The Atlanta Falcons entered the 2018 season with a lot of hope. To end 2017, the Falcons went 10–6 and made the playoffs, which included a surprise win in Los Angeles over the Rams in the Wild Card round. With the Super Bowl in Atlanta in 2019, the Falcons hoped to make a run at being the first team to host the Super Bowl in their own building while playing — the ultimate home field advantage. Instead, they watched as the Rams made it to the big game and flopped against the Patriots.
The Falcons never got it going in 2018. They started the season a woeful 1–4, rallied to be 4–4 and then lost five straight games to snuff out any hope. After starting 4–9, the Falcons won three straight to close the season and ended as the second place team in the NFC South. But they were well out of the playoff race, and well away from their overall goal.
Can they turn it around in 2019?
The Steve Sarkisian experiment is over. After two seasons, the last of which saw the uneven Atlanta offense falter, Sarkisian was handed his walking papers. In a spot of good news for Falcons fans, that paved the way for the return of Dirk Koetter, who returns to be offensive coordinator in Atlanta, a spot he held from 2012–2014 before going to the Bucs for four years. And Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan will be happy to see him. Ryan made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2014 under Koetter, with more than 600 pass attempts in each of those three seasons.
Ryan should also be pumped that the Falcons invested in the offensive line this off-season, seeing the unit as a weakness that held the team back in 2018. That included free agent deals for guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, and spending a pair of first round picks on offensive lineman. The Falcons selected guard Chris Lindstrom out of Boston College with the 14th overall pick and added Washington tackle Kaleb McGary with the 31st pick. The emphasis on the line means the Falcons are invested in helping keep Ryan upright and opening lanes for the Falcons’ running backs.
It was a mostly quiet off-season for the Falcons, who made very few splashes in the open market. The biggest off-season move was seeing Tevin Coleman depart for the 49ers. While the Falcons added veteran back Kenjon Barner, it’s likely that Coleman’s replacement on the field will come in house as they hope for good production from Ito Smith and better health for Devonta Freeman.
The investment in the offensive line — both in free agency and the draft — is good news for fantasy owners. Even with a poor line in 2018, Ryan was one of the best bests. He finished as QB2, throwing for 4,924 yards and 35 TDs on 608 pass attempts. He’s also been one of the most durable QBs in the league, starting 16 games in each season since 2010 and missing only two games in his career since being drafted prior to the 2008 season. In three previous years with Koetter he never had less than 615 pass attempts, so it’s a good bet he’ll be slinging it again, making him an easy pick as a QB1 in 2019.
The biggest question in the Atlanta offense is running back. Last season Coleman played in 16 games, starting 14, and ran for 800 yards and four TDs, catching 32 passes for 276 yards and five TDs. But he’s now gone to San Francisco. The Falcons felt comfortable letting him go because they hope to have Freeman back at full strength. Freeman was a fantasy bust in 2018, playing in just two games and rushing just 14 times for 68 yards, catching five passes for 23 yards. But he’s currently going as RB15 in drafts, meaning folks are expecting him to return to form and spending up to take him as an RB2. In 2017, when he played and started 14 games, Freeman produced 865 rushing yards and seven TDs. He also caught 32 passes for 317 yards and was RB13 in PPR. That year Coleman was also RB 22, which gives hope that Smith could produce results in a complimentary role at a reduced draft price. In 2018, Smith rushed for 315 yards and four TDs on just 90 carries, grabbing 27 passes for 152 yards. He figures to get the first crack at meaningful work behind Freeman in 2019.
While running back might be a question, there’s no doubt that the top of the pecking order for the Falcons’ receiving corps is a good bet. And that top spot goes to Julio Jones, who was WR4 in 2018, grabbing 113 passes for 1,677 yards and eight TDs. He figures to be a Top 10 WR again in 2019. Also rising up the charts is Calvin Ridley. Ridley was WR22 as a rookie, exploding at times, and his current ADP of WR22 in 2019 suggests folks are expecting a big second year from Ridley opposite Jones. Mo Sanu, WR31 a year ago, is a good depth receiver grab late, too. He’ll be a nice bye week or injury option, especially as he’s currently going as WR70 and won’t cost much in drafts. Finally, the Falcons have TE Austin Hooper, who produced TE6 numbers in 2018 and is currently going as TE11. That gives value as you’re looking for a mid-to-late round TE option.
The Falcons have plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball and arguably did the right things to help themselves this off-season by returning to Koetter and investing in the offensive line. The team wasn’t that far off from the playoffs in 2018, and was in the playoffs in 2016 and 2017. With another solid year of production on offense and good work on defense they should be right in the Wild Card mix again in 2019.
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