2020 Atlanta Falcons Team Outlook: Identifying Fantasy's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Falcons
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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.
The data shows the strength of schedule as far as 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 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.
2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Falcons will have tough sledding running the ball in 2020 in four division games – New Orleans (2) and Tampa (2), while also three other below-par matchups (DAL, CHI, and LV). Their best chance for success on the ground should come against the Panthers in two games.
Atlanta has a slightly favorable schedule for their passing offense. They have three upside matchups (DET and TB X 2) plus two winnable contests against Seattle and Las Vegas. Their most challenging test will come against the Chargers, followed by four other mid-tier games (DAL, CHI, DEN, and KC).
Last year Atlanta threw the ball 65.5 percent of the time thanks to a dismal rushing offense and losing many games. They had a similar run/pass split (36:64) in 2018.
For the Falcons to win more games, they need to control the clock with the run game and improve defensively. The tools are there offensively to score while also having upside and strength on the offensive line.
Here’s a look at the early projections for the Falcons, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:
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.
Other options: Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert, Danny Etling
Last year the Falcons’ RBs gained only 3.8 yards per rush and under 7.0 yards per catch for the second straight season. Over the past three seasons, their running backs averaged 14.3 touchdowns per year. In 2017, Atlanta featured the running back position more in their offense (2,356 combined yards with 16 TDs and 67 catches).
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.
Over his first two years in the league, Smith failed to make an impact in any game. He’s gained only 3.8 yards per rush and 6.3 yards per catch while only receiving over ten touches in five of his 21 contests.
Smith missed the final nine games of 2019 with neck and concussion issues.
Only a low-level handcuff at this point in his career even with three productive seasons (5,372 combined yards with 47 TDs and 132 catches on his college resume.
Ollison is a power runner who can break tackles, but his open-field ability is limited along with his vision. Qadree 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.
In his rookie season, Ollison gained only 50 yards on the ground with four TDs on 22 rushes.
Other options: Brian Hill, Craig Reynolds
Over the past two seasons, the Falcons have ranked highly in wide receiver production. In 2019, they ranked 1st in WR catches (273), 3rd in WR receiving yards (3,389), and 1st in WR targets (409). Atlanta did this even with a high number of passes going to tight ends (94/1020/7 on 132 targets).
Jones extended his streak with over 1,375 yards receiving to six seasons while offering only mid-level TDs (6).
His year started with four TDs over three games, but his only other contest with TDs came in Week 15 (13/134/2).
Over his last three seasons, Jones averaged 10.1 targets per game while ranking 7th, 1st, and 2nd in WR targets. His best success came in six contests (5/106/2, 8/128/1, 8/108, 10/152, 13/134/2, and 10/166).
The Falcons will throw the ball with the best of teams in the NFL, creating another top-five WR season for Jones. He is getting older, and most fantasy drafters look for the younger flashier options, but his resume and opportunity sets the stage for another top wide receiver season.
Start the bidding at 95 catches for 1,332 yards and eight TDs. Jones has an ADP of 19 in late June as the fifth wide receiver drafted.
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.
Over three seasons at LSU, Gage managed only 26 catches for 347 and four TDs on 50 targets.
When the Falcons needed someone to step up after injuries to WR Calvin Ridley and TE Austin Hooper, he caught 32 passes for 289 yards and one TD on 48 targets over the final six games. He gained only 9.0 yards per catch. There’s not much to get excited about here.
Atlanta added him to the roster in the sixth round in 2018 to upgrade the coverage on kick returns, where he has a winning resume in college. Gage is athletic with quickness and speed, but he has minimal experience at WR. A tough player with heart who will see time as a deep threat in the passing game as well.
Other options: Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Devin Gray, Laquon Treadwell, Brandon Powell
With attempting a ton of passes last year, their tight ends caught 94 passes for 1,020 yards and seven TDs on 132 targets. The loss of Austin Hooper does point to a regression of TE targets in 2020, which may also hinge on the success/rebound of Todd Gurley in the passing game.
After reinventing his career at a TE, Hurst played well in two seasons at South Carolina (92/1175/5).
Mark Andrews outplayed him over his first two seasons after getting drafted in the first round in 2019.
The Ravens traded him to the Falcons in the offseason to help fill the void of losing Austin Hooper (75/787/6).
Hurst flashed in two games in 2019 (3/73/1 and 4/53/1) despite starting only four games. Over his first 28 games in the NFL, he has 43 catches for 512 yards and three TDs on 62 targets.
Based on potential opportunity, he looks like the right kind of flier as a TE2. Over June, his ADP rose to 120 in the high-stakes market as the 12th tight end drafted. He has a low price of 62 and a high of 326 over 323 drafts since April 27th.
I have Hurst projected for 56 catches for 577 yards and four TDs.
Other options: Jaeden Graham, Khari Lee, Carson Meier, Jared Pinkney, Caleb Repp
In 2016, Koo had success in his senior year at Georgia Southern. He made 19 of 20 field goals while drilling all but one of his 29 extra-point tries.
After a dull showing (3-for-6 in field goals) in 2017 for the Chargers over four games, his next appearance in the NFL didn’t come until Week 10 in 2019. Koo made the best of his opportunity with the Falcons (23-for-26 in FGs and 15-for-16 extra points), leading to a new one-year deal for 2020.
Not a household name with a questionable resume, but he may be steady enough to work his way to a top 12 kicking option. Over six seasons between college and the NFL, Koo only attempted three kicks from over 50 yards (made two).
Last year the Falcons scored 42 touchdowns while creating 40 field goal attempts.
Over the first six games of 2020, Atlanta faced three teams (SEA, MIN, and DAL) that ran the ball last year. They don’t have a bad matchup for their run defense over their final ten contests. The Falcons should have success defending the run in five games (CHI, LAC, KC, and TB X 2) with four of those games coming over the last four weeks.
Their pass defense has a brutal schedule, especially over the final seven games (LAC, KC, NO X 2, and TB X 2). Their other tough matchup comes in Week 2 vs. the Cowboys. Atlanta appears to have three favorable games (CHI, MIN, and DEN), but each of these teams should be improved passing the ball in 2020.
Atlanta bumped up to 15th in the league in rushing yards allowed (1,775) with 13 TDs and 14 runs over 20 yards. They allowed 4.2 yards per rush with 26.3 rushes per game.
The Falcons climbed to 22nd in passing yards allowed (3,918) with 28 TDs and only 12 Ints. QBs gained 7.7 yards per pass attempt with 56 completion over 20 yards. Their defense had only 28 sacks.
DE Takkarist McKinley
McKinley picked up 29 tackles and 3.5 in his third year after getting drafted in the first round in 2017. His game remains unimpressive in rushing defense while needing plenty of work on his tackling ability. He lost his value rushing the quarterback, which led to Atlanta not picking up his fifth-year option for 2021.
McKinley came to the NFL with a high motor and playmaking ability. McKinley has excellent speed (4.59) with an attacking mindset. His negative on his scouting report is his hands, which is a coachable area that will be needed to help McKinley become a better pass rusher.
DE Allen Bailey
Atlanta lacks a second viable option at defensive end. In 2019, Bailey was a spot starter while also seeing time on the inside of the defensive line. His game has more risk than reward while continuing to miss too many tackles. The Falcons hope someone emerges as a better option this year.
DT Grady Jarrett
In his five seasons, Jarrett has improved his value in the pass rush (1, 3, 4, 6, and 7.5 sacks). He set a career-high in tackles (69) in 2019. His run defense has been rock solid over the past three seasons.
DT Tyeler Davison
Davison projects as an early-down run defender with minimal pass rush value. Over the last two seasons, his value in run support has regressed while still being considered an edge.
LB Dante Fowler
After four dull seasons in the NFL after getting drafted in the first round in 2016, Fowler set career-highs in tackles (58), sacks (11.5), and defended passes (6) for the Rams while also scoring his second career touchdown. His run defense was also improved, despite missing too many tackles.
LB Deion Jones
Jones has over 100 tackles in each of his three full seasons in the NFL. In 53 career games, he has 409 tackles, nine INTs, 32 defended passes, and four TDs. His run defense could use some work while still missing many tackles. Jones will give some big plays and TDs in the passing game.
LB Foyesade Oluokun
Oluokun made only seven starts in his rookie season, and three starts in 2019. He did make 153 tackles while failing to make a sack over 32 games of action.
His frame (6’2” and 215 lbs.) projects more as a safety in the NFL. Oluokun has coverage skills with plus speed (4.48) and short-area quickness, but he needs to improve his vision in run support while having risk on double moves if matchup up with elite talent at WR.
CB Isaiah Oliver
Oliver made 16 starts in his second year in the NFL after getting drafted in the second round in 2018. His run defense is league-average while still allowing too many big plays in the passing game.
Oliver doesn't have impact speed (4.5) based on his time at the 2018 NFL Combine in the forty-yard dash. He is at his best in the trail position where he can make up ground when the ball is in the air. His technique off the ball isn't where it needs to be This leads to allowing too much separation out of breaks. Oliver has a willingness to handle wide receivers in press coverage.
CB A.J. Terrell
The Falcons will move Terrell into the starting lineup in his rookie season. His style should work well over the short areas of the field in press coverage while also having the speed to run down speedy wide receivers.
S Damontae Kazee
Atlanta switched Kazee to safety midway through 2019, which led to an improvement in run support. Over the past two seasons, he has 156 tackles, ten Ints, and 13 passes defended. Kazee does miss a high number of tackles, which needs to be corrected to be a factor at safety.
S Keanu Neal
It’s been tough sledding for Neal over the past two seasons. He’s missed 28 of his last 32 games with torn ACL and torn Achilles injuries. Neal has 222 tackles, 14 defended passes, and one Int in his first 30 games in the NFL after being drafted in the first round in 2016. His best value comes in run support.
Team Defense Outlook
The pieces on the defense don’t add up to a contending team in the real football world or the fantasy market. The defensive line lacks playmakers, while the secondary still needs time to develop. Only a follow with a chance to add occasional matchup value if their defense core develops some chemistry.
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