRs (Aldrick Robinson and Eric Weems) to free agency with WR Andre Roberts brought in to improve the depth at the position. They parted ways with starting FB Patrick DiMarco and TE Jacob Tamme.
DE Jack Crawford and DT Dontari Poe were added to the defense. Both players struggled in 2016 with Poe seeing close to starting snaps.
Atlanta cleaned house with the backend of the roster on the defensive side of the ball – S Dashon Goldson, LB Paul Worrilow, LB Phillip Wheeler, LB Sean Weatherspoon, DE Dwight Freeney, DE Malliciah Goodman, DE Cliff Matthews, DT Jonathan Babineaux, and DT Tyson Jackson. Freeney has been a great pass rusher in his career, but age has caught up with him. This was the same issue with DT Jonathan Babineaux. All other options had minimal playing time or offered no upside.
They lost G Chris Chester after a disappointing season. He remains unsigned. T Tom Compton was cut after being on the field for 82 plays in 2016.
In the first round, Atlanta selected DE Takkarist McKinley. He comes to the NFL with a high motor and playmaking ability. McKinley has excellent speed (4.59) with an attacking mindset. His negative on his scouting report is his hands, which is a coachable area. This is an area of need to help Takkarist become a better pass rusher. His game should offer impact value in his rookie year.
The Falcons second draft pick came in the third round – LB Duke Riley. His game is built on quickness while being undersized (6'0" and 232 lbs.) leading to him needing a clear run to add value to the run defense. Duke needs to get stronger while improving his feel for developing plays. His skill set points to move value in pass coverage.
In the fourth, Atlanta added G Sean Harlow. He can be beaten by speed and power at times due to questionable foot speed. He needs to add more strength to his game while improving his sense of urgency in the heat of battle. He comes high pedigree (his father was a first round draft pick) while coming up a bit short in his physique.
With three picks in the fifth round, Atlanta invested in CB Damontae Kazee, RB Brian Hill, and TE Eric Saubert. Kazee was a playmaker at college (16 Ints) with solid value in pass coverage. His game projects as a third or a fourth CB while offering the best success when moving forward out of his back pedal. He will have some risk vs. deep speed while lacking the size to handle press coverage. Hill will give the Falcons another option as an inside runner with a high enough skill set to play on every down. He runs with power while needing to add more patience to his running style to allow holes to open. Brian will handle himself well in pass protection with questions about his value in the passing game. Saubert is a project with a chance to become a solid route runner. His hands do have some risk, especially against tougher competition. His blocking skills won't offer an edge early in his career.
The Falcons had the fifth highest rushing total (1,928) in the league with 20 rushing TDs. They averaged 4.6 yards per carry with 15 runs over 20 yards. Atlanta had 49 negative runs and 51 rushes over 10 yards.
They finished third in passing yards (4,725) while gaining an astounding 9.2 yards per pass attempt. Matt Ryan threw 38 passing TDs and only seven Ints while their offensive line allowed 37 sacks. Atlanta had 17 passes for 40 yards or more, which was the highest total in the league.
LT Jake Matthews still hasn't developed into an edge at his position after getting drafted in the first round in 2014. He was a below league average player in 2016 after showcasing more upside the previous year.
LG Andy Levitre has been a steady asset on the offensive line for the last seven seasons with four plus years of success on his resume. The Bills drafted him in the second round in 2009. He's never missed a game in his career with his best value coming in run blocking.
C Alex Mack was a great fit for this offense and a key reason for their growth in production. He had his best year of his career while ranking as the top run-blocking center. Mack was drafted in the first round by the Browns in 2009.
RT Ben Garland will battle Wes Schweitzer for the starting job at right tackle. Ben was on the field for only 42 plays after not playing a down in 2015. Schweitzer was added in the sixth round in 2016. Wes has a power style with some limitations in pass protection due to a question about his quickness. He needs to add strength to improve his chance of starting. Sean Harlow will be in the mix as well after being added in the fourth round in 2017.
RT Ryan Schraeder now has back-to-back strong seasons on his resume. Ryan played well in pass protection with improvement in run blocking Schraeder continues to show growth after the Falcons signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2013.
This line has one stud plus a slow developing first rounder and one undrafted player who continues to produce. This group is excellent in run blocking with improvement needed in pass protection. The Falcons need someone to step up at right tackle. Overall, Atlanta has a top eight line in the league.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
Atlanta has six games against teams (GB X 2, NE, CAR X 2, and DAL) that had success defending the run in 2016. Their best two matchups will come against Miami and Buffalo.
The Falcons have six games (CAR X 2, NO X 2, DAL, and GB) with risk defending the pass with three of those games coming over the last four games of the season. They have four games (MIN, CHI, BUF, and SEA) that grade as below the league average.
Even with a plus rushing attack, the Falcons only ran the ball only 421 times. This accounted for 43.9 percent of the offensive plays. Ryan threw the ball 73 times lower than his average over the previous four years (615, 651, 628, and 614). The direction of this offense is exciting especially with a healthy season at RB and WR.
Atlanta will be tested on defense in the run game by the Cowboys and the Bills. They will have an edge against Minnesota and Detroit with their overall run schedule for their defense looking neutral.
The Saints will be a tough matchup in two games for the Falcons' passing defense following by the Packers, the Patriots, and the Seahawks. Atlanta faces four teams (BUF, NYJ, DAL, and MIA) with poor passing offenses.
The Falcons finished 17th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (1,672) with rushers gaining 4.5 yards per carry. They scored 15 rushing TDs with 12 runs over 20 yards. The damage could have been worse, but game score led to only 23.1 rushing attempt per game.
Despite allowing 6.9 yards per passing attempt, Atlanta allowed the 28th most passing yards (4,267) with 31 TDs and 12 Ints. Their defensive line produced 34 sacks.
DT Dontari Poe struggled last year after being a steady asset over the two previous seasons. The Chiefs drafted him in the first round in 2012 while Poe flashed high upside in his second season in the league (51 tackles and 4.5 sacks). DT Grady Jarrett saw growth in his playing in his second year in the league. He doubled his tackle total (48) with three sacks leading to a neutral score. DT Ra'Shede Hageman missed four games last year while failing to live up to his second-round draft value in 2014. DE Adrian Clayborn had 4.5 sacks at a rotational pass rusher in 2016 while missing three games. DE Takkarist McKinley had shoulder surgery in March before the Falcons drafted him in the first round. He should have six full months to recover, and Atlanta needs him to add value in his rookie season.
LB Deion Jones played well in his rookie season after getting drafted in the second round. He finished 108 tackles with success in pass coverage (11 defended passes, three Ints, and two TDs). LB Vic Beasley was an impact player in his second year in the league. He had 15.5 sacks with 39 tackles and a TD. Atlanta drafted him in the first round in 2015. The third option at linebacker could come from multiplayer with each option earning a limited role.
The pass coverage will be helped greatly with a healthy CB Desmond Trufant in the starting lineup. He missed the last seven games of the season with torn pectoral muscle that required surgery. He's been a solid CB in all four years in the league after getting drafted in the first round in 2013. CB Robert Alford played well for the second straight year leading to a career high in tackles (61) and defended passes (19) with two Ints and a TD. S Keanu Neal did a great job in his rookie season after getting drafted in the first round. He had 106 tackles with eight defended passes. He should only get better in 2017. S Ricardo Allen set a career high in tackles in his second year in the league with a pair of interception.
This defense is being built with speed and youth. Their secondary should be better with an improved pass rush from the defensive line and a healthy Trufant. They need Poe to find his way in his first year on the team with rookie McKinley adding value. There's more here than meets the eye with the main player being Beasley. Viable swing as a top 12 Fantasy defense due to their ability to score TDs.
QB Matt Ryan - Stud (low risk)
The Falcons attempted 537 passes in 2016, which was their lowest number over the last seven seasons. Ryan finished with a career high in passing yards (4,944), passing TDs (38), completion rate (69.9), and yards per pass attempt (9.3). Also, he had a career low in interceptions (7). Ryan has an 85-57 record with one appearance in the Super Bowl. He threw for 300+ yards in six games, which included 503 yards and four TDs vs. the Panthers in Week 4. Half of his games resulted in three of more TDs. His game was explosive as well in the playoffs (70-for-98 with 1,014 yards and nine TDs and no Ints). On the surface, Matt doesn't have great receiving options behind Julio Jones at WR and TE so repeated success could be a tall task. In 2016, the RB position was explosive in the passing game (93/946/6 on 117 targets), which forced defenses to respect all areas of the field. This allowed the Falcons to create plenty open space in the deep passing game leading to 69 completions over 20 yards with 22 TDs going to the WR position. Ryan continues to have a top 3 WR drafted who offers big play ability and scoring ability. His floor should be about 4,500 yards with a chance at 30+ TDs with his downside tied to the success of the run game.
RB Devonta Freeman - Stud (low risk)
Freeman fell short of his great success in 2015 (1,634 combined yards with 14 TDs and 73 catches) due to the health and the play of Tevin Coleman. He did gain over 1,000 yards for the second straight season (1,079) with a 20 percent improvement in his yards per carry (4.8 - 4.0 in 2015). Devonte scored 13 TDs with plenty of value in the passing game (54/462/2). He had 32 fewer targets (65) than 2015 (97) with improvement in his catch rate (83.1 - 75.3 in 2015) and his yards per catch (8.6 - 7.9 in 2015). Overall, the Falcons RBs combined for 1,813 rushing yards on 384 carries with 20 rushing TDs plus 93 catches for 946 yards and six TDs on 117 targets. This adds up to one of the best RB opportunities in the game. Freeman was a top 5 RB in 2016, but I expect the RB position to be stronger in 2017 plus Tevin Coleman will steal more action if he can stay healthy for 16 games. Excellent chance at 1,500 combined yards with 50+ catches, and double-digit touches. A floor of 250 Fantasy points in PPR league with 16 games played with huge upside if given the full show due to an injury. Atlanta plays two favorable games in Week 14 and Week 16 vs. the Saints giving the Falcons' RB possible impact value in the Fantasy playoffs.
RB Tevin Coleman - Quality Backup
There's a lot to like with Coleman as well headed into 2017. He finished with 941 combined yards, 11 TDs, and 31 catches over 13 games in 2016. But more importantly, Tevin averaged about 1.28 Fantasy points per touch. This was better than David Johnson (1.08) and Le'Veon Bell (0.95). Coleman had three plus games on the year (89 combined yards with three TDs and three catches, 163 combined yards with a TD and four catches, and 135 combined yards with a TD and three catches). He never had over 16 touches in a game while averaging 11.5 per game. Tevin gained an amazing 13.6 yards per catch, which was helped by two huge plays. Over his two years in the NFL, Coleman has seven missed games. His next step should over 200 touches for 1,100+ yards and strength in TDs. If Freeman has an injury, Tevin has top 5 value.
WR Justin Hardy - Dynasty Only
In his four years at East Carolina, Justin caught 387 passes for 4541 yards with 35 TDs. Over the last two years in college, he had 235 catches for 2778 yards with 18 TDs. Hardy will struggle to beat press coverage due to his need for more upper body strength. He'll have value on underneath crossing routes while finding the soft spots in zone coverage. His best separation comes when driving his defender deep while coming back to the ball. Justin has enough quickness and jumping ability to have value at the goal line when matched up with one-on-one coverage. With Atlanta only having one elite receiving option, Hardy is going to have a lot better opportunity for success in the near future. His style had minimal value in his rookie season (21/194 on 36 targets over the last nine games of the season) with almost repeated stats in 2016 (21/203/4). He needs to improve his route running ability. Third-year receiver with a chance to make a nice step forward if given an opportunity to earn valuable playing time.
WR Julio Jones - Stud (low risk)
Over the last three seasons, Julio had 323 catches for 4,873 yards and 20 TDs on 495 targets or 7.2 catches for 108.3 yards and 0.44 TDs on 11 targets per game. He's a complete beast when on the field, but Jones does give Fantasy owners plenty of reasons to question his durability even in the prime of his career. He missed 11 games in 2013 and three games over the last three years while showing up on the injury report way too many times. Game score and game plan led to him being a decoy or not relevant in multiple games in 2016 while flashing his special qualities in six games (12/300/1, 7/139/1, 9/174, 10/135, 8/111/1, and 7/113) in the regular season plus a monster game vs. the Packers in the playoffs (9/180/2). Julio missed two games in December due to a toe injury that required surgery after the season. The Falcons won't push him in July while he's expected to be ready for the regular season. Jones has a 100-catch floor with an excellent chance of 1,500+ yards. The key is growth in TDs, which was an area of strength in his first two years in the league (18 in 29 games). The new offensive coordinator wants to get him more involved in close. His downside in TDs is tied to the season of the run game inside the 10-yard line. I like his finishing schedule (five games within the division in six games), so his reward should outweigh his injury risk.
WR Taylor Gabriel - Bye Week Fill-in
This receiver is the one that made the Falcons' offense interesting in 2016. Taylor missed two of his first seven games with short playing time in his other five games (2/19, 2/33, 3/49, 0/0, and 1/6) with ten combined targets. Over his next eight games, Gabriel scored six TDs while making eight catches for 20 yards or more. Even with his shining moments, he never had over six targets in any game in 2016. Taylor had over 50 yards receiving in six of seven games over the second half of the year giving him playable value when paired with his TDs. Tough buy in the Fantasy market as he's more of gadget type guy with matchup value. If he doesn't score, Gabriel does have enough looks to be playable.
WR Mohamed Sanu - Bye Week Fill-in
Fantasy owners gave Sanu respect in drafts in 2016, and he looked like an upside player after his success in Week 1 (5/80/1). Over his next 11 games, he had fewer than 50 yards in eight games and three catches or less in seven games leading to him being a terrible play. Mohamed finished with only four other playable games (5/47/1, 9/84/1, 5/74, and 8/65). His final stats (59/653/4) look close to serviceable, but his skill set and opportunity paint a different picture. His ceiling may only be 65 catches for 800 yards and five TDs, which is too boring for my blood even in an explosive offense.
TE Austin Hooper - Sleeper (undervalued)
The Falcons cleared the way for Hooper to be a viable Fantasy option at TE. In two seasons at Stanford, Hooper caught 74 passes for 937 yards and eight TDs. Austin will add speed to the TE position for Atlanta to hopefully take advantage of him on seam passes. He is expected to have value in blocking as well helping him earn more playing time. In his rookie season, Austin caught 19 of his 27 targets for 271 yards with three TDs. In 2016, Atlanta completed 55 of 81 targets to the TE position for 788 yards and nine TDs. We know from history with Tony Gonzalez on the roster that Ryan will look for the TE position. The offseason reports have positive with his chemistry with Matty Ice. His next step is 50+ catches for 600+ yards with respectable TDs.
PK Matt Bryant - Stud (low risk)
At age 41, Bryant had his best year of his career. He set career highs in field goals made (34) and extra points made (56) with a plus success rate (91.9). Matt was the second-highest scoring kicker with an edge from 50 yards or longer (6-for-8). Over eight seasons with the Falcons, Bryant made 88.3 percent of his field goals with 24 of 32 chances going through the uprights from long range. He made 82 of his 83 extra-point tries over the last two seasons. Top 12 kicker for sure with repeated upside with strong all-around play by the Falcons' offense.