Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Falcons Fantasy Preview

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Falcons Year in Review

2015 Pass Attempts Rank: 8th (621)
2015 Rush Attempts Rank: 16th (420)
2015 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 7th (1,073)
2015 Yards Per Play Rank: 11th (5.6)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Devonta Freeman
WR: Julio Jones
WR: Mohamed Sanu
TE: Jacob Tamme
TE: Levine Toilolo
LT: Jake Matthews
LG: Andy Levitre
C: Alex Mack
RG: Chris Chester
RT: Ryan Schraeder

Passing Game Outlook

Matt Ryan's ADP sat in the sixth round at this time last year, head scratching for an eighth-year quarterback who'd never finished above QB7 and had just one 30-touchdown season on his resume. Ryan fell flat in year one of OC Kyle Shanahan's offense, openly admitting afterwards that Shanahan's complexity was "too much" at times and regularly appearing uncomfortable on the field. More directly, Ryan's struggles can be attributed to Atlanta's shortage of pass-catching talent beyond Julio Jones and Ryan's sub-par play inside enemy 20-yard lines, where he completed just 56 percent of his throws and tied for 14th in red-zone TDs (17) despite finishing with the NFL's eighth most red-zone attempts (75). The Falcons led the league in red-zone turnovers and scored touchdowns on just 54.7 percent of their red-zone trips, ranking 18th. Ryan's weapons are slightly improved by the additions of Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper, and Atlanta is likely to have better luck in scoring position this year. Ryan's ADP has dipped into the 12th and 13th rounds. Working against him is a tough schedule, which includes the defensively-unforgiving NFC West and AFC West. The Falcons' second meeting with New Orleans' swiss-cheese defense doesn't take place until fantasy-irrelevant Week 17.

Julio Jones is the first person to whom Shanahan should look when trying to solve Atlanta's red-zone woes. Despite leading the NFL in targets (203), catches (136), and yards (1,871), Julio ranked 10th in red-zone targets (21) and 20th in receiving TDs (8). Even if Jones' catches and yardage are destined for some regression, he has room for growth in the scoring department. Squarely in his prime at age 27, Jones is the NFL's all-time leader in receiving yards per game (95.4) and will remain the uncontested No. 1 option in Atlanta's offense. Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham are the only wideouts worth considering ahead of Jones in re-draft leagues.

Desperate for complementary playmakers, the Falcons overpaid Mohamed Sanu (five years, $32.5 million) in free agency and immediately anointed him their No. 2 option in the passing game. A gadget/slot receiver in Cincinnati, Sanu's best raw-stats season occurred in 2014 with A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert all battling injury. Sanu went 56-790-5 on 98 targets, but led the league in drops (14) and posted an abominable 57.1 percent catch rate. I still think Sanu could smash his 11th-/13th-round ADP on sheer opportunity. Manning the same role Sanu will now fill, Leonard Hankerson averaged seven targets in the six games where he played a majority of Atlanta's 2015 snaps, posting a 16-game pace line of 67-837-8. With Roddy White and Hankerson gone, the Falcons have 121 unaccounted-for targets from last year's roster. In an up-tempo offense with little behind him and Jones on the pass-catching depth chart, I think Hankerson's pace stats are attainable for Sanu, who is a Julio injury away from becoming Atlanta's No. 1 receiver. Forward-thinking fantasy owners with deep benches may want to consider "handcuffing" Jones with Sanu in the late rounds.

In addition to his cheap cost in drafts, one of the reasons I am somewhat drawn to Sanu is the Falcons' otherwise lack of target-commanding presences in the middle of the field. 31-year-old journeyman TE Jacob Tamme's role diminished in the second half of last season. He will now face competition from third-round pick Austin Hooper, who is already a superior blocker and offers a higher passing-game ceiling. Second-year slot man Justin Hardy earned more run in the final nine games and may become a bigger factor in three-receiver packages, which would lessen the Falcons' reliance on two-tight end sets. At 5-foot-10, 192 with 4.56/4.57 speed and a purely possession-style game, Hardy reminded me of Jason Avant coming out of college. Unable to consistently separate from man coverage, Sanu does his best work on high-percentage routes inside the numbers and close to the line of scrimmage. Sanu's usage in those zones will likely render Tamme, Hooper, and Hardy fantasy non-factors in 2016.

Running Game Outlook

Devonta Freeman was largely discarded by the fantasy community following a rookie season in which he averaged 3.82 yards per carry and failed to distinguish himself in a four-way RBBC that included Steven Jackson, Antone Smith, and Jacquizz Rodgers. Anti-Freeman sentiment grew when Atlanta used a third-round pick on flashy speedster Tevin Coleman, who indeed opened the season as the Falcons' starter before suffering a multi-game rib injury in Week 2. Freeman exploded instantly, compiling a 109-578-8 rushing line (5.30 YPC) in Weeks 3-7 and going on to lead all running backs in fantasy points. Beyond that five-week stretch, however, Freeman has averaged 3.29 YPC with four rushing TDs across his other 26 career games. Still a major question mark in a bellcow role, Freeman's floor is raised by his passing-game skills, where he holds a decisive edge on Coleman. Freeman ranked third among NFL running backs in both catches (73) and receiving yards (578) in 2015. Even if Coleman begins to eat into his early-down carries, Freeman will maintain a prominent offensive role due to his versatility. Freeman was also a superior goal-line back, converting 5-of-11 runs inside the five-yard line into touchdowns. Upright and stiff, Coleman converted just 1-of-5 runs inside the five.

Blessed with 4.40 speed at 5-foot-11, 206, Tevin Coleman didn't embarrass himself in his starting opportunities as a rookie. He dropped a workmanlike 20-80 rushing line on Philadelphia in Week 1 and looked primed for a big Week 2 (9-32-1) before the aforementioned rib injury against the Giants. When Freeman missed Week 12 with a concussion, Coleman parlayed 18 carries into 110 yards against a tough Vikings defense. There were certainly hiccups along the way -- three lost fumbles, three dropped passes on only ten targets, and sub-par pass blocking, to name a few -- but Coleman looked the part of an NFL rusher in flashes. Since last season ended, coach Dan Quinn has referred to Freeman and Coleman as a "combination," and GM Thomas Dimitroff called them a "tandem." Even if it's as a change-up back, Coleman should be assured of an every-week role in Atlanta's 2016 offense. He could grab the reins if Freeman misses time.

2016 Vegas Win Total

Last year's Falcons roared out of the gate with a 6-1 start before losing seven of their final nine games. With expectations down, Atlanta's Win Total sits at seven games. Defensively, the Falcons lack imposing pass rushers and run defense personnel, and may start three rookies in the back seven. Their schedule is worrisome, most notably a stretch from Weeks 3-8 taking on the Saints at the Superdome, Carolina, Denver and Seattle on the road, San Diego, and Green Bay. The Falcons are favored in just three of their first 15 games. Atlanta's roster is perhaps slightly better than that of a six-win team, but there are too many obstacles to safely project them with more than six or seven victories. I'm leaning toward the under on 7.0.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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