The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. Next up, the Atlanta Falcons.
Long have the Atlanta Falcons been in the hierarchy of fantasy goodness, and last season contained few complaints. Matt Ryan finished as the second-highest scoring quarterback on Yahoo, Julio Jones ended his touchdown drought with authority, and rookie Calvin Ridley turned a lot of heads. The running game was productive as well, even with the season-ending injury suffered (probably the main complaint) by Devonta Freeman.
With a healthy Freeman returning, just how good can this team be in 2019?
BELIEVE or MAKE-BELIEVE
Devonta Freeman (35.2 ADP, RB18), who is a favorite snack of the injury imp, survives at least a large portion of the season and finishes inside the RB top-20 in .5 PPR.
Brad: MAKE BELIEVE. Plagued by knee, foot and groin setbacks — the latter required surgery — Freeman suited up only twice last year. Missing an additional three contests from 2015-2017, he’s played just one full season in his past four. He’s suffered through more wounds than the Golden State Warriors.
With Tevin Coleman paired once again with Kyle Shanahan, this time in San Francisco, many are beating the Freeman drum with the vim and vigor of Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee. Health questions aside, he should command at least 55-60 percent of the opportunity share, yielding occasional touches to Ito Smith and potentially Brian Hill. Behind a revamped line and given the high-upside potential of Atlanta’s offense, there’s considerable top-20 RB appeal. However, mounting injuries and Koetter’s presumed committee approach temper expectations. He’s my RB21.
Liz: BELIEVE. Returning from numerous injuries, Freeman got on the field during OTAs and is expected to be a full participant during training camp, thus allowing the fantasy community a collective sigh of relief. With Tevin Coleman in San Fran, Freeman figures to resume his role as the team’s undisputed RB1.
Before legitimately sharing the field with Coleman, Freeman averaged over 22 total touches per contest (2015). Once Coleman was able to stay on the field Freeman saw about 16 touches per game. I expect that number to go up slightly in 2019, as Ito Smith is still finding his way in this offense. Regardless, top-twenty in broken-tackle and first down percentage in 2017, Freeman’s fantasy floor is entirely RB2 friendly.
Though mostly underutilized by OC Steve Sarkisian inside the red zone (WR22 in RZ TGT%), Julio Jones (13.4 ADP, WR4) tallied his highest TD total in three seasons in 2018 (8 scores). Now with Dirk Koetter calling the shots, OVER or UNDER 8.5 Julio TDs this fall?
Brad: OVER by a hair. After a heavy dose of Claritin and the occasional force-feeding, Julio’s touchdown allergy last fall wasn’t nearly as snot-ridden when compared to seasons’ past. A mediocre 58 percent overall success rate and No. 22 red-zone percentage ranking didn’t undermine his dominance. His gargantuan 26.1 percent target share, No. 2 total air yards tally and top standing in yards per route run (3.27) are why he once again finished inside the WR top-five. Simply put, volume is king in fantasy and Julio dons a jeweled crown. Recall, even when he scored a dreadful four touchdowns in 2017 he still finished WR9. TDs are fickle and we fantasy folks tend to overrate their impact when it comes to boss hogs like Jones.
Under Koetter’s watch, Julio reached the pinnacle of his scoring prowess in 2012, crossing the chalk 10 times. In fact, over the coach’s first Atlanta tour of duty (2012-2014), Jones enticed 40 red-zone targets in 36 games (1.11/gm). Comparatively, his past three seasons, two with Steve Sarkisian blindly calling the shots, he averaged an unacceptable 0.97 red-zone targets per game.
Final word: Julio is an indisputable luxury wide receiver who’s a threat to challenge DeAndre Hopkins for the position’s top spot. Mark me down for a line in the range of 110-1600-9.
Andy: When I saw that we were discussing Julio’s touchdowns for the zillionth time, I vomited a little. Jones has finished among the top-12 at his position in red-zone opportunities in each of the past two seasons and he’s coming off a year in which he saw 170 total targets. ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY! He’s delivered over 1400 receiving yards in each of the past five seasons. He’s among the most explosive and un-coverable players in the NFL, a guy who can turn any touch into a house call. I’ve never considered him a TD-challenged receiver; no one should be surprised if he reaches double-digit scores. Gimme the OVER.
Koetter, of course, is a familiar face in Atlanta, so there’s no great learning curve ahead for this team’s veteran skill players. He wasn’t a buzzy hire, but it was a smart choice. If you’re gonna pass on Julio because you think he’s somehow bad at touchdowning ... well, you are welcome to play in any of my leagues, friend.
Which fantasy relevant Falcon has the best odds of turning the biggest profit at their current ADP in .5 PPR: Matt Ryan (101.4, QB6), Calvin Ridley (57.6, WR24) or Austin Hooper (92.8, TE11)?
Andy: RIDLEY, no question. He finished as the No. 17 fantasy receiver in standard leagues as a rookie and now we’re drafting him as WR24? I’ll take it. I fully expect his targets to jump in his second season. He won’t need to match last year’s TD total (10) to exceed his first-year fantasy value. I’m fully on board.
Liz: RIDLEY. As discussed on last week’s episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Football Podcast, Ridley’s rookie performance certainly earned the Alabama standout a larger role in 2019. Sure, his TD total is likely to regress, but he’ll definitely command a snap share larger than 65 percent in his sophomore outing. After all, he made Matt Ryan look real good last year, as evidenced by the fact that Matty Ice maintained a QB rating of 129 when targeting Ridley (WR6). Anticipate a breakout.
Best Ball Bargain Bin
Brad: AUSTIN HOOPER. A breakout producer last year who finished TE6 in total fantasy points, Hooper is destined to profit at his 93.2 ADP (TE11). Sure-handed, he ranked No. 1 among all plus-sized targets in catch percentage (80.7). Though TDs were few and far between, he did grab four or more catches in a game nine times. Consistent and showcasing an excellent advanced profile, Hooper is a strong candidate to snag 65-70 receptions for 650-700 yards with 4-6 TDs.
Andy: Yeah, the correct answer here is pretty clearly ITO SMITH. He may not see the entire Tevin Coleman workload, but he’s clearly in line for a huge share — likely with goal-line work included. You want him, and the price will be friendly. In case you’d forgotten, Smith gave us one of the best 7-yard runs you’ll ever see last season. He can play.
Mad Bets (From FanDuel Sportsbook): Atlanta 8.5 wins OVER (-130) or UNDER (+110)
Brad: OVER. Sporting the fourth-toughest schedule according to projected Vegas win totals, Atlanta has a tough row to hoe. Still, the Falcons’ rebuilt line combined with their dynamite options on offense strongly suggests nine or 10 wins are plausible.
Liz: UNDER. The Falcons could easily be a nine or ten win team … IF key pieces on both sides of the ball remain healthy. Of course, that’s true of any team, but there’s no denying the fragility of the Falcons’ roster. In such a high-octane division Atlanta’s defense will need to be equal parts durable and stout.
Both Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal are coming off major injuries and while they’re expected to be ready for training camp setbacks are an obvious concern. Add in question marks surrounding Isaiah Oliver’s ability to become a full-time starter in the stead of Robert Alford and the team’s defense is far from secure. I see the Falcons’ massive potential and want to believe they can fly, but it’s simply not a bet I’m willing to make.
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