2022 Atlanta Falcons Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
The Atlanta Falcons had a competitive run with Matt Ryan at quarterback for 14 seasons. After four losing years, while being a nine-iron away from the cellar in the NFL, the Falcons start their rebuild in 2022. Marcus Mariota gets his second chance to run an offense after holding a clipboard over the previous three seasons. If he struggles, Desmond Ridder will be the next man up behind center. TE Kyle Pitts has stud upside, while Atlanta brought in two new wideouts (Drake London and Bryan Edwards) to climb the offensive mountain. At the same time, the running back position is in flux, with multiple players expected to compete for snaps. Tyler Allgeier is their top runner added in this year's draft class. The Falcons also have plenty of help to push up the defensive rankings.
Over the past decade, Atlanta consistently finished in the top-tier in the league in passing attempts. Their rushing attack hasn't been relative for multiple seasons. The Falcons' coaching staff returns in 2022, pointing to a more balanced attack while also being influenced by game score in many matchups.
The running backs in Atlanta gained fewer than 3.90 yards per rush in each of the past three seasons while producing a tight range of touchdowns (9, 12, and 9). The change of coaching staff and a new role for Cordarrelle Patterson led to the Falcons using their backs more in the passing game (110/896/6 on 145 targets) in 2021.
The wide receiver goldmine hit a cliff in 2021 once Calvin Ridley mysteriously left the team. Atlanta had almost a 50% drop in receiving yards (1,736) in 2021, with three-year lows in catches (159), yards per catch (10.9), and touchdowns (9). The days of the Falcons throwing the ball well over 600 times look to be over.
The drop off in wide receiver chances shifted to their tight ends last season, thanks to the addition of Kyle Pitts. They finished with 108 catches for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns on 158 targets. The Falcons' top receiving option this year will be Pitts.
The Falcons named Arthur Smith as their new head coach in 2021. He ran Tennessee's offense in 2019 and 2020 while working in their system since 2011. Smith went 7-10 in his first season while being outscored by 146 points.
Dave Ragone returns for a second season to run Atlanta's offensive. He worked in the Titans' system from 2011 to 2013 as their wide receiver and quarterbacks coach with Arthur Smith. Ragone coached in the NFL for 10 seasons, with most of his experience coming as a quarterbacks coach.
Atlanta dropped to 29th in offensive yards after having a top-eight offense in yards from 2014 to 2019. In addition, they slipped to 26th in points scored (313), 83 points fewer than 2020 (396).
The Falcons added Dean Pees to be their defensive coordinator in 2021. He has had a long successful career on the defensive side of the ball for the Patriots and Ravens from 2004 to 2017, leading to two Super Bowl wins (2004 and 2012). Pees ran Tennessee's defense in 2018 and 2019 before announcing his retirement. He has 13 seasons of experience as a defensive coordinator.
Their defense finished 26th in yards allowed while giving up 459 points (29th). Atlanta ranks 20th or below eight times over the past 10 seasons in yards allowed.
Atlanta lost two top players (LB Foyesade Oluokun and WR Russell Gage) to free agency, plus LB Josh Harris, TE Hayden Hurst, and DE Dante Fowler. The only two signings of value were QB Marcus Mariota and CB Casey Heyward.
With eight players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Falcons invested in five players for their offense (WR Drake London – 1.8, QB Desmond Ridder – 3.10, RB Tyler Allgeier – 5.8, G Justin Shaffer – 6.11, and TE John Fitzpatrick – 6.35). In addition, Atlanta added a pair of pass rushers (Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone) and LB Troy Anderson to their defense.
The Falcons ended last year with the second-lowest total in rushing yards (1,451) with 11 touchdowns and 11 runs over 20 yards. Ball carriers gained 3.7 yards per rush for the second year in a row.
Atlanta dropped to 16th in passing yards (3,987) with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 40 sacks. They gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt with 44 catches over 20 yards.
Their offensive line had two missed games by their top five starting options last season. The Falcons graded well in the run game up the middle, but LT Jake Matthews struggled in this area. Atlanta had pass-blocking concerns at three positions. With more experience and chemistry, this group should improve to be slightly better than the league average in all areas in 2022.
Atlanta fell to 27th in rushing yards allowed (2,242) with 19 touchdowns and seven runs over 20 yards. Their regression came from offenses attempting 30.5 rushes per game while gaining 4.3 yards per carry.
The Falcons improved to 18th in passing yards allowed (3,952) with 31 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. Quarterbacks gained 7.1 yards per pass attempt with 51 completion over 20 yards. Their defense had a league-low 18 sacks.
The cornerback position should be in good hands with A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, and Casey Hayward, but they have weaknesses at the safety position. Atlanta lacks talent on their defensive line to rush the quarterback or even shut down the run. Any success stopping offenses on the ground or pressuring the quarterback will come from their linebackers.
The Falcons desperately need more sacks to help close the passing window by quarterbacks. They will rank below the league average in all areas again in 2022 with minimal fantasy value.
QB Marcus Mariota, ATL - Sleeper (undervalued)
The Titans selected Mariota with the second overall pick in 2015. He went 27-28 over the next four seasons, with one playoff appearance (2017). Mariota gained 3,875 combined yards in his best season (2016), with 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His yards per pass attempt (7.5) graded with Tennessee while also offering help as a runner (242/1,399/11). Over the last two years, he had a backup role for the Raiders (18-for-30 for 405 combined yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Fantasy outlook: In the Fantasy Football World Championship. Mariota is the 30th-ranked quarterback as fantasy drafters wait to see if he earns the starting gig. His ability to help in the run game helps his floor, and Mariota has two developing receiving options (Drake London and Kyle Pitts). For now, only a matchup option if the Falcons' offense shows a pulse early in the season. I'll keep an open mind as Mariota has the talent to be much better in his second dance in the NFL.
QB Desmond Ridder, ATL - Dynasty Only
Ridder was a four-year starter in college who relied on his legs to make many plays (501/2,180/28). Last year he helped Cincinnati to an undefeated regular season (13-0) before bowing out to Alabama in the BCS Championship Series. He had growth in the passing game (3,334 yards with 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions) while finishing with a step back in rushing production (110/355/6 – 3.2 yards per carry). Over his final three seasons, Ridder went 33-4, with three of his losses coming against Ohio State, Georgia, and Alabama.
His movements in the pocket and the run game have similarities to DeSean Watson, but Ridder doesn't have the arm strength or accuracy in the deep passing game. He wants to throw first while having the speed and running ability to make chunk plays if Ridder sees an opening at the line of scrimmage. When in rhythm, he'll make quick decisions over the short areas of the field. Cincinnati lined him up in the shotgun on most plays while using their back more at a safety outlet in the passing game rather than a play-action run threat. When asked to challenge a defense downfield, Ridder chose air over arm strength, which may be a problem in the NFL.
Fantasy outlook: Ridder can help the Falcons win, and his style of play falls in line with the addition of Marcus Mariota. His ability to run and throw the ball improves Atlanta's scoring ability in the red zone. He projects as their backup early in 2022, but Ridder could jump to starting status quickly if Mariota falters or losses pile up early in the year.
Other Options: Feleipe Franks
RB Cordarrelle Patterson, ATL - Quality Backup
From 2018 to 2020, the Patriots and Bears gave Patterson a chance to prove his worth in the run game. He gained 563 yards on 123 carries with two rushing touchdowns while also adding 53 catches for 462 yards and three touchdowns.
Atlanta handed him their lead running back job last season, leading to 1,166 combined yards with 11 touchdowns and 52 catches on 205 touches. Patterson finished ninth in running back scoring (234.70) in PPR formats despite his season-ending with four minimal games (4.30, 8.40, 7.20, and 2.20 fantasy points), with the only hint of an injury (ankle) coming in mid-November.
His edge came in the passing game (38/459/5 on 47 targets) over his first eight matchups, highlighted by his exceptional 12.1 yards per catch. Patterson gained only 3.8 yards on his 73 carries for 278 yards and two scores over this span. The Falcons gave him 52 touches from Week 12 to Week 14 (290 yards with three touchdowns and seven catches).
Despite his success, Patterson only had three games with 60% or more of Atlanta's running back snaps.
Fantasy outlook: In the high-stakes market in late June, Patterson is the 35th running back off the table with an ADP of 98, showing that most fantasy drafters don't believe in him repeating. Defenses seemed to catch up with him late in the season in the passing game. At best, he'll work as a change of pace back in the run game with a chance to see the bulk of pass-catching targets on passing downs.
RB Tyler Allgeier, ATL - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Over his last two seasons at BYU, Allgeier gained 3,104 combined yards with 36 touchdowns and 42 catches on 468 touches. However, his explosiveness regressed in 2021 (5.8 yards per carry – 7.5 in 2020) after receiving a workhorse opportunity (276 rushes) in the run game. His value in the passing game improved over the previous two years (14/174 and 28/199).
Allgeier brings size (5'11" and 225 lbs.) to the table, but his game isn't built around power. He runs with vision while lacking fluidness in his runs and acceleration to make defenses pay for their makes at the first level. However, when given daylight in space, Allgeier will take what is given to him. He can succeed with volume of touches, and his value in the passing game should improve with more experience.
Fantasy outlook: Based on the Falcons' running back structure, Atlanta should give Allgeier a reasonable chance to run the ball on early downs. He has an upside of 200 rushes for 850 yards with short scores and some catches. On the flip side, the Falcons don't have a top-tier back standing in his way. As a result, his ADP (183) in the NFFC in June puts him in the flier zone.
RB Qadree Ollison, DAL - Not Draft Worthy
Ollison is a power runner who can break tackles, but his open-field ability looks limited along with his vision. He has a smash factor with sneaky speed that takes multiple steps to get wound up. More reps would help his ability to see run blocking unfold along with a balance of patience and acceleration. I don't expect much in the passing game with some risk in pass protection.
He gained only 50 yards on the ground with four touchdowns on 22 rushes in his rookie season. Ollison only had one carry for three yards in 2020 while being inactive for 13 games. He saw his only action (21/105/1 with four catches for 12 yards) over the second half of last year.
Fantasy outlook: Ollison should compete for early-down touches this year while also having a chance of not making the team. In his best season in college, he gained 1,279 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 catches.
Other Options: Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams
RB Damien Williams, ATL - Deep-league Only
Williams missed the whole 2022 season with concerns about Covid-19. Last year he struggled to get on the field over the first seven games for the Bears, resulting in only 203 combined yards with two touchdowns and 11 catches on 48 targets. Unfortunately, a calf issue cost him three games and a chance to fill in for David Montgomery. When the season ended, Williams slipped to RB3 status in the Bears' offense with emptiness over his final five contests (64 yards with five catches on eight touches).
Fantasy outlook: He flashed over a couple of seasons for the Chiefs while never earning a full-time starting job. Williams is more of veteran insurance with some value in the passing game.