|By Shawn Childs, Saturday, June 27, 2015|
After five winning seasons and four playoff berths with Mike Smith as the head coach, Atlanta has lost 22 of its last 32 games. That failure led to Smith being replaced by Dan Quinn. For the past two years, Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Dan has 12 years of coaching experience in the NFL, but he has never been a head coach. Atlanta's defense has been lacking for the past three seasons. In 2014, the Falcons allowed 417 points (sixth-most) and a league-high 398.2 yards per game. Richard Smith will take over as the defensive coordinator. Smith spent the last four years as the Denver Broncos' linebackers coach. He was the DC for the Miami Dolphins in 2005 and for the Houston Texans from 2006-08. Atlanta's offense finished 12th in points and eighth in yards per game last season. Kyle Shanahan is now the offensive coordinator. He held the same position for the past seven years spent between three franchises. In the Falcons' 50-year history, Atlanta has made the playoffs only 12 times. The Falcons lost their only Super Bowl appearance.
In the offseason, the Falcons started the journey of rebuilding their offensive line. They cut left guard Justin Blalock, who has since retired even though he graded out as an above-average player over the last four years. Chris Chester was brought in to start at left guard. Chester hasn't played well since 2012 when he allowed only one sack and had plus value as a run blocker. Last year with the Washington Redskins, Chester allowed five sacks, three QB hits and 16 QB hurries while being a liability in run blocking. Tyler Polumbus was added for depth at right tackle. With the Redskins in 2014, Tyler played his way onto the bench after allowing eight sacks in seven starts and providing poor run blocking. Right tackle Gabe Carimi, a former first-round bust for the Chicago Bears, is still an unrestricted free agent. The Falcons also released offensive tackle Sam Baker. Injuries in each of the past two seasons have derailed his career.
Safety Dwight Lowery signed with the Indianapolis Colts. Dwight struggled in pass coverage (45 catches against on 71 attempts for 630 yards), but he didn't allow a touchdown last year. Cornerback Robert McClain moved on to the New England Patriots. McClain tends to play soft coverage, allowing receivers to catch the ball in front of him. In 2014, Robert allowed a 67.1 percent completion rate, 630 yards and two TDs. Defensive tackle Corey Peters joined forces with the Arizona Cardinals. As a backup player last season, Corey was OK against the run and recorded two sacks, four QB hits and 15 QB hurries. The Falcons cut linebacker Prince Shembo, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora is an unrestricted free agent. Shembo was a marginal backup with no upside as a pass rusher. Osi, 33, is nearing the end of his career and set a 10-year low with only 2.5 sacks last season. LB Brooks Reed was added after playing with the Texans from 2011-14. Reed is coming off his best season as a pro and is stellar versus the run.
Atlanta cut aging and declining running back Steven Jackson. RB Jacquizz Rodgers signed with the Bears. Rodgers is nothing more than a low-value pass-catching back. Wideout Harry Douglas signed with the Tennessee Titans. He played well for stretches over the past two years while filling in for Roddy White and Julio Jones. Low-ceiling tight ends Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki were brought aboard.
In the first two rounds of the draft, Atlanta tried to upgrade its defense by selecting LB Vic Beasley and CB Jalen Collins. Beasley was a stud at this year's combine with stars in every category. Vic is a plus athlete with elite speed (4.53 40-yard dash), plus strength (35 reps in the bench press) and impact quickness (4.15 20-yard shuttle). He's a pass rusher who has the speed to work well in coverage. Collins started just 10 games in college, but he played at a high level with LSU in 2014. Jalen has the size and speed to be the total package at CB once he develops better technique. His quickness is his biggest question mark.
In the third, the Falcons added RB Tevin Coleman. Tevin is just 5 foot 11 and 206 pounds, but he is a tough one-cut runner with big-play speed (4.39 40). Coleman runs hard and with enough vision to hit the holes on time. His game is built on speed and subtle direction shifts. It's almost like his quickness catches some defensive players off guard. I don't expect him to have much upside as a receiver early in his career.
WR Justin Hardy was drafted in the fourth round. Hardy is not overly talented, but he comes with a fantastic college resume. He will compete for the No. 3 WR job this year. Hardy has questionable strength (11 reps in the bench press) and is raw when it comes to running routes.
Atlanta selected nose tackle Grady Jarrett in the fifth round. Grady should upgrade the Falcons' run defense with his plus quickness. He'll also add value to the pass rush, but at just 6 feet tall, he will struggle to beat players with size and can't fight off double teams. Jarrett tends to wear down, so he should be a rotational player.
With their two picks in the seventh round, the Falcons drafted offensive tackle Jake Rodgers and cornerback Akeem King. Rodgers has enough athletic ability to develop into a starter when he improves his strength and technique. King has plus strength and size (6 foot 3, 212 pounds). His lack of quickness hurts his chances of becoming a starter, but he does have 4.41 speed.
Atlanta Falcons LB Vic Beasley
The Falcons finished 24th in rushing yards last year (1,498). They gained 4.0 yards per rush with 11 rushing TDs. However, they did rank fifth in passing yards (4,553) with 28 TDs and 15 interceptions. The front line allowed 31 sacks.
Left tackle Jake Matthews didn't receive any gifts for Christmas from QB Matt Ryan after he allowed seven sacks, nine QB hurries and 35 QB hits in his rookie season. In addition, Jake was brutal as a run blocker. Matthews was the sixth overall pick in 2014 and came with a high pedigree (his father is in the NFL Hall of Fame). Jake was expected to be an impact run blocker with upside in pass blocking. However, he was clearly overmatched after injuries to other O-linemen forced him to move over from right tackle.
Chris Chester will need to step up his game in order to be an asset this fall. As mentioned earlier, he's been a below-average player for the past two seasons.
Center Joe Hawley missed the last 12 games of 2014 with a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Joe is expected to be ready for the start of the new season. In 2013, Hawley added value as a run blocker and didn't allow a sack in his seven starts.
Right guard Jon Asamoah limited the damage in the pass rush in his first year with Atlanta (two sacks, three QB hits and 21 QB hurries) while grading out at about league average in the run game. Much of Jon's value as a run blocker while he was with the Kansas City Chiefs came because of running back Jamaal Charles.
Right tackle Ryan Schraeder played surprisingly well in 2014 after earning the starting job in Week 8. He was good as a pass blocker (three sacks, two QB hits and 13 QB hurries), but his pass protection results wouldn't project well over a full season, so the Falcons may look to replace Schraeder if he doesn't show further growth. He was a slightly below-average run blocker.
This line is loaded with weaknesses. The addition of the speedy Coleman should cover up some of their flaws in run blocking, and Ryan's ability to get the ball out quickly keeps the sack total in line. If given a choice, I would much rather have an elite QB and RB with a mid-tier offensive line rather than a great offensive line with an average QB and RB. This group is below average.
The above chart shows the Falcons' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
Atlanta will have five games against below-average run defenses: the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, and the New Orleans Saints twice. Realistically, the San Francisco 49ers are the only team they will face that has a potentially tough run D. Their passing game will have a very favorable matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. However, Atlanta will have eight games versus solid pass defenses, including the 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings.
Running backs caught 23.7 percent of Ryan's completions (a total of 99 catches for 812 and six TDs). Yet Atlanta's tight ends had the smallest contribution of any team's TEs (33 catches for 276 yards and two scores). The wide receivers led the league with 284 catches and 3,692 yards. They scored 19 times.
QB Matt Ryan - Solid/Safe Pick
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Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan
RB Tevin Coleman - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Tevin has a unique style where he runs to daylight with an explosive first step and quick acceleration when he cuts up field. Coleman has big-play ability and a gliding gait that lulls some defenders to sleep since he doesn't appear to moving that fast. Tevin isn't creative in the open field and does break many tackles. He has vision and runs the play where is designed. Unfortunately, his success will only be as good as the O-line in front of him, and there will be some games where he gains next to nothing before snapping off a 50-yard run. This style in the Falcons' offense will lead to boom-or-bust results, and Coleman will be on the bench during passing downs. In college, Coleman ran for 3,219 yards and 28 TDs on 452 carries. He caught 54 passes for 383 yards, but he gained the same amount of yards per play on the ground (7.1). Atlanta needs his game-breaking ability in the lineup, but can the Falcons' offensive line open holes for him consistently? He should get 225 touches and could garner 1,000 yards and 6-8 scores. His Fantasy value in 2015 will be built on matchups and game score. When the Falcons have the lead, Tevin will have the most value. If Atlanta's line improves, Coleman could have RB2 value in PPR leagues. His early ADP is 91, making him the 29th RB selected. I'll view him as RB3 on draft day.
Atlanta Falcons RB Tevin Coleman
RB Devonta Freeman - Bust (overvalued)
UPDATE (9/30): A huge Week 3 game changes the outlook for Devonta Freeman. An injured Tevin Coleman opened the door for Freeman to shine against Dallas. Not only did he rush for 141 yards and three scores, he added five receptions for 52 yards. Coleman's return will likely once again divide this backfield to some degree. That said, Freeman slingshots into the No. 1 role and it's his for the foreseeable future.
Freeman was solid all-around back for Florida State. He was on the field in all types of situations and had value in pass protection. Freeman runs with drive and elusiveness, but he can be brought down easily at times by linebackers with clean hits on him. Devonta doesn't have elite speed (4.58 40-yard dash) or elite quickness (4.26 20-yard shuttle). In 2013 with the Seminoles, he rushed the ball 173 times for 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 278 yards. Of course, it helped that he had a national championship team surrounding him. Florida State used Freeman in a variety of formations in its pro-style offense. Overall, he does everything well, but he doesn't have one skill that separates him from the pack. Freeman is very good at running out wide but is also willing to go up the middle despite his 5-foot-8, 206-pound frame. His ability as a pass protector will keep him on the field. In his rookie season, Freeman took 65 rushes for 248 yards and one TD, plus he caught 30 of 37 targets for 225 yards and another score. Last year, the Falcons completed 99 balls to the RB position, and Devonta has a very good chance at catching 50-plus balls this season. I expect him to get 175 or so touches for 850-plus yards and a few TDs. His price in the early draft season is almost identical to Coleman's as Fantasy owners are torn on which back will have the most value in 2015. I think Freeman will offer more consistency in PPR leagues, but Coleman has the higher ceiling.
WR Julio Jones - Stud (low risk)
UPDATE (9/30): Julio looks like Fantasy's No. 1 WR as he currently leads the league in targets, receptions and yards. The total disappearance of Roddy White only helps his Jones' Fantasy owners. Keep Julio in your starting lineup every single week.
There is a lot of greatness in Julio's game as well as plenty of injury risk. He has missed 15 of a possible 64 starts. 2014 was his best season to date as he caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards and six touchdowns. He also missed one game due to a hip injury that was suffered during his most productive NFL performance (11 catches on 17 targets for 259 yards and a TD). He finished seven games with 100 yards or more, including that 259-yarder. Jones averaged 10.9 targets per week. Julio was actually on pace to post better numbers in 2013 before a broken foot shut him down in Week 5. When looking at the Falcons' receiving options and their success when throwing the ball to WRs in 2014 (284 catches for 3,692 yards and 19 TDs), a Fantasy owner can see Jones' electric upside. He has scored 26 touchdowns in 49 contests and has the potential to catch 120 passes for 1,800 yards and double-digit TDs. His early ADP slots him at No. 8 as the third WR drafted. Jones is an excellent building block for a winning Fantasy team.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones
WR Roddy White - Over the Hill (decreased production)
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WR Justin Hardy - Dynasty Only
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WR Devin Hester - Not Draft Worthy
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TE Jacob Tamme - Deep-league Only
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TE Levine Toilolo - Not Draft Worthy
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Atlanta Falcons TE Levine Toilolo
PK Matt Bryant - Solid/Safe Pick
Matt has kicked the ball extremely well over the past five seasons with the Falcons; he has missed just 16 of 157 field goal attempts. (89.8 percent conversion rate). Last year, he made seven of his 10 tries from 50 yards or longer while making 29 of his 32 FGs overall. He is 18-for-24 from at least 50 yards since joining Atlanta in 2009. He ranked seventh in Fantasy kicker scoring last season, and with Atlanta's offense struggling in the red zone, his success should continue. Matt may be a top-10 kicker yet again.
Atlanta - Not Draft Worthy
Atlanta will face five teams with above-average rushing attacks: the 49ers, Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, and the Carolina Panthers twice. They'll face two teams with weak rushing offenses: the Titans, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice. The Falcons have six games versus teams with strong passing attacks: the Eagles, Redskins, Giants, Colts and Saints (twice). They will have eight matchups against weak aerial offenses as well.
The Falcons finished 21st against the run. They allowed 4.2 yards per carry, which was just above the league average, but they allowed a league-high 21 rushing TDs. Atlanta had only 22 sacks, tied for the second-fewest in the league. This played a large role in the team giving up the most passing yards (279.9 per game) and the most yards per attempt (8.2). As bad as they looked in pass coverage, the Falcons gave up only 20 passing TDs and grabbed 16 INTs. Their secondary tightened up in the red zone, so opponents just ran the ball over the goal line.
There isn't a lot of excitement on Atlanta's defensive line. Defensive end Tyson Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick of the Chiefs, didn't get a single sack in 16 games last year, including nine starts. Outside of 2013, Tyson hasn't had any value as a run defender. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux had only two sacks in 2014 and delivered losing value against the run. At age 33, Babineaux doesn't belong in the starting lineup. DE Adrian Clayborn missed all but one game with the Buccaneers in 2014 due to a torn biceps. He flashed high upside during his 2011 rookie season after being selected in the first round; Adrian had 7.5 sacks, 10 QB hits and 32 QB hurries that season but was a disaster versus the run. A torn ACL in his right knee also cost him most of the 2012 season. DT Ra'Shede Hageman delivered minimal value in his rookie season as a part-time player. Hageman has plus strength and an explosive first step that allows him to disrupt the passing lanes. He is talented but raw and needs to show more motivation to produce on every down. Rookie DT Grady Jarrett may work well as a rotational run defender.
Linebacker Brooks Reed has been slowed this spring by a groin injury. His best season came when he was a rookie in 2011 When he had six sacks, 45 tackles and recovered two fumbles. He also played well against the run that year. In 2014, Reed was only a league-average player with some value stopping the run, two sacks, six QB hits and 26 QB hurries. LB Joplo Bartu played at a high level in 2013 against the run and picked up five sacks. But he was a below-league-average player for his position last season. LB Paul Worrilow has been a huge liability in all areas through his two seasons in the league. Vic Beasley will instantly upgrade the pass rush and also help in pass coverage.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant was the only elite player on this defense in 2014. He finished 11th coverage ratings, according to Pro Football Focus, and also chipped in against the run. CB Robert Alford's season was ended by a broken wrist in Week 11. Through his two seasons, Alford has yet to prove he can handle being an NFL starter. In 2014, he allowed 32 catches on 52 targets for 547 yards and six TDs. I expect him to lose his starting job to rookie Jalen Collins in the near future. Collins should play well against wideout with deep speed. His lack of experience will lead to him playing in nickel and dime coverages this year.
Atlanta doesn't have a ton of talent at the safety positions. William Moore has only been a league-average player in his career against the run and the pass. Last year, he allowed 27 catches on 39 attempts for 337 yards and two touchdowns. He also grabbed three interceptions. Kemal Ishmael was a neutral run defender in his first season as a starter while showing weakness in coverage (27 catches on 38 attempts for 516 yards and four TDs with four INTs).
This defense is still loaded with problems at the first and second levels. Hopefully Beasley can add value to the pass rush. Atlanta has to dump the veteran dead weight and use some fresh legs. With a better rotation on the defensive line, this defense should be at least league average against the run. With Trufant and a couple of the other corners, they have a good amount of talent at CB. Opponents will look to expose their safeties' weaknesses in coverage. I expect some improvement, but this defense will be a tough ride in the Fantasy world.