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Fantasy Football Team Previews: Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons have a new running back and tight end, but will much change in 2020?
Does Julio Jones have another elite season ahead of him? (Twitter // @PFF)

2019 Summary

Record: 7-9 (2nd in NFC South)

2019 Offensive Points Per-Game: 23.8 (13th)

2019 Total Defense-adjusted Value Over Average: -5.0% (17th)

Jekyll and Hyde, meet the 2019 Atlanta Falcons. After starting the season an abysmal 1-7, Atlanta emerged from its Week 9 bye winners of six of its final eight games. During the bye week, the team made a slew of coaching moves which likely contributed partially to its second-half turnaround. Poor efforts from an injured offensive line and defense largely held the Falcons back, and will need to be much better in an NFC South which now features Tom Brady.

Major additions

  • DE, Dante Fowler Jr.
  • RB, Todd Gurley
  • TE, Hayden Hurst
  • CB, A.J. Terrell
  • DT, Marlon Davidson
  • C, Matt Hennessey

Major subtractions

  • T, Ty Sambrailo
  • TE, Luke Stocker
  • RB, Devonta Freeman

4 major storylines for 2020

Can the offensive line improve?

The Falcons will receive a huge boost on the offensive line with 2019 first-round draft pick Chris Lindstrom hopefully healthy for an entire season. He suffered a broken foot in the season opener and didn’t return until Week 14. The O-line also adds Matt Hennesey, Atlanta’s third-round pick in this past draft. Although listed as a centre, he could get some playing time at left guard as a rookie. Will this be enough to give quarterback Matt Ryan some more time in the pocket and help a run game that struggled?

Will Todd Gurley hold up for an entire season?

I have serious doubts about this one. Gurley is still dealing with an arthritic knee, which sounds extremely unpleasant. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter stated in May that he was unsure of Gurley’s health, a very troubling sign.

The 223 carries Gurley received in 2019 was the lowest mark of his career. His 254 touches last year were the fewest since his rookie season. Additionally, he wasn’t nearly as effective as he’s been in the past, finishing with a yards per carry below 4.0 and the worst yards per reception number (6.7) of his career. The Falcons haven’t brought in any reinforcements behind Gurley on the depth chart, something that could become problematic given the glaring red flags.

Is this Calvin Ridley’s breakout campaign?

Ridley’s sophomore season nearly mirrored his rookie campaign. In his first year, Ridley notched 64 receptions for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. In Yr. 2, he recorded 63 receptions for 866 yards and seven touchdowns. Certainly not a step backwards, but it wasn’t a leap forwards, either.

There are some concerning indicators that Ridley may not be in store for much more production than that. Even though he is entering his third season, he will be turning 26-years-old this year. Additionally, despite having the best cushion of any receiver in the NFL during 2019 (7.4 yards), he finished tied for the fourth-worst yards after catch above expectation (-1.2 yards).

Although he’s entering his third-year in the NFL, the year typically known for breakouts at the position, it’s fair to have already expected more from Ridley. The volume will continue to be there in Atlanta’s pass-first offense, but he is non-existent after the catch. Be extremely cautious when drafting and temper expectations.

Does Julio Jones have still have it?

Jones has seemingly never disappointed fantasy football owners. Even his bad seasons (like 2017 when he strangely only caught three touchdowns) have been successes. A top-10 fantasy wide receiver for six-straight seasons, Jones is now entering the age where players at his position seem to taper off.

This brings fourth the question: How much longer can we trust him? For 2020, I’m saying you can. Atlanta chucked the ball more frequently than any team in the NFL last year, which will keep Jones busy. There are some signs that he’s slowing down, however. His 1,394 receiving yards were the lowest in the last six seasons, while he yards per reception (14.1 yards), tied for the second-lowest total in his career.

Sleeper: Hayden Hurst
Bust: Todd Gurley
Falcons Players in Rally Towel’s Top-200 Fantasy Football Rankings

10. WR, Julio Jones

42. WR, Calvin Ridley

53. RB, Todd Gurley

91. QB, Matt Ryan

126. TE, Hayden Hurst

190. WR, Russell Gage

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