Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Atlanta Falcons Buying Guide

With training camp here, TFG fantasy expert Pat Fitzmaurice is breaking down the prospects for all 32 teams. Click here  for a running list of teams, and check back often as teams are added on an almost daily basis. On to the Atlanta Falcons…


My friend Matt Kelley of (@Fantasy_Mansion) recently said he thinks the Falcons can be “the Chiefs of the NFC,” and I’m inclined to agree.

You owe it to yourself to get a piece of the Atlanta passing game this year. And yes, that’s “passing game” instead of “offense.” When Dirk Koetter was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014, Atlanta ranked seventh, first and third in passing play percentage. And as T.J. Hernandez of (@TJHernandez) noted, Atlanta finished either first or second in neutral-script passing rate over that span. The Falcons have one of the better pure passers in the league at quarterback, quite possibly the best 1-2 wide receiver punch in the league, a quality tight end and two nimble running backs with good hands. They also selected two offensive linemen in the first round of this year’s draft, both of whom are considered skillful pass protectors. Atlanta most definitely has the personnel to accommodate a pass-heavy scheme.

Figuring out a Matt Ryan strategy in fantasy drafts the last couple of years has been pretty easy. You can take Ryan’s yardage numbers to the bank every year – just pencil him in for about 4,100 to 4,700 passing yards. But Ryan’s TD totals have oscillated wildly the last few seasons. After consistently being in the upper 20s early this decade, Ryan plunged to 21 in 2015, surged to 38 in 2016, cratered to 20 in 2017, then rebounded to 35 last year. Ryan’s preseason ADPs rose and fall with the previous year’s TD totals, so the easy strategy was to fade Ryan after a TD spike and buy him after a TD crash.

Except you can’t fade Ryan after last year’s spike. A TD count in the mid to upper 30s might be the new norm for Ryan now that he’s playing with such an outrageously good WR combo. The 34-year-old Ryan probably won’t be able to match his QB2 fantasy finish from last year, since Atlanta’s injury-riddled defense broke down so often in 2018 and turned most games into shootouts. Even if Ryan averages 3-4 fewer pass attempts per game, the efficiency he should have in this loaded offense would likely make him a top-10 fantasy quarterback.

The only reason my ranking of Ryan is a spot behind his average draft position is because I’m such a Russell Wilson loyalist. Go ahead and buy Ryan at cost. You aren’t apt to be disappointed.

If you’ve ever seen the Bravo show “Top Chef,” you know that many of the competing chefs struggle when asked to make a dessert. You’d think that baking would be easy for these culinary stars since the process is similar to cooking: Take complementary ingredients, blend them in an interesting and appealing way, introduce heat and – voilà. Yet seemingly every season, a gifted chef gets bounced for botching a dessert.

For Chef Julio Jones, cooking up receptions and yardage is no problem. Between the 20-yard lines, he’s Ferran Adrià or Grant Achatz. But touchdowns are the dessert, and that’s where Julio’s chocolate soufflé often collapses. Over the last five years Jones has finished no lower than third in receiving yardage, and only once has he finished out of the top 10 in receptions. But somehow, in 77 regular-season games over that span, and with 524 receptions, Jones scored just 32 touchdowns.

Last year, in Weeks 1-7, Julio over-torched his crème brûlée and frosted his cupcakes before they’d sufficiently cooled. He was stuck on zero TDs. But then he got his TD mojo back, scoring eight times over the final nine games, and his fantasy owners were baklava’n it.

Julio’s ADP is WR4. If he consistently churned out double-digit TD totals, he’d be the consensus WR1 this year. Hey, it’s always nice to cap off a memorable fine-dining experience with a sweet little bite of something, but if all the other courses are amazing, I’m good with a cheese plate and a glass of port.

Calvin Ridley had a pretty remarkable rookie season when you consider the long shadow that Julio casts. Ridley had six TD catches over a three-game stretch in September and finished with 10 touchdowns. He also had 64 catches for 821 yards and a catch rate just shy of 70%.

Ridley is due for some TD slippage, and it might be hard for him to significantly boost his reception and yardage totals with Julio around. But this kid’s route-running artistry is already pretty special. If the Falcons keep the foot on the gas with passing volume, and if the TD count doesn’t regresstooseverely, Ridley could flirt with 1,000 yards and finish as a mid-range WR2. And if anything were to happen to Julio, Ridley could crank out WR1 numbers. He’s fairly appealing if you can get him at a high-end WR3 cost.

Mohamed Sanu is a solid, lunch-pail professional, and man, he throws a nice spiral for a wide receiver when the occasion calls for it. But with two highly skilled University of Alabama products hogging the spotlight, Sanu’s fantasy value is being carried out to sea with the Crimson Tide.

Austin Hooper’s third season was his best to date, with 71 catches for 660 yards and four touchdowns. It could have been even better if he hadn’t gingerly limped down the home stretch with knee and ankle injuries. Hooper has found his niche in a high-powered offense, but he’s averaged 9.9 yards per catch over the last two years and has 10 touchdowns in 46 career games. It’s not hard to envision a modest increase in the TD total, but Hooper probably maxed out on receptions and yardage last year, because it’s hard to see room for growth with Jones and Ridley around. Still, he’s a worthwhile TE option if you prefer not to get spendy at the position.

Devonta Freeman led all running backs in fantasy scoring in 2015, finished sixth in 2016, and managed to finish 13th in 2017 despite missing two games. Last year, he sprained his knee in the Thursday-night season opener, didn’t return until Week 5, then promptly injured his foot and groin and missed the rest of the season.

Freeman is 27 going on 38. He’s had multiple concussions, multiple sprains of his knee ligaments, core muscle surgery and last year’s foot injury. Falcons fans might recall that Jamal Anderson rattled off three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, then turned 27 and had injuries derail his career. The scary thing for Freeman is that the injuries have already started coming in waves.

But Freeman is healthy for the moment and has no serious competition for the lead role in this backfield. Tevin Coleman is gone, and no one is going to push Freeman in training camp. Freeman has long been an efficient performer, he’s an effective goal-line runner despite his 5-8, 208-pound frame, and he’s useful in the passing game. But once the injuries start coming for a running back, they usually don’t stop. Don’t let anyone tell you Freeman is a steal at his mid-RB2 price. There’s risk aplenty here.

Ito Smith (5-9, 195) is even slighter of build than Freeman and had a disappointing rookie year. But it’s premature to disbar “The Judge” based on small-sample inefficiency. Sure, the 3.5 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per catch look ugly, but Smith was a monster producer at Southern Mississippi, averaging 1,791 yards from scrimmage and 15.7 touchdowns over his final three college seasons. The Falcons have a terrific overall offense, and Smith is playing behind a starter with an extensive injury history. Look alive here, friends.

Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill could become waiver wire options during the season. Both have the size that Freeman and Smith lack. The 6-1, 228-pound Ollison, a fifth-round draft pick this year, was a between-the-tackles grinder at Pitt who generated little excitement among the draftniks. Hill (6-1, 219) was a fifth-round pick two years ago who’s had trouble getting an NFL foothold, though he did run for 115 yards on only eight carries against the Panthers last December.

Matt Ryan QB7 QB6 QB6 Worthy choice
Devonta Freeman RB18 RB17 RB16 Don’t overpay
Ito Smith RB50 RB45 RB50 Late possibility
Julio Jones WR3 WR4 WR4 Late 1stround
Calvin Ridley WR23 WR25 WR22 Real deal
Mohammed Sanu WR70 WR67 WR72 Third wheel
Austin Hooper TE11 TE11 TE11 Solid option




ADP = Average Draft Position  ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking  (based on half-PPR scoring)