2020 Atlanta Falcons Outlook
The Atlanta Falcons posted a 7-9 record in each of the last two seasons, which moves Dan Quinn's career record to 43-37. He led Atlanta to a 2016 loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Over his two trips to the postseason, Quinn has a 3-2 record. He has 17 years of experience in the NFL, with three coming as a defensive coordinator. His defense helped Seattle defeat the Broncos in the 2013 Super Bowl.
Atlanta ranked in the top eight in offensive yards in each of the last six seasons, but they have underachieved their success in points scored each year except 2016 (led the league in points scored – 540). In 2019, they finished fifth in offensive yards and 13th in points scored (381).
Dirk Koetter returns to run the offense for the second straight season after losing the head coaching job from Tampa. In his three years with the Bucs, he went 19-29 with no playoff appearances. Koetter has ten seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator (Jaguars – 6, Falcons – 3, and Bucs – 1).
In 2019, Dan Quinn ran the defense, which finished 20th in yards allowed (28th in 2018) and 23rd in points allowed (399). Over the last 30 seasons, the Falcons have only had a top ten defense twice (1998 and 2017).
This year Raheem Morris takes over the defense. He's been on Atlanta's defensive staff since 2015 while also working as an assistant head coach. Morris also has ties to Tampa Bay, where he coached for three seasons (17-31). His only season of success came in 2010 (10-6). Morris has 17 years of coaching experience. He was a part of the Buccaneers staff in 2002 when they won the Super Bowl.
In the offseason, the Falcons didn't re-sign RB Devonta Freeman, leading to them adding RB Todd Gurley. The usage and even Gurley's injury remain somewhat of a mystery based on his role in 2019. Gurley brings scoring ability to Atlanta's offense while still owning the talent to make big plays.
After a breakout season by TE Austin Hooper (75/787/6), he moved on to the Browns. The Falcons replaced him with TE Hayden Hurst, a former first-round draft pick (2018).
The defense brought in LB Dante Fowler to upgrade the pass rush. His game has improved over the past two seasons while also being the third overall draft selection in 2015.
Atlanta lost CB Desmond Trufant, DE Vic Beasley, LB De'Vondre Campbell, DE Adrian Clayborn, DT Michael Bennett, S Kemal Ishmael, DT Jack Crawford, S Johnathan Cyprien, CB Jamar Taylor, and DT Ra'Shede Hageman from their defense.
Trufant and Clayborn were the most significant losses.
The Falcons brought in WR Laquon Treadwell after falling to live up to expectations with the Vikings.
G Wes Schweitzer signed with the Redskins. Last year he battled a shoulder injury while also missing some time with a concussion. His game doesn't create an edge in either run or pass blocking, but he did minimize the damage in sacks over the last two seasons.
Atlanta only had six draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. With four of those choices, they invested in players on the defensive side of the ball – CB A.J. Terrell (1st), DE Marlon Davidson (2nd), LB Mykal Walker (4th), and S Jaylinn Hawkins (4th).
Terrell fills the void created by the loss of CB Desmond Trufant. His play gains value in press coverage with a smooth feel in his transition in the backpedal. He gets in trouble when playing off the ball, which enables receivers to break off their routes for easy short catches at times. Terrell should shine over the first ten yards past the line of scrimmage. His speed (4.42 forty) and strength (15 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine) grade well.
Davidson comes to the NFL with an edge-rushing tag, but his frame (6'3" and 303 lbs.) looks like a defensive tackle. His scouting report paints him as a defensive end. Davidson has a lot to prove against the run if asked to play outside on early downs. He has the quickness to win at the point of attack with depth in his pass-rushing moves. Davidson is more of a do your job player than offering impact upside.
Walker doesn't offer an edge in speed (4.65 forty) based on his size (6'3" and 230 lbs.), but he does have play strength (20 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine). Walker showed a three-down ability in college, but his explosiveness isn't where it needs to be to shine consistently at the next level. He understands play development, which helps his timing when moving forward.
Hawkins almost has a dirty feel. He likes to fire on ball carriers and defenseless receivers, which leads to many bad penalties. His best value should come in run support while offenses try to take advantage of his shortfalls in pass coverage. Hawkins lacks technique in pass coverage, and his change of direction quickness is a problem.
In the third round, the Falcons added C Matt Hennessy. His game should work well at the next level in a quick-hitting run game while also showing the ability to shine if asked to block on the move for short-area pass plays. Hennessy plays with strength while being undersized. He needs to improve his finishing power in blocks vs. top defenders and add more bulk to help his anchor.
P Sterling Hofrichter was the addition in the seventh round. He has experience as well in kickoffs while being a backup option for field goals.
After ranking fifth in rushing yards (1,928) in 2016, the Falcons fell to 13th in 2017 (1,847), 27th in 2018 (1,573), and 30th last year (1,361). They gained 3.8 yards per rush with ten TDs and six runs over 20 yards.
Atlanta climbed to 2nd in passing yards (5,049) with 29 TDs and 15 Ints. Their offensive line allowed 50 sacks and 136 QB hits. They gained 7.4 yards per pass attempt with 52 catches over 20 yards.
LT Jake Matthews
Matthews played well in pass protection over the last five seasons, but he still allows a few too many sacks. Last year the Falcons led the NFL in pass attempts (684), which put him pass protection mode for close to 70 percent of his snaps. Matthews tends to be a league-average run blocker. Atlanta drafted him sixth overall in 2014.
LG James Carpenter
Carpenter signed a four-year $21 million contract in March of 2019, which came after having shoulder surgery the previous fall. Last year he missed five games with knee and concussion issues. He is a former first-round draft pick (2011).
Last year Carpenter struggled in all areas, which extends his weakness in play to three seasons. His job is at risk in 2020.
C Alex Mack
Mack was a great fit for the Falcons' offense when he signed in 2016. He is one of the top run-blocking centers in the NFL while offering strength in pass protection. Mack was drafted in the first round by the Browns in 2009.
RG Chris Lindstrom
After drafting Lindstrom in the first round in 2019, the Falcons lost him for 11 games after suffering a broken foot in Week 1. Over his five starts, Lindstrom didn't allow a sack while grading favorably in run blocking.
Lindstrom came to the NFL with athletic ability, which instantly upgrades the run game. He controls a wide area of the field with great agility. He has strength, but he can get in trouble vs. power while handling his job well against speed in the pass rush. Lindstrom needs to get stronger while adding more fire at the point of contact.
RT Kaleb McGary
In his rookie season, McGary ended up being a massive liability in pass protection while also falling short of expectation as a run blocker. He earned game experience by starting 16 games after getting drafted 31st overall in 2019.
McGary projects as a power player, who can get in trouble when moving off his spot. He lacks quickness while losing his foundation when trying to control a defender outside his box. McGary needs to improve his technique to develop into a better player in pass protection. He was expected to be an asset in the run game early in his career.
Offensive Line Outlook
This offensive line has four players with a first-round pedigree. Their run blocking would be helped by a better running back, which may happen if Todd Gurley regains his previous form. Left guard and right tackle are the weakest areas. The Falcons may get some favorable playing time by rookie Matt Hennessy, while McGary has a lot to prove after struggling in his rookie season. Overall, this offensive line has the talent to emerge as a top tier unit in 2020.
QB Matt Ryan, --- - Solid/Safe Pick
Over the last eight seasons, Ryan has consistently ranked in the top tier of the league in completions (over 400 in six years) and passing attempts (six seasons with over 600 passes). His best two years in passing yards and TDs came in 2016 (4,944/38) and 2018 (4,924/35) while lacking follow through the next year.
In 2019, Ryan missed only his third game of 12-year career while playing in an offense that led the NFL in passing attempts (686). He finished with over 4,000 yards passing for the ninth straight season while falling short of expectations in TDs (27).
Over the first six weeks, Ryan passed for over 300 yards in each contest while delivering four productive games (320/3, 304/3, 330/4, and 356/4). He failed to deliver over two TDs in any of his final nine starts, but Ryan did pass for over 300 yards in five other weeks.
The Falcons lost TE Austin Hooper while gaining two talented players back in the passing game – RB Todd Gurley and TE Hayden Hurst. Ryan has a top tier WR (Julio Jones), and WR Calvin Ridley continues to improve.
I set his initial bar at 4,628 combined yards with 28 TDs and 14 Ints. After doing the Falcons' offense team research, I expect him to beat my projections in 2020. His ADP in June is 80 as the eighth quarterback drafted.
RB Todd Gurley, --- - Gamble (high risk)
There was something strange going on in the Gurley neighborhood in 2019. The Rams consistently used him as a decoy in the passing game while failing to commit to him in many contests.
Gurley showed life in touchdowns (14) while finishing his worst year (1,064 combined yards with 31 catches) in the NFL. He failed to rush over 100 yards in any game while gaining fewer than 25 yards receiving in 12 games.
He averaged 16.9 touches per game compared to 22.9 in 2017 and 22.5 in 2018. Gurley regressed in each of the past two seasons in yards per catch (12.3, 9.8, and 6.7).
Gurley finished in the top five of running back routes in each of the last three seasons. In 2019, LA used him as a decoy about 47 percent more than his success in 2017 and almost 34 percent in 2018.
The move to the Falcons will only be a minimal bump in chances (about 18 per game) as Atlanta gave their lead RB about 62 percent of the playing time over the last few seasons.
More of a wild card than a trusted asset with an ADP of 29 in the early draft season. Worth a ride for sure, but limit your exposure due to his underlying injury risk, which will increase playing on the turf.
My early projections came to 1,351 combined yards with ten TDs and 53 catches.
RB Qadree Ollison, PIT - Dynasty Only
RB Ito Smith, --- - Deep-league Only
WR Calvin Ridley, JAX - Solid/Safe Pick
After shining in only two (8/105/1 and 5/88/1) of his first nine games, Ridley started to show a higher floor over his next four games (8/143/1, 6/85/1, 8/91, and 5/76/1). Unfortunately, his season ended three games early with an abdomen injury.
Ridley was on pace for 78 catches for 1,066 yards and nine TDs on 114 targets, making him a top 15 wide receiver in PPR leagues.
The Falcons tend to attempt over 600 passes each year, setting a high floor for their top two WRs. With TE Austin Hooper no longer in the equation, Ridley looks poised to catch over 75 balls for 1,000 yards with the talent to score double-digit TDs.
Fantasy owners price him as the 18th best wide receiver in the early draft season with an ADP of 49.