USA Today/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Atlanta Falcons 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

With Julio Jones gone, it's all systems go for Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts. Here's a breakdown of the Falcons' roster for fantasy this season.

It has been a long time since the Super Bowl, and remembering exactly how things left off last year can be a challenge. So, I’ll be writing up a fantasy preview for each NFL team to give us a quick refresher on what happened last year, and what changes took place in the offseason. All fantasy stats will be in ESPN scoring format unless otherwise noted.

If I missed any change or left out any big notes, throw them down in the comments for me!

What Did They Do Last Year?

Despite having average offensive and defensive production (16th and 19th points scored/points allowed; 18th and 24th in ONEFF/DNEFF), the Atlanta Falcons went 4-12. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Dan Quinn, who was fired, the Falcons then hired former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. 

Smith brought Dean Pees out of retirement to man the defensive coordinator role, and Dave Ragone will be the offensive coordinator. Smith, though, will be calling the plays. (There is a great writeup here from David Dorey on the Falcons coaching changes.)

Arthur Smith was a big get for Atlanta. After piloting the Titans offensive about face, revitalizing Ryan Tannehill’s career and making Derrick Henry a force the likes of which the NFL hasn’t seen since Earl Campbell moved in to the sausage making game, Smith was the top pick for several teams looking for a new head coach. 

Falcons fans hope Smith can work his magic for an Atlanta side which has had nothing but bad news since their peak in Super Bowl LI (51 for the non-Roman readers). Fantasy fans hope Smith can revitalize Matt Ryan and the running game.

Oh, and the Falcons just traded Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones to the Titans.

Quarterback
OVR
Rank
PlayerGCOMPATTYDSTDINTATTYDSTDFFPFFP/G
12Matt Ryan164076264,581261129922282.417.7
80Matt Schaub1000003-40-0.4-0.4

Matt Ryan put up a lot of yards (4th most) but finished tied for 12th in touchdowns and interceptions. Despite an ok performance from Ryan statistically, the Falcons looked very much like a 4-12 team all season. 

Matt Ryan is currently the QB15, going off the board at the 9.11 spot, just behind Matt Stafford and Deshaun Watson, just ahead of Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield. I think this is a good spot for Ryan as we’ve seen he can excel with superb coaching, but he can be exceptionally mediocre without it.

With Julio traded, we have even more uncertainty around what the Falcon offense will look like under Arthur Smith. In the 7 games without Jones in 2020, Ryan threw for about 50 fewer yards and scored around 4 fewer fantasy points per game (ESPN scoring).

To expect that slight step back to be the exact outcome we’ll see in 2020 would be silly. However, expecting Kyle Pitts to step in and immediately replace a Hall of Famer is folly as well.

Ryan has proven he’s a top-half QB talent who depends heavily on good coaching. This move does little to change my fantasy outlook for Ryan, leaving him as a solid lead QB option in a QB by committee approach. He’s currently our staff’s QB12 for 2021 but my QB18.

Wide Receivers
PPR
Rank
STD RankPlayerGTGTRECYDSTDSTD PTSSTD PTS/GPPR PTSPPR PTS/G
54Calvin Ridley15143901,3749189.512.6279.518.63
3745Russell Gage16110727864103.56.5175.510.97
5251Julio Jones96851771395.110.6146.116.23
115113Olamide Zaccheaus93220274133.43.753.45.93
138134Brandon Powell10181269219.6231.63.16
146153Christian Blake71813141014.1227.13.87
154144Laquon Treadwell47649216.94.222.95.73

Calvin Ridley continued his ascendency to NFL and fantasy greatness in 2020, finishing as the WR3 or WR4 depending on your scoring format. More importantly, Ridley looked dominant on the field both with and without Julio playing alongside him. 

Ridley still has room to grow with a potential play-caller upgrade and Julio no longer on the roster. Ridley averaged about one more fantasy point with Julio out of the lineup in 2020. He saw a little north of 3 more targets, 2 more catches, and about 25 more yards without Jones on the field. He scored fewer touchdowns per game, but we’re talking about a pretty small sample size here.

You’ll have to pay a hefty price for Ridley, currently WR6 at 2.09, but this price tag is imminently reasonable for the former top-4 option who’s situation has, seemingly, drastically improved. Ridley is our WR6 in .5PPR this year.

Quickly, if Jones is healthy for most of 2021, he’ll be a top-10 weekly play. If father time has finally come calling, Julio may once again only be a good play for… half (?) our fantasy matchups.

Running Backs
PPR RankSTD RankPlayerGATTYDSTDTGTRECYDSTDSTD PTSSTD PTS/GPPR PTSPPR PTS/G
2923Todd Gurley15195678934251640138.29.2163.210.88
5153Brian Hill1610046513025199070.44.495.45.96
7174Ito Smith14642681261775040.32.957.34.09
110130Keith Smith1247015115906.60.617.61.47
160159Tony Brooks-James134000000.40.40.40.4
161160Qadree Ollison113000000.30.30.30.3

Despite the appearance of being a complete dumpster fire, Todd Gurley averaged 14.2 points per game in .5PPR from Week 1 to Week 9. For reference, Mike Davis scored 13.5 points per game in his first 9 games without Christian McCaffrey. 

Mike Davis now appears to be the lead back in Atlanta. Should Davis remain the lead back, he is a screaming bargain at 6.11, RB28. Davis is the sort of running back selection that makes zero-RB a viable strategy. He’s ranked as our RB22 this year.

Tight End
PPR
Rank
STD RankPlayerGTGTRECYDSTDSTD PTSSTD PTS/GPPR PTSPPR PTS/G
911Hayden Hurst168756571693.15.8149.19.32
8085Luke Stocker91176306.30.713.31.48
9799Jaeden Graham4532502.50.65.51.38

AND HERE WE GO SPORTS FANS!!

Kyle Pitts was the Falcons’s reward for their embarrassing 4-12 campaign. The big wide-receiver-who-happens-to-play-tight-end is already knocking on the door of the second round in dynasty drafts, and based on sharp drafts and the budding fantasy hype, I’m convinced he’ll end up going no later than the fifth round in most every fantasy draft. At that price, I’ll pass. With the Julio trade, Pitts has climbed to our TE4 this year.

Hayden Hurst is a better real-football option than he is a fantasy play, and I can’t see drafting him in just about any format.

The Schedule

The Falcons have a middle-of-the-road schedule (per Sharpfootballanalysis.com). While they’ll face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice, they’ll also get the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints two times, both of which are pretty big unknowns going into the 2021 campaign. The Falcons have plenty of soft matchups facing the New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Detroit Lions, too. 

What Does It All Mean?!?! (AKA – Bold predictions)

The Falcons are a team to target for 2021. There are plenty of bargains to be had in an offense that is poised for takeoff under Arthur Smith.

_____

Thanks to FFToday.com for hosting such great stats info!

Thanks to TheHuddle.com for their great Coaching Change Tracker