As the mercury rises and we inch closer to the open of training camps, our resident fantasy football sickos, Brad Evans and Liz Loza, will profile their favorite booms/busts of every NFL team. Today’s topic: The Dirty Birds.
Julio Jones found the end-zone a measly three times last year. OVER or UNDER 8.5 touchdowns this season?
Brad – UNDER. Whether it’s attempting to kick rubber balls or scoring touchdowns, Julio is allergic. There isn’t enough Claritin in Georgia to quell his sniffles. Whether it’s absent chemistry with Matt Ryan or plain bad luck, Jones can’t rid himself of the TD ills. Though OC Steve Sarkisian made it a point to force feed his prized receiver near the goal-line, No. 11 walked away with a comical number of touchdowns in 2017. Again, it wasn’t for a lack of attempts. His red-zone target percentage jumped significantly from 2016 (11.8-to-26.4). He also recorded the fifth-highest end-zone target rate (44.1%, 15 targets) among all wide receivers. But scoring connections were few and far between. Ryan posted a ghastly 35.1 QB rating when throwing to Jones inside the red zone.
Though he’s topped the proposed total only once in his seven-year career, Julio’s three goal-line crosses last season was an anomaly. Even with the addition of Calvin Ridley, he should solicit at least 26 percent of the target share, many of those coming within striking distance. Forecasting 6-8 TDs for him this fall, Jones is a strong candidate to finish inside the WR top-five. Recall, thanks to his 88 receptions for 1,444 yards, he was the virtual game’s WR5 in total fantasy points in ’17.
Liz – UNDER. Not since 2012 has Jones hauled in more than 8 TDs in a season. Under the direction of Kyle Shanahan, Julio averaged .46 scores per game, falling short of the proposed number (14 TDs over 30 regular season games). Last year, under Steve Sarkisian, Julio’s end zone struggles continued. I remember a lot of theoretical pundits ranting about getting Julio more involved in the red area of the field, but when reviewing the data… Sark tried.
Despite drawing 19 red zone targets (an average of 1.2 per game, which was up significantly from .71 per contest in 2016), the 29-year-old wideout managed just three scores. Whether it was a funk brought on by the regime change, or something more complex, the fact still remains that over a seven-year career Jones’ reception and yardage totals have dwarfed his end zone prowess. Expect 6-8 TDs from the Falcons’ stud receiver and consider anything beyond the mark gravy. FF: 85-1,400-7
Liz – PROPERLY VALUED. Freeman has never been the biggest or fastest back in the league, but his vision and patience have more than compensated for any physical shortcomings. While he didn’t post top-eight FF numbers in 2017 – a regression from his previous two outings – he still managed low-end RB1 numbers and 13 goal line carries (#3 among RBs). Averaging 4.4 YPC on the season, the 26-year-old remained efficient, managing 4.8 YPC against base fronts. Earning 4 more carries per game than Tevin Coleman, Freeman will continue as the team’s RB1. He’s currently my RB12, though that would obviously change were he to re-tweak his knee.
PROPERLY VALUED. If Freeman goes down (knee), Coleman will feast, as he did in Weeks 10-12 of last year. Averaging over 20 touches per game, 80 yards per contest, and scoring three times, the Indiana product gifted fantasy owners with two top-ten (and one top-twenty) finishes. The only problem is… he’s still Atlanta’s back-up. But with Taylor Gabriel in Chicago, Coleman’s work in the passing game is expected to increase, which certainly adds to his appeal in PPR-friendly formats. A top-twenty FF producer in back-to-back season, Coleman’s upside is healthy enough to warrant a sixth-round investment.
Brad – UNDERVALUED. If Freeman were a TV show he would be “Ozark.” Though it doesn’t generate the publicity blockbusters “Game of Thrones” or “Westworld” do, the Jason Bateman joint is brilliant and consistently enrapturing. Same could be said for the Falcons running back.
Compared to the likes of Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette or Melvin Gordon, Freeman doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves. Over the past three seasons no rusher accumulated more fantasy points in .5 or full PPR. Still, somehow, he’s falling into the latter portion of Round 2 in 12-team exercises. Off a 2017 campaign in which he finished top-12 in total breakaway runs (15+ yards), total evaded tackles, yards per carry against base fronts (4.8) and fantasy points per game, he exhibits one of the safest floors. Despite the inexplicable drop-off in receptions (Thanks, Sark) and concussion worries, Freeman remains a sensational value at his current ADP. On roughly 55-60 percent of the opportunity share look for him to again rack around 1,300 combined yards with double-digit scores working behind a top-five run-blocking line.
UNDERVALUED. Coleman remains one of fantasy’s finest RB sidekicks; “The Anvil” to “The Hitman.” His upright running style frightens many, but he’s a lightning bolt in the open field, a sure-handed receiver and robust between the tackles (3.0 YAC/att in ’17). He’s finished RB19 and RB22 in .5 PPR the last two seasons. Sark’s refusal to dial up designed pass plays to RBs has spooked many, but Coleman, like his tag-team partner, is unfairly discounted. His surroundings are quite nurturing. Another RB25 finish or better is likely.
By his perceived value, will Calvin Ridley (140.8 ADP, WR56) BOOM or BUST in his rookie season?
Brad – BUST. Hate to break it to some in attendance, but Ridley probably isn’t this year’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. Full disclosure, he carved up defenses with balletic footwork in a conservative offense last season with Alabama. According to Matt Harmon’s info-rich Reception Perception metrics, the wideout notched an 80 percent or better success rate on nine of 10 tracked routes. He also tallied a 91.1 percent success rate against zone coverage, an astonishing feat.
However, Ridley is far from a sure thing. He owns cartoonish wheels (4.43-40 yard dash), but his lackluster SPARQ score (31st percentile) and svelte build (6-foot-1, 189 pounds) raise questions about how he’ll handle stiff press coverage. Then there’s the opportunity path. Unless Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu are felled by a substantial injury, he’ll struggle to attract Ryan’s attention. Recall Taylor Gabriel, the role he’s filling, recorded 9.9 percent of the target share in 2017. At the end of the day, a Ridley line in range of 40-475-4 is most likely in Year 1.
Liz – BUST. I fully understand the hype. Ridley, undoubtedly, landed in a plus situation. Not only will he share the field with Julio, but he also has a shot at becoming the team’s No. 2 WR. Mohamed Sanu is entering his age 29 season and has battled a host of nagging injuries (groin, hamstring, knee, etc.) since landing in Atlanta. It’s additionally encouraging that Ridley, who was used primarily in the slot in college, took reps on the outside during OTAs.
Still, he’s a rookie, and evolution takes time. I dig his long-term potential, but this is a guy who disappointed under the bright lights of the Combine. I’m not taking him ahead of proven guys like Michael Crabtree or potential breakouts like Mike Williams.
BONUS – Fill in the blank. Matt Ryan throws for ____ yards and ____ TDs finishing ____ among fantasy QBs.
Liz – 4,285 yards and 26 TDs, QB12. Drafting Matt Ryan has always been a floor play. Since gaining Julio as a weapon, Matty Ice has produced QB1 numbers six of the last eight years. 2016 proved to be the only season Ryan finished among the top-five fantasy players at the position. A season removed from a crushing Super Bowl loss, and with another summer adjusting to Sarkisian’s offense, Ryan should improve on his 2017 just enough to finish a low-end QB1.
Brad – 4,276 yards; 24 TDs; QB18. Unless he reclaims the pinpoint accuracy exhibited in 2016, he’s only an occasional plug ‘n play stream option in 12-team, single-QB leagues.
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