|By Shawn Childs, Monday, August 28, 2023|
2023 Atlanta Falcons Outlook
Arthur Smith took over as the Falcons' head coach in 2021. He ran Tennessee's offense in 2019 and 2020 while working in their system since 2011. Smith went 14-20 over his first two seasons with minimal improvement on either side of the ball.
Dave Ragone returns for a third 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 11 seasons, with most of his experience coming as a quarterbacks coach.
Atlanta climbed to 24th in offensive yards after having a top-eight offense in yards from 2014 to 2019. They finished 15th in points scored (365), 52 points more than 2021 (313).
The Falcons hired Ryan Nielson to be their defensive coordinator in 2022. His coaching career started in 2022 at USC. New Orleans added to their coaching staff in 2017 (defensive line coach), where he worked over the previous six seasons. The Saints bumped him to co-defensive coordinator in 2022.
Their defense slid to 27th in yards allowed while giving up 386 points (23rd – 73 fewer than the previous year). Atlanta ranked 20th or below over the past five seasons in yards allowed.
Atlanta's top two signings in the offseason came on the defensive side of the ball – S Jessie Bates, DT David Onyemata, and LB Kaden Ellis for a combined $120 million. DE Bud Dupree and CB Mike Hughes picked up minimal deals. The Falcons parted ways with LB Rashaan Evans.
They brought in QB Taylor Heinicke for veteran depth. WR Olamide Zaccheaus now resides in Philadelphia. The Falcons replaced him with WR Mack Hollins.
The shining star in the 2023 NFL Draft was RB Bijan Robinson. Atlanta added him eighth overall selection despite finishing third in rushing yards (2,718). He runs with power, vision, and elusiveness to beat a defense all over the field. His pass-catching also looks elite, with another step needed in his pass protection.
The Falcons added a pair of offensive linemen – Matthew Bergeron (2nd) and Jovaughn Gwyn (7th).
Bergeron fits Atlanta's team build due to his expected value in run-blocking. He comes to the NFL with a tackle position tag, but the Falcons have him penciled in to start at left guard. His pass-protection skills should come with development and experience while expecting a shortfall out of the gate. Bergeron has range and technique in his run blocking point to an edge in his rookie year.'
Gwyn falls short of the top guard prospects in size (6'2" and 295 lbs.), but he does project well in the run game, thanks to his edge in strength. His game loses a notch in range, with some questions in pass protection. A move to center is an option to get him in the starting lineup.
Atlanta threw the rest of their draft darts on the defensive side of the ball – DE Zach Harrison, CB Clark Phillips, and S DeMarcco Hellams.
Harrison has yet to develop into an impact pass rusher despite multiple winning qualities in his foundation skill set. He should slow down the run game by stalemating his blocker, but Harrison needs more fire and fight to his game to reach a higher ceiling.
Phillips brings smarts, vision, and playmaking ability to the Falcons' defense. He wants to get his hands on the ball while having more strength than it appears for his size (5/9" and 185 lbs.). His ceiling looks limited if asked to match up with the best receivers in the game, but Phillips should improve Atlanta's defense in slot or nickel coverage.
Hellams will be at his best when moving forward, attacking the run, or covering receivers cutting their pass routes short. He gets tripped up if asked to defend speed over the long field while having the cover skills to handle most tight ends. Hellams lacks the foot speed to make up for a missed step on a double move.
The Falcons ended in 2021 with the second-lowest total in rushing yards (1,451) in the NFL. Over one quick season, they leaped to third in rushing yards (2,718) with 17 touchdowns and 17 runs of 20 yards or more. Atlanta averaged 32.9 carries per game.
Atlanta plummeted to 31st in passing yards (2,927) with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions while gaining 7.0 yards per pass attempt. Their offensive line allowed 37 sacks over 415 pass attempts.
LT Jake Matthews enters his 10th season with the Falcons. He has been an exceptional pass protector over the past five seasons. His run blocking made strides late in 2022, leading to him reaching his highest status since 2017.
LG Matthew Bergeron slides into the starting lineup in his rookie season. He should hit the ground running in the run game while needing work in pass blocking.
C Drew Dalman may not be the long-term answer at center for Atlanta, but he did make 17 starts in 2022. He didn't allow a sack, but defenses could pressure the quarterback up the middle against him. His run blocking was above the league average.
RG Chris Lindstrom improved each year in the NFL after getting drafted 14 overall in 2019. His run blocking was top-shelf last year while rarely getting beat in the pass rush.
RT Kaleb McGary remains a liability in pass protection, but he is improving. Atlanta has elite success running the ball to the right, highlighted by the growth of McGary in his run blocking. The Falcons resigned him for $34.5 million for three seasons this spring.
This offensive line is improving, along with their blocking scheme. The addition of an elite running back points to more success on the ground. Atlanta needs improvement in their quarterback play to become a more rounded offense.
QB Desmond Ridder - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Ridder was a four-year starter in college who relied on his legs to make many plays (501/2,180/28). In 2021, 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 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.
In his rookie season, the Falcons gave him four starts, leading to 764 combined yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His best showing came in Week 18 (233/2).
Fantasy Outlook: Atlanta already named Ridder their starter for 2023. The Falcons have three upside receiving options (Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and Bijan Robinson), but they will rarely throw the ball more than 30 times in a game. Ridder helps his floor with his value in the run game while being on a path to throw the ball about 475 times if he makes 17 starts. He ranks 22nd at quarterback in late June in the high-stakes market. His starting projection should be around 3,500 combined yards and 25 touchdowns (20 passing and five rushing).
Other Options: Taylor Heinicke, Logan Franks, Feleipe Franks
RB Bijan Robinson - Stud (low risk)
Over 31 games at Texas, Robinson gained 4,215 combined yards with 41 touchdowns and 60 catches. The Longhorns gave him 277 touches in 2022, highlighted by his success in the run game (258/1,580/18). His best pass-catching opportunity came in 2021 (26/295/4). Robinson finished last season with three impact games (20/183/3 with one catch for 19 yards, 30/209/1 with two catches for 34 yards, and 25/243/4).
Robinson ran many of his plays out of the shotgun where he showed patience and a counterpuncher's mentality. It's hard to knock him off his feet with arm tackles below the belt. His ability to hesitate in the heat of a tackle leads to surprising plays in tight quarters. Robinson's flow and movements in the passing game project at an elite level. When seeing daylight early, he hits the gas with the wiggles to make defenders miss at the second level of the defense.
Fantasy Outlook: The fantasy world is in tune with the potential of Robinson in his rookie season based on his third ranking at running back in the high-stakes market. A high opportunity in the run game should be a given, even with Atlanta expected to rotate in a second back. His scoring power and value in the passing game are critical components to his final destination in fantasy scoring. In 2021, Desmond Ridder completed 34 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns to his running backs in college while attempting 387 passes. For now, I'll set his bar at 325 touches with 1,800 combined yards, 10 scores, and 50 catches.
RB Tyler Allgeier - Fantasy Handcuff
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 his final 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.
In his rookie season with RB1 snaps for the Falcons, Allgeier gained 1,174 combined yards with four touchdowns and 16 catches on 226 touches. His best value came over his final four starts (70/431/2 with six catches for 52 yards).
Fantasy Outlook: With some quick math based on last year's stats in Atlanta, Allgeier should see about one-third of the running back opportunity. I expect 150 rushes for 700 yards with minimal value in scoring and catches. He projects as an RB4 in 2023 with handcuff value.
Other Options: Cordarrelle Patterson, Caleb Huntley, Carlos Washington
RB Cordarrelle Patterson - Bye Week Fill-in
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 in 2021, 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).
Last year after a fast to the season over four games (368 combined yards with three touchdowns on 62 touches), Patterson missed four weeks with a knee injury. Unfortunately, the progress of Tyler Allgeier led to him working as Atlanta's RB2 for the remainder of the season. He scored more than 10.00 fantasy points in PPR formats in four (18.30, 12.90, 10.10, and 20.40) of his final nine matchups.
Fantasy Outlook: Patterson has the appearance of being the odd man out of the running back rotation after the Falcons drafted Bijan Robinson, but I sense Atlanta will give him chances as their WR3 in 2023. He came to the NFL with a wide receiver position tag. Patterson won't be drafted in many leagues, but he is one injury away from playable stats.
WR Frank Darby - Not Draft Worthy
Over four seasons at Arizona State, Darby caught 67 passes for 1,317 yards and 13 touchdowns on 115 targets. He averaged 19.7 yards per catch while catching 58.2% of his passes. His best output came in 2019 (31/616/8 on 59 targets).
In his rookie season, Darby had one catch for 14 yards while missing some time with calf and shoulder issues. He spent most of 2022 in the Falcons' practice squad, leading to one catch for 15 yards in Week 18.
Other Options: Scotty Miller, KhaDarel Hodge, Penny Hart, Josh Ali
UPDATE: Darby was released and has no fantasy value. Atlanta will go with KhaDarel Hodge and Josh Ali as depth.
WR Drake London - Quality Backup
After a minimal role over his first two seasons at USC (39/567/5 and 33/502/3), London developed into a high-volume receiver in 2021 (88/1,084/7) over eight games. He had a floor of nine catches in seven matchups (12/137, 13/170/2, 10/165, 9/130/1, 16/162/1, 15/171, and 9/81/2). Unfortunately, his season ended in late October due to a broken right ankle.
The connection between London and USC's starting quarterbacks two years ago was impressive. He caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, in the flat, crossing routes, back shoulder fades, and over the top, showcasing a wide range of plays where his game created an edge. He has the look of a tight end playing wide receiver. London wins with size while also being more agile than expected with his feet. He can break some tackles and win many jump balls.
In his rookie season, Atlanta gave him starting snaps in all 17 games. He caught 72 of his 117 targets (61.5%) for 866 yards and four touchdowns. The injury to TE Kyle Pitts helped his opportunity. After three productive games (5/74, 8/86/1, and 3/54/1) out of the gate, London was a losing fantasy play over his next nine games (25/224/2 on 44 targets). The Falcons turned up his targets (48) over his final five games, leading to four productive showings (6/95, 7/70, 7/96, and 6/120). Three of those outcomes came with Desmond Ridder behind center.
Fantasy Outlook: After finishing 29th in wide receiver scoring (181.60) in PPR formats, London looks poised to move to WR2 in 2023. In the early draft season, he is the 21st wideout off the table, putting him on a path to catch 80 balls for 1,000 yards with five to seven touchdowns. On the downside, London will have multiple short games when Atlanta has success running the ball.
WR Mack Hollins - Deep-league Only
Hollins struggled to find a starting gig in the NFL over his first four seasons in the NFL, leading to 56 catches for 750 yards and six touchdowns on 98 targets. Las Vegas awarded him with starting snaps in Week 1 in 2022, and he responded by finishing with their WR2 opportunity (57/730/4 on 94 targets). Hollins posted one impact showing (8/158/1) and six games with double-digit fantasy points (11.60, 12.40, 13.40, 11.20, 16.30, and 14.00) in PPR formats. On the downside, six of his results led to fewer than 5.00 fantasy points.
Fantasy Outlook: In the offseason, the Falcons wanted to add a big play wideout. They signed Hollins to a one-year deal. Unfortunately, his chances will be short in 2023, making him challenging to time in the fantasy market. Atlanta will look for him on play-action passes in games when they run the ball well. Hollins ranked 46th in wide receiver scoring (154.20) last year.
TE Kyle Pitts - Bust (overvalued)
After showing growth in his sophomore season (54/649/5) at Florida, Pitts dominated over eight games (43/770/12) in 2020. His season started with an explosive showing against Mississippi (8/170/4) and ended with three more strong outings (5/99/3, 7/128, and 7/129/1). Then, in early November, he took a nasty hit that led to a concussion and surgery on his nose, costing him a couple of games.
Pitts came to the NFL with a big wide receiver feel while showing the ability to play inside or outside. He ran a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash at the Gators' pro day while also bench-pressing 225 lbs., a mere 22 times. Pitts offers an impact feel to the tight end position when pairing his speed to his already edge in size (6'6" and 245 lbs.). His next area of improvement will come as a blocker, which will come with more bulk and better technique.
Atlanta had Pitts on the field for 72.8% of their plays in 2021. He posted two impact games (9/119/1 and 7/163) with one other matchup (6/102) with over 100 yards receiving. However, over his final 11 contests, the Falcons failed to give him more than seven targets in any game. His catch rate (61.8) came in lower than expected while gaining an impressive 15.1 yards per catch.
Last season, Pitts went down as a fantasy bust based on his output over his 10 games (28/356/2 on 59 targets) and his season-ending right knee injury in Week 11. His only playable stats came in three matchups (5/87, 3/19/1, and 5/80/1). He averaged 5.9 targets, with a dismal catch rate (47.5).
Fantasy Outlook: Pitts had his knee surgery on November 30th, giving him nine full months to recover from his injury. He ranks fifth at tight end in late June with no negative news reported on his progress. With a 68/1,026/1 season staring at drafters, Pitts will be challenging to fade in 2023 if he is discounted. I'm never a fan of draft players coming off significant injuries. In 2021, the Falcons attempted 573 passes, compared to 415 last year (28.6% lower). Based on this, I'm only willing to place a 50/650/3 bet on his early outlook. His projections will rise if Pitts is truly 100% and ready for Week 1.
TE Jonnu Smith - Not Draft Worthy
In the 2021 draft season, Smith drew a higher ADP than TE Hunter Henry in many drafts. Unfortunately, he failed to live up to expectations. After two games, Smith had nine catches for 70 yards on 10 targets. Mac Jones only looked his way 35 times over his final 14 contests, leading to only 19 catches for 224 yards and one score.
Smith has further regression in his stats (27/245 on 38 targets) last year while missing three games with ankle and concussion issues.
Fantasy Outlook: Smith gives the Falcons veteran experience at tight end if Kyle Pitts isn't at full strength when the lights come on in 2023. He has no fantasy value at this point in his career
Other Options: Parker Hesse, John Fitzpatrick, Tucker Fisk
PK Younghoe Koo - Solid/Safe Pick
Over his four seasons with the Falcons, Koo made 90.8% of his 131 field-goal tries with strength from 50 yards or more (20-for-25). He has six missed extra points over his last 117 chances. Last year, Atlanta created 75 scoring chances (38 touchdowns and 37 field goals).
Fantasy Outlook: Koo has the type of leg fantasy teams should desire. The Falcons' offense will stall on many drafts in the red zone, creating many field goal chances. He is the eighth kicker drafted this year.
Atlanta - Not Draft Worthy
Atlanta improved to 23rd in rushing yards allowed (2,214) with 15 touchdowns. Offenses attempted 29.4 rushes per game while gaining 4.4 yards per carry.
The Falcons slipped to 25th in passing yards allowed (3,942) with 26 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Quarterbacks gained 7.3 yards per pass attempt with continued weakness in sacks (21).
DE Calais Campbell will start the season at age 37. He delivered 11 sacks over the past 39 games while working as a rotational player. His run defense remains an asset, even with regression in his tackling. DE Grady Jarrett will pressure the quarterback, but his run defense is moving in the wrong direction. DT David Onyemata posted 43 tackles and five sacks last year for New Orleans. He has a recent history of being an asset in run support.
LB Lorenzo Carter set a career-high in tackles (58) in his first season with the Falcons. He has nine sacks over his last 31 games. LB Arnold Ebiketie failed to make a start in his rookie season after getting drafted in the second round in 2022. His run defense beat the league average while showing flashes in the pass rush. LB Kaden Ellis had a minimal opportunity over his first three years with the Saints. His progression in 2022 (78 tackles and seven sacks) led to him signing for $21.5 million for three seasons. LB Troy Anderson gained experience in his rookie season after getting drafted in the second round in 2022, but he didn't make one start. With no sacks and weakness vs. the run, Anderson has a lot to prove this year. LB Mykal Walker comes off a career-high in tackles (107), but he didn't provide an edge in any area.
CB A.J. Terrell showed growth in coverage in 2021, but he allowed nine touchdowns last year with no interceptions. Terrell continues to miss too many tackles. The Falcons traded for CB Jeff Okudah in April. He is another cornerback who has yet to reach his ceiling due to too many big plays and a missed season due to an Achilles injury. S Jessie Bates can be hit or miss in coverage while showing growth defending the run. S Richie Grant delivered 123 tackles in his second season, but he has yet to reach a league-average level in his play.
The Falcons tried to band-aide their weakness on defense via free agency and a trade, but there isn't an impact player on the roster. They will improve in some areas while needing a missing pass rush to become relevant in the real world and the fantasy market. At best, a matchup defense while being challenging to time.