2015 Team Outlook: Atlanta Falcons
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, ATL - Solid/Safe Pick
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Ryan has faded to 13th-highest scoring QB in the league, with fading results in TDs (two in the last two games, plus six Ints in his last three games). This season he has only one game with more than two TDs and three 300-yard passing games. Last year he threw for 528 yards and only one TD in two games vs. the Panthers. Carolina has the second-best QB Fantasy defense in the NFL, with eight teams scoring fewer than 20 Fantasy points (16 passing TDs and 6.2 yards per pass attempt). Real tough matchup with no real upside in TD in the daily games.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/3): Over his last seven games, Ryan has 10 Ints and 10 TDs. On the year, he has three 300-yard passing games, with one game with more than two TDs. In Week 8 he threw for a season high 397 yards and two TDs vs. the Bucs. Tampa grades out as just below league average in QB Fantasy defense, with some improvement in their last four games (244 passing yards and 1.5 TDs per game). Overall, QBs have 23 passing TDs vs. the Bucs, with four teams passing for 300+ yards. This is a big matchup in the NFC South. Ryan's lack of TD production (16 on the year - 1.5 per game) would lead me elsewhere.
Update (11/17): Ryan is a high-volume quarterback. He's throwing the ball just under 40 times for over 300 yards per game. Still, he's only the QB16 this season. For a guy that throws the ball 40 times per game and has Julio Jones at his disposal, that's extremely underwhelming. His issue is finding the end zone. His TD-to-INT ratio is an unimpressive 12-to-7. He's failed to top two TDs in a game this season and has five times thrown one or less.
Over the past three years, Ryan has been an elite QB, completing 64.7 percent of his passes while averaging more than 600 throws, more than 4,600 yards, 28.7 touchdowns and 15 interceptions per season. Matt has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each of the last four seasons and has racked up at least 26 TDs in four of the past five years. Ryan had five 300-yard games and one 400-yarder in 2014. He threw three TDs or more in four games. He has two elite wideouts and does good a good job of getting the ball to his RBs. In 2015, New additions such as tight end Jacob Tamme and running back Tevin Coleman will help this passing attack even more. A better running game will likely boost Ryan's red-zone touchdown count and make Julio Jones and Roddy White more difficult to defend. I don't respect his O-line, but Ryan gets the ball out quickly to keep his sack total below the league average. His overall statistical output will depend on the health of those two star WRs. White turns 34 in November and has struggled with injuries in back-to-back years, and Jones has been chronically bothered by foot issues. The Falcons would love to run the ball more often in order to keep their defense off the field and take some pressure off of Matt's right arm. You can still pencil him in for 4,500-plus yards with an excellent chance of reaching 30 touchdowns. He could be a top-five Fantasy QB if his TD production reaches that level.
Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan
RB Devonta Freeman, BAL - Bust (overvalued)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Freeman has failed to gain 100 yards rushing in his last four starts. His bar remains high due to high value in catches (24 in his last three full games). His last rushing TD came in Week 6. On the year he has four 100-yard rushing games and 11 TDs. The Panthers are league average in RB Fantasy defense. But over their last five games, RBs only have 179 rushing yards (2.7 YPC) against them. Carolina will give up TDs (12) to the RB position with some risk in the passing game (76/594/2). Great talent with high upside in the right matchup. His higher price point and the recent offensive struggles by the Falcons would lead to leaving this impact player on the sidelines for one more week.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Freeman missed last week's game due to a concussion. He is expected to be cleared by the end of week, which would put him in line to play on Sunday. Atlanta hasn't scored a rushing TD in their last five games, but their backs have three receiving TDs over that stretch. Freeman is still the highest scoring RB in PPR leagues (21.13 Fantasy points per game). In Week 8 vs. Tampa he had 131 combined yards with six catches. In his seven full games as the lead back, Freeman has averaged 26.1 touches per game. The Bucs rank 6th in the league in RB Fantasy defense, with no team scoring over 32 Fantasy points from the RB position. Backs gain only 3.5 YPC against them, with only one rushing TD in the last eight games. With Coleman back in the mix and running the ball well, Freeman may lack the desired impact value at this price point.
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.
RB Tevin Coleman, NYJ - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Coleman was real close to being a winning player at the RB position in Week 12. He had his first 100-yard rushing game on 18 carries. He had a TD called back due to a bad play by the Falcons' TE away from the play. Game score led to him having less value in the 4th quarter. With Freeman expected back in Week 13, Coleman will have minimal chances this week.
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 Antone Smith, --- - Low Potential
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Smith has a real short resume of NFL success at age 29. Last year, Antone added big-play ability to this offense. He ran for 144 yards and two scores on 23 rushes and caught 13 passes for 222 yards and three TDs. In his nine games, Smith never had more than six touches in any game. All five of his touchdowns came from at least 38 yards out. A broken leg ended Smith's season in Week 10. He is nothing more than an all-or-nothing speciality player without consistent touches.
WR Julio Jones, TEN - Stud (low risk)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Jones has been quiet in his last two games (5/56 and 8/93), with his last TD coming in Week 8. He has six 100-yard receiving games with six TDs. He has 10 double-digit targets games, leading to 13.2 targets per game. Last season Jones had 10 catches for 117 yards on 19 targets against the Panthers in two games. This week he'll draw Josh Norman on a high percentage of plays, which will limit his upside. I view Julio as the top WR to avoid in Week 14 with an all in push in Week 15.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Ryan struggled to get the ball to Jones last week, which led to one of his lowest games of the year (five catches for 56 yards on seven targets). Jones has failed to score a TD in his last three games, while securing only two TDs in his last eight games. In Week 8 Jones had 12 catches for 162 yards and a TD on 13 targets against Tampa (17 catches for 280 yards and two TDs in two games in 2014 vs. the Bucs as well). He has seven games with nine catches or more and six games with 100 yards or more receiving, while averaging 12.8 targets per game. Jones will have a huge edge again over Tampa's two outside CBs. His recent resume points to impact upside in this matchup. The key for him is higher production in TDs.
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 Justin Hardy, --- - Dynasty Only
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Based on his college resume, Hardy is going to look attractive heading into his rookie year. In his four seasons at East Carolina, Justin caught 387 passes for 4,541 yards and 35 TDs. Over just the last two years, he had 235 catches, 2,778 yards and 18 scores. Hardy will struggle to beat press coverage due to his lack of upper-body strength. He'll have value on underneath crossing routes while finding the soft spots in zone coverage. He separates well from his defenders when he goes deep and then drives back toward the ball. Justin has enough quickness and jumping ability to have value at goal line when facing one-on-one coverage. With Jones and White beside him, Hardy is going to find a lot of open spaces. His style should work well right away as long as he can improve his route-running ability. Justin will also be helped by the accurate Ryan throwing him the ball. For 2015, Hardy has a reasonable chance at accruing 50 catches, 500 yards and a handful of TDs. He won't really be worth starting in Fantasy leagues without an injury to one of the two veteran wideouts.