Matt Ryan continues to be a good but not great fantasy quarterback.
The problem is, he has been reaching his pedestrian fantasy output
with the help of above average receiving targets and a completion
percentage over 65 percent in each of the past four seasons. It
is quite possible that we have already seen Ryan’s best
fantasy season (2012) as he enters his ninth year at the helm
of the Falcons’ offense. The yardage is right in line with
the game’s top passers, yet his total number of 300-yard
games has decreased in each of the past three years (he notched
five in 2015). The down year (QB16) didn’t sit too well
with Ryan because he made a point of holding his own camp this
off-season to go over basic schemes and communication in the passing
game to prepare for his second year in Kyle Shanahan’s system.
A glass half full fantasy owner will see an upgrade on the outside
with Mohamed Sanu providing far more impact plays than Roddy White
could in the twilight of his career. On the inside, the addition
of center Alex Mack could prove to be a difference maker not only
in the ground attack but in calling out pass protections. A few
more passing touchdowns and status quo everywhere else seems to
be the logical projection for Ryan in 2016. A lower ceiling than
most of his peers will cause Ryan to slide down many preseason
rankings, but he represents a more consistent option than most
other fringe starting fantasy quarterbacks (Romo, Stafford, Tannehill).
Last season's top fantasy RB still sits
atop the Falcons depth chart but his usage could take a hit.
In 2015, the Falcons reminded the fantasy community just how
valuable a running back can be if given the opportunity to shoulder
the majority of carries. Devonta Freeman outpaced all other fantasy
horses despite barely reaching the 1000 rushing yard plateau.
Tacking on an additional 73 receptions, three touchdowns and over
500 receiving yards pushed him ahead of the pack in only his second
season. Unfortunately, Freeman’s terrific results are not
enough to keep NFL coaches from using more than one running back
in today’s offenses. This sentiment rings truer when the
team employs another talented and capable running back. Tevin
Coleman seems to have carved out a role as the team enters 2016.
How expansive that role is remains to be seen.
Freeman’s status atop the depth chart won’t change
due to Coleman, but his usage could take a hit now that the Falcons
know what they have in the backfield. Additionally, the running
game should get a boost if Alex Mack can solidify the offensive
line. Mack is a Pro-Bowl caliber road grader when healthy. Combined
with Jake Mathews and Andy Levitre, the left side of the line
should provide the running game with ample room to maneuver. Considering
the success Freeman experienced with last season’s o-line,
he has a good chance of posting another stellar fantasy season
even with a decline in overall touches.
As is always the case with the top fantasy players from the season
prior, Freeman is amongst the first players taken in early 2016
drafts. The real question as to whether he is a top five fantasy
running back or simply a lower tier RB1 will depend on how the
team chooses to divide the carries while keeping Julio Jones active
in the passing game. Even with reduced touches, his opportunity
and production in the red zone (most carries inside the 20 by
a RB last season) keeps him in true RB1 territory.
In the preseason a year ago, Coleman made the Falcons’
backfield a two-man competition and his play during the regular
season has only added more fuel to the ongoing duel for carries.
Fumble issues will prevent him from pushing Freeman off the pedestal
as the team’s clear starter; however the coaching staff
definitely wants to get the sophomore runner more involved in
2016. Fantasy owners should expect to see Coleman involved in
the quick screen game. Although he only recorded two receptions
last year, the former Hoosier has good enough hands to make an
impact in the passing game. As an extension of the running game,
the short passing attack would allow Coleman to use his game breaking
speed. It is quite possible that Coleman sees his workload increase
to 10-plus touches a game making him a solid RB4 with the potential
to play as a RB3/Flex in Atlanta’s one-two backfield punch.
Considering the team’s plans to emphasize their ground game,
Coleman remains one Devonta Freeman injury away from being a starting
running back. Consequently, he should be viewed as a premium depth
option and potential handcuff target after the “name brand”
starters have been taken off the board.
Terron Ward is a small fireplug that made the team as an undrafted
free agent a year ago. The coaching staff likes his competitive
nature on a roster that lacks depth at the running back position.
He would see a minor increase in touches should an injury to Freeman
or Coleman occur. The team may also look to add more depth once
roster sizes are reduced which could push Ward further down the
Those who bought into Kyle Shanahan as the wide receiver whisperer
were rewarded by Julio Jones’ huge 2015 fantasy output.
As the only player to eclipse 200 targets, Jones joins Antonio
Brown as fantasy football’s top two receiving options entering
2016. Can he repeat his gaudy numbers again? Considering the team
missed the playoffs and went 2-5 in games where Matt Ryan had
40 or more passing attempts it seems likely that the offense won’t
be trying to win ballgames through the air in 2016. The addition
of a more capable No.2 option in the passing attack also makes
it unlikely that Jones will see bulk targets as frequently as
he did in 2015- he posted six games with at least 15 balls thrown
his way. That doesn’t mean Jones won’t be a solid
WR1 for fantasy purposes, however it does mean it will be tough
for him to repeat last year’s huge season. Atlanta is counting
on Mohamed Sanu’s presence and an established ground game
to keep defenses from stacking coverage on Jones’ side of
the field. If successful, Matt Ryan should be able to take advantage
of more downfield passes in Jones’ direction. As a result,
owners playing in “bonus” leagues that award extra
points for long pass plays will want to pay a little more for
Atlanta’s leading receiver. Owners will have to pony up
for a high-volume and consistent player like Jones; especially
in PPR leagues where he should be one of the first five players
After giving a team leader like Roddy White a wide berth into
retirement, the Falcons have struggled to fill the void opposite
Julio Jones. That explains why they didn’t hesitate in extending
a five-year deal to Sanu in free agency. After playing second
fiddle to A.J. Green in Cincinnati, Sanu switches conferences
to join a scheme that should yield more than the 49 targets Sanu
saw in 2015. He finds himself on a team with a compelling rushing
attack, efficient quarterback and attention hogging number one
receiver. His fantasy outlook places a low ceiling on his catches
and yards. However, the former third-round pick from Rutgers should
be able to feast on holes in defensive schemes aimed at stopping
everyone but him. Considering the surroundings, Sanu has landed
in a perfect spot to reach and eventually exceed his previous
career bests. Before you go overboard, however, ask yourself:
are the Falcons likely to boast two starting caliber fantasy wideouts
a year after Devonta Freeman was the top fantasy running back?
A current ADP outside the top 50 receivers seems about right as
he is grouped with several secondary receivers with limited upside
like Victor Cruz, Willie Snead and Mike Wallace.
Overshadowed by the Sanu signing has been the development of
Justin Hardy. Chosen to be a project in the fourth round of the
2015 draft, he is the favorite to open the year as the primary
slot receiver. Even if there were an injury to the teams starters,
Atlanta would be more inclined to lean on its running backs than
grant Hardy a more prominent role. Devin
Hester has been released and the team drafted Devin
Fuller in the seventh round of this year’s draft class. He
has been bitten by injuries in recent years, but projects as a
burner on the outside.
There just isn’t too much to like about Jacob Tamme unless
Peyton Manning is throwing him the ball. He isn’t a true
red zone threat nor is he a dynamic athlete working over the middle
on a consistent basis. At this point in his career he is simply
keeping the seat warm for youngster Austin Hooper. Levine Toilolo
is the backup blocking tight end but fantasy owners will want
to keep an eye on the use of the rookie third-rounder out of Stanford.
Hooper is clearly the player to target in dynasty leagues but
could also find himself with an evolving role on the offense in
2016. The coaching staff continues to view him as an asset in
the passing game and will likely give him some of Tamme’s
snaps as he improves in practice throughout the year. He could
have value late if he wrestles away the starting gig at some point
during the season.