As someone who watched a lot of Atlanta Falcons games last season (I live in Georgia), here are some comments on what I see/expect this coming year:
First, Matt Ryan still looks good, and could easily move into the QB1 discussion IF the team around him improves. Remember 2016? He only had 534 attempts, but he passed for 4944 yards, 38 td’s, and 7 picks. Fast forward to last year: 626 attempts, 4581 yards, 26 td’s and 11 picks. When game scripts put him behind, and he is forced to pass a lot, his efficiency drops noticeably. This isn’t Ryan getting old, it’s the Falcons sucking.
The biggest problem for the Falcons last season was their defense. And it seemed to be the same problem every single week: They would play a good first half and then collapse after halftime. They looked winded by the third quarter every single game. I would call it a conditioning issue, except the Falcons offense still looked ok. No, it was most likely poor halftime adjustments (or lack thereof).
The second biggest problem for the Falcons last season was their running game. Todd Gurley’s tank was running on empty from day 1, and they didn’t have any other decent options. This left Matt Ryan to save the team, and left opposing defenses to play the second half waiting for the pass all day, because by then the Falcons defense had given up enough points for the offense to have to abandon the running game.
The one big positive from last year: K Younghoe Koo. He was money in the bank (37-39, with 8 FG’s made beyond 50+yards), making him the #2 fantasy kicker (behind Miami’s Jason Sanders). I can’t say the Falcons have improved enough to remove Koo from the fantasy radar just yet, so keep him in mind for your kicker this season.
As for the receivers, Calvin Ridley proved he’s a fantasy stud last year, when Julio Jones was going thru his injury-plagued season. In PPR leagues, have no qualms about grabbing Ridley as early as the first round in 12 team leagues. But Calvin is why the falcons had no issue trading Julio this year.
Also, Russell Gage wasn’t bad stepping into the WR2 role in the offense. In mock drafts, I find myself grabbing Gage as a late round steal. Early in 2020, when Julio was out, Gage wasn’t a factor. But looking at the weeks 14-17 period when Julio was out, Gage put on a show, with PPR scores of 18.8, 17.8, 6.3, and 25.2. Isn’t that the kind of production you want from a WR2?
And of course, now there is TE Kyle Pitts. I won’t belabor this as he has been discussed ad nauseum. But he is an instant improvement in this offense. Could new HC Arthur Smith turn Pitts into the TE version of Derrick Henry? No, I am not referring to rushing yards. Smith knows how to take a stud player and build his offense around the stud to peak advantage (see Tennessee Titans last year).
The key for the Falcons will be to maximize their passing production. New RB Mike Davis will not dominate, but he cannot be ignored by defenses either. With Davis keeping defenses honest, and with plenty of weapons for Matt Ryan, expect an improved offense in Atlanta. Their defense is still a question mark, but even if they haven’t improved, that just means their improved offense will have to churn out more production. Atlanta should be on everyone’s fantasy radar this year.