As fantasy football players around the country begin to formulate plans for their league drafts the Atlanta Falcons remain a team with players that could be valuable in points per reception leagues.
On paper, the Falcons’ offense has been a dangerous one for the better part of the last few seasons. The unit has been piloted by Matt Ryan since 2008.
Ryan reached a different level of production in 2016. He earned a Most Valuable Player trophy that season. Ryan tossed 38 touchdowns and threw for 4,944 yards.
Ryan has been steady in the three seasons since. His yardage has remained similar throwing for 4,095 yards in 2017, 4,924 yards in 2018 and 4,466 in 2019. Ryan’s touchdowns have fluctuated going from 38 to 20 between 2016 and 2017. Ryan rebounded and threw 35 scores in 2018 and 26 in 2019.
The number of times Ryan was sacked in each of those seasons went up from the 37 times he was sacked in 2016 each year except in 2017 where Ryan was sacked just 24 times.
In 2018 and 2019 combined, Ryan was sacked 90 times.
Ryan acts as the gatekeeper to the potential of the Falcons’ lead skill players. Ryan himself is still ranked in the top 100 overall fantasy players by ESPN’s Matthew Berry. Ryan came in the initial rankings at 91st overall. Ryan outperformed that rating last season despite being sacked a career high 48 times in 2019.
The Falcons’ quarterback was 21st in the league in points at 267.34. That ranked him the 10th most valuable quarterback.
The Falcons have added Todd Gurley to potentially help Ryan not have to throw the ball as much. In turn, his yardage and sheer number of completions could take a hit, but it sets Ryan up to potentially make more meaningful throws in the redzone with Hayden Hurst in the fold and potentially opens up more big strikes in the passing game.
Two other Falcons made the cut in Berry’s top-100 overall. Julio Jones was ranked 13th overall and Gurley came in at 39th.
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Both Gurley and Jones were ranked higher in Berry’s rankings than they finished last season. That works as a combination. They’ll be playing with one another this season. Gurley’s knee issues have been well-documented and his carries have dropped the last three seasons and likely will again in 2020.
Defending an offense with a rested Gurley, worrying about Jones’ big-play threat with other weapons around them, and an improved sense of balance make both Jones and Gurley valuable fantasy targets. As they’re touches may decrease, their big plays and touchdowns have more upside than in years past.
There are three Falcons who were outside the top-100 that could be solid starters or valuable fill ins in most leagues.
Calvin Ridley is ranked as the No. 22 receiver in Berry’s wide receiver rankings. Returning slot receiver Russell Gage wasn’t ranked in the top 70 despite being 70 overall in points per game in 2019 with 98.80 points per game. The addition of Laquon Treadwell brings Gage’s snap count into question. There could be some competition in training camp to clear Gage’s status as the Falcons’ number three receiver.
Drafting Gage and stashing him could prove valuable should Ridley has another injury or should father time catch up to Jones.
Hayden Hurst is No. 17 in Berry’s tight end rankings. Former Atlanta tight end Austin Hooper was ninth.
Hurst could very well replace Hooper’s production from last season, but his real upside comes in the big play potential and the redzone touchdown upside he possesses. Hurst is a bigger, faster option at tight end for the Falcons. Though he may have days where he turns into the safety dump off, Hurst has some juice to stretch the field vertically with 4.68 speed.
The Falcons’ assumed complement at running back to Gurley, Ito Smith, is returning from a neck injury that kept him out of nine games last season.
Smith could be due to breakout as a change-of-pace back as he enters his third season. Now grouped with Gurley, Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill, Smith fantasy owners should obviously expect a time share, but also added value as a receiving back. Smith caught 27 passes in 2018 while splitting time with Tevin Coleman as a rookie.
Smith will most definitely be more valuable in a points per reception (PPR) leagues. He was ranked as the No. 60 running back by Berry for PPR leagues in 2020. Given the uncertainty of Gurley's long-term health status, Smith might be a nice sleeper play, or the natural handcuff to a Gurley owner.