The Falcons lost one more game than 2016 (11-5), but the team lost their edge offensively in 2017. Atlanta went 10-6 while allowing 91 fewer points than the previous season (406), but they scored 197 fewer points (353) than the last year (540). After three seasons as the head coach of the Falcons, Dan Quinn is 29-19 with two playoff appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl. He has 15 years of experience in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball. Quinn’s coaching style is starting to take hold on after moving to eight in points allowed (315) and ninth in yards allowed.
Marquand Manuel was promoted in to run the defense in 2017 after spending 2015 and 2016 as the secondary coach for Atlanta. Manuel has six years of experience as an NFL coaching while coming through the Seattle system under Dan Quinn. Marquand played in the NFL for eight years at the safety position.
Steve Sarkisian made the jump from college to the pros in 2017 to take over as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, but he had big shoes to fill after the Falcons led the NFL in points (540) and finished 7th in offensive yards. Last year Atlanta fell to 15th in points scored (353) and eight in offensive yards. It’s almost like he didn’t watch why the Falcons were successful the previous year. In 2016, Atlanta’s RB gained 2,759 combined yards with 26 TDs and 93 catches. Last year the RB position gained 403 fewer yards while seeing their catch total drop to 67. Sarkisian has seven seasons of head coaching experience in college while spending 2016 as the offensive coordinator for Alabama.
Atlanta made minimal moves in the offseason in the free agency market. They flipped backup TEs with Logan Paulson coming in and Levine Toilolo finding a new home with the Lions. Toilolo offered minimal upside in the passing game in his career with the Falcons with his best value coming in blocking.
The released WR Taylor Gabriel along with a pair of defensive linemen – DE Adrian Clayborn and DT Dontari Poe. Gabriel was a WR3 off the bench with a value on quick hitting plays where his speed and quickness created some big plays. Clayborn posted a career high in sacks (9.5) in 2017 with minimal value in tackles (21). Poe has been a steady run defender with some value in sacks in his career.
The Falcons signed CB Justin Bethel to improve the depth in the secondary. In his best two years in the NFL, Bethel ranked below the league average with risk in coverage. G Brandon Fusco started all 16 games in 2017 for the 49ers with neutral success. Over his seven seasons in the NFL, Fusco has two favorable years on his resume with failure risk in three others.
With their first pick in the first round, Atlanta selected WR Calvin Ridley. He comes to the NFL with plus speed (4.43) with strength in his route running. His biggest challenge at the next level will be beating press coverage vs. big physical cornerbacks. Ridley does have risk with his hands when facing heavy hitting defenders in traffic. He’ll work as deep threat early in his career while also getting some easy catches when defenses give him too much cushion. Calvin needs to add more bulk as well.
The next two players added to the roster were added to the defensive side of the ball – CB Isaiah Oliver and DT Deadrin Senat.
Oliver doesn’t have impact speed (4.5) based on his time at the 2018 NFL Combined in the forty-yard dash. His play speed in the deep passing game plays well while projecting to offer upside in press coverage. Isaiah is at his best in the trail position where he can make up ground when the ball is in the air. His technique off the ball isn’t where it needs to be leading to too much separation for WRs out of their breaks when they move to the sidelines or back to the ball. His value as a run defender has risk as well until he adds more decisiveness to his game when moving toward the line of scrimmage. Oliver has shutdown coverage skills with more experience and improved base skills.
Senat brings strength and power to the interior of the Falcons’ offensive line. His hands grade well, but his range is limited while being on the bench on passing downs. Deadrin should works as an early-down run stopper while needing to improve his passing rushing skills to earn more playing time.
In the fourth round, Atlanta invested in RB Ito Smith. He projects as a pass-catching option out of the backfield while lacking size (5’9” and 195 lbs.). Smith has strength in his lower half while running with patience and vision. His hands and route running should be assets at the next level. Ito doesn’t threaten the defense at the second level with his speed or quickness. Smith is going to have risk in pass protection.
The Falcons went back to the WR position in the sixth round with Russell Gage. Atlanta added to him to the roster to upgrade the coverage on kick returns where he has a winning resume in college. Gage is athletic with quickness and speed, but he has minimal experience at WR. Tough player with heart who may see time as a deep threat in the passing game as well.
With their last pick in the sixth round, Atlanta took a swing with LB Foye Oluokun. His frame (6’2” and 215 lbs.) projects more as a safety in the NFL. Oluokun has coverage skills with plus speed (4.48) and short area quickness, but he needs to improve his vision in run support while having risk on double moves if matchup up with elite talent at WR.
After ranking fifth in rushing yards (1,928), the Falcons fell to 13th in 2017 (1,847) while gaining 4.3 yards per rush. Their rushers gained 4.3 yards per carry with 11 runs over 20 yards.
Atlanta ranked 8th in passing yards (3,990) with 21 TDs and 12 Ints. Their offensive line allowed 24 sacks and 87 QB hits. They gained 7.8 yards per pass attempt with 55 catches over 20 yards.
LT Jake Matthews still hasn’t developed into an elite player at his position after getting drafted in the first round in 2014. He did show strength as run blocker last year while ranking about league average in pass protection. Matthews is on the improve with more upside expected in 2018.
LG Andy Levitre has been a steady asset on the offensive line for the last eight seasons with four plus years of success on his resume. The Bills drafted him in the second round in 2009. He’s never missed a game in his career until 2017 (three missed games). Last year he improved pass protection while being an asset in run blocking in most seasons.
C Alex Mack was a great fit to this offense in 2016 with follow through last year. Alex is one of the top run-blocking centers in the NFL while falling short of the league average in pass blocking last year. Mack was drafted in the first round by the Browns in 2009.
RG Brandon Fusco started all 16 games for the 49ers in 2017 with neutral success in all areas. Fusco has talent around him on the offensive line, which may lead to his best year since 2013.
RT Ryan Schraeder posted two high-level seasons in 2015 and 2016, but he moved closer to league average last year while missing almost three full games. He played better in pass protection than in run blocking. The Falcons signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2013.
This offensive line has one elite player plus two other options that have a chance to rank highly again in 2018. The combination of the two guards should be at least league average. I would grade this offensive line in the top 25 percent in the league.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Falcons’ RBs have two tough games to start the year against the Eagles and Panthers plus two poor games in Week 15 and Week 16 (ARI and CAR). This combination of schedule may be a sign to avoid adding any Atlanta’ RBs in the high stakes games due to a short regular season and possible risk in the championship rounds of the playoffs. Their best two matchups look to be against Washington and Cincinnati.
The best three games for their passing offense come against the Giants and the Buccaneers (2). Overall, Atlanta doesn’t have one poor matchup for their passing attack while having three mid-tier games (CIN, PIT, and BAL).
In both rushing attempts (26.9 – 16th) and passing attempts (33.1 – 20th), the Falcons ranked at or below the league average in 2017. Atlanta has a developing defense, which means they would like to run the ball well late in games to protect the lead. They also have two explosive options at WR, but Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ coaching staff hasn’t been unable to figure out how to throw TDs to Julio Jones in the red zone and at the goal line. The offensive line and offensive talent lines up well for Atlanta to climb up the offensive rankings in 2018.
QB Matt Ryan – After attempting 627 passes per season from 2012 to 2015, Ryan saw his passing opportunity drop by more than 15 percent over the last two seasons. In 2016, he overcame his drop in passing attempts (534) by gaining a league and a career-high 9.3 yards per pass attempt. In 2017, his yards per pass attempts (7.7) fell back to his career average (7.5) with regression in his completion rate (64.7 – the lowest total since 2011) leading to a sharp decline in his passing yards (4,095 – 4,944 in 2016). For the second time in three years, Matt struggled to throw TDs (20). Ryan has a great WR1 in Julio Jones plus Atlanta added a speed option at the second WR position in this year’s draft with Calvin Ridley. The Falcons have pass catching ability at RB plus a TE with developing upside. Overall, the offensive structure points to a balanced offense thanks to an improving defense. Matt projects as QB2 in 2018 with the offensive potential to push his way back into the tier. This season I expect more big plays at WR while the RBs will be more involved in the passing game. Possible 4,500+ yards with a run at 30+ TDs.
Other Options: Matt Schaub, Garrett Grayson, Kurt Benkert
RB Devonta Freeman – Over the last three seasons, Freeman has 35 TDs in his 45 games played while rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2015 (1,056) and 2016 (1,079). For some reason, the Falcons lowered his opportunity in the passing game (36/317/1) despite gaining more yards per catch (7.9 in 2015, 8.6 in 2016, and 8.8 in 2017) in each year in the league. Last season Devonta missed a pair of games with a concussion issue. On the year, he only had two games with over 100 yards rushing (21/106/1 and 22/126/1) while averaging 16.6 touches per game. The Falcons’ RB in 2017 finished with 398 rushes for 1,706 yards and 12 TDs plus 67 catches for 650 yards and four TDs on 93 targets. The rushing output was close to 2016 (384/1813) except for TDs (20) while the overall passing opportunity was much weaker (93/946/6 on 117 targets). Freeman suffered a right knee injury in mid-January, which didn’t require surgery. The Falcons’ RBs have a chance to deliver 2,500 combined yards with 80+ catches and 20+ TDs in 2018. Devonta has the highest floor and ceiling when he’s more involved in the passing game. This year he should remain the RB1 on the roster, but his knee issue does invite disaster downside. With 60 percent of the RB show, Freeman looks to be in line for 1,500 combined yards with double TDs and a push back to 50+ catches. If given a choice, I’d instead take the high road here avoid the injury downside.
RB Tevin Coleman – Last year Coleman had a career-high 183 touches leading to 927 combined yards with eight TDs and 27 catches. His yards per catch (4.0) came in below his first two seasons (4.5 and 4.4) while showing continued explosiveness in the passing game (11.1 yards per catch – 13.6 in 2016). Over three games with starting carries, Tevin gained 243 combined yards with four TDs and two catches while averaging just over 20 touches per game. Over this span, Coleman gained only 3.8 yards per rush. Tevin struggled to make plays in the run game over his last four games of the regular season (34 rushes for 89 yards – 2.6 yards per carry). The Falcons tend to give him about 38 percent of the early down action while moving closer to Freeman in catches in 2017. His next step is 1,000 combined yards with eight to ten TDs with 35+ catches. I expect him to have 200+ touches in 2018 with a full season of games. He’s one injury away from being an RB1.
RB Ito Smith – Over four seasons at Southern Mississippi, Smith gained 5,498 combined yards with 49 TDs and 140 catches. He averaged 18.8 touches per game in his college career with three seasons with 40 catches or more. Ito gained 10.3 yards per catch in his college. Smith showed acceleration through the line of scrimmage if their daylight while also showing patience to find his seem to the second level of the defense. In the open field, Ito has a series of stutter steps and shoulder fakes to make defenders miss. When tested one-on-one with his long speed, he shows a nice stiff arm to finish runs. His lack of size (5’9’ and 195 lbs.) hurt his value when running in tight space with no exit plan. His hands great well and Smith knows what to do when the ball is in his hand. Interesting handcuff to both of the Falcons’ RB as he’s one injury away from being relevant. Think Warrick Dunn with a little more size and less top end speed.
Other Option: Justin Crawford, Malik Williams, Terrence Magee
WR Julio Jones – Many Fantasy owners have grown tired of Jones’s inability to produce impact TDs over the last two years (6 and 3) while seeing his final catch total fall below expected value in 2016 (83) and 2017 (88). His resume is much stronger than Keenan Allen, but the continued limps off the field tends to be a turn-off. Over the last four years covering 61 games, Julio has 411 catches for 5,048 yards and 23 TDs on 643 targets highlighted by his 2015 season (136/1871/8). In 2017, Jones only had four games with over 100 yards receiving and two games with more than seven catches (9/99/1 and 12/253/2). The Falcons have run the ball better over the last two seasons, and they continue to struggle to get Julio scoring chances at the goal line. There’s no doubt Jones will have his lowest draft value in years. He has the talent to be the best WR in the game, but he needs to stay healthy, and the Falcons need to throw him the damn ball especially in the end zone. Sometimes in Fantasy sports the player overlooked tend to produce the best results. A Fantasy owner drafted at the end of the first round should be extremely happy to land Julio as his overall skill set, and opportunity should outproduce his draft value if he stays healthy all year. The most important part of his summer will his holdout. If Jones misses training camp, I do fear some in-season injuries from not being in game shape. His floor should be 90+ catches for 1,400 yards and six to eight TDs. The current structure of the Falcons’ offense and passing game does limit his upside in targets in many games.
Updated: 8/14/2018 > The Falcons worked out the contract issue for Jones in late July giving him a happier path going forward into the regular season. He looked poised to be a value pick in many drafts in the second round as Fantasy owners continue to take rosier looking RBs in front of him. Stud WR1 with impact upside if he adds TDs to his career resume in 2018, and Julio turns in a full season.
WR Calvin Ridley – Ridley has a strange resume over three seasons at Alabama. His best season came in his rookie year in 2015 (89/1045/7) when he worked almost like a possession type WR based on his yards per catch (11.7). The next season Calvin saw his catches (72), receiving yards (769), and yard per catch (10.7) regress while scoring eight TDs. In 2017, he turned more into a big play WR (63/967/5) while gaining 15.3 yards per catch. His presence should be a big win for Julio Jones as the deep safety will need to respect Ridley in the deep passing. His route running and separation skill will lead to instant success at the next level. Calvin comes with a smooth glide in the open field with a gear to blow by defenders with or without the ball. In a way, he’s the missing link from the Falcons’ passing game in 2017. Atlanta will get him easy catches on crossing patterns while trusting his route running on outs. He’ll offer the same value to the Falcons’ passing game as DeSean Jackson did early in his career for the Eagles. An excellent chance at 1,000+ yards with 65+ catches and five to seven TDs. I’d rather draft him as a WR4 in PPR leagues. His success could push Matt Ryan to career-high levels in passing yards.
WR Mohamed Sanu – Sanu played well in 2016 (59/653/4) and 2017 (67/703/5) in the Falcons’ offense, but he lacks the skill set to be an impact player. He had an elite catch rate over the last two seasons (72.9 and 69.8), which will keep in the mix for targets. In 2017, Mohamed had seven games with five catches or more, but he failed to gain over 85 yards receiving in any game. The addition of Calvin Ridley crushed his Fantasy opportunity as he can’t match his explosiveness. The Falcons don’t attempt enough passes for a third WR to be relevant. I can’t see more than 50 catches while expecting fewer than 500 yards receiving and minimal upside in TDs. Last season Atlanta’s WRs caught 214 balls for 2,848 yards and 13 TDs on 336 targets.
WR Justin Hardy – In his four years at East Carolina, Justin caught 387 passes for 4,541 yards with 35 TDs. Over the last two years in college, he had 235 catches for 2,778 yards with 18 TDs. Hardy will struggle to beat press coverage due to his need for more upper body strength. He’ll have value on underneath crossing routes while finding the soft spots in zone coverage. His best separation comes when driving his defender deep while coming back to the ball. Justin has enough quickness and jumping ability to have value at the goal line when matched up with one-on-one coverage. Over three years in the NFL, Hardy only has 62 combined catches for 618 yards and seven TDs in 106 targets. He scored his seven TDs over the last two years. Low-level bench WR who isn’t positioned to have any playable Fantasy value in 2018.
Other Options: Marvin Hall, Russell Gage, Reggie Davis, Dontez Byrd, Christian Blake, Devin Gray
TE Austin Hopper – The Falcons cleared the way for Hooper to be a viable Fantasy option at TE in 2017, but he fell short of expectations due to short targets (65). On the year, Austin had 49 catches for 526 yards and three TDs leading to the 17th place ranking at TE in PPR leagues. Hooper teased Fantasy owners after his big game in Week 1 (2/128/1). Over his last 15 games, he had more than three catches in a game just three times (5/50, 7/48, and 6/49). In two seasons at Stanford, Hooper caught 74 passes for 937 yards and eight TDs. Austin will add speed to the TE position for Atlanta to hopefully take advantage of him on seam passes. He is expected to have value in blocking as well helping him earn more playing time. Austin is getting better, but he slips one more notch down on the food chain with Calvin Ridley added to the roster. His natural progress would take him to 60 catches for 600+ yards with about five TDs. Last year the Falcons completed only 61 balls to the TE position for 680 yards and five TDs on 98 targets. Atlanta would need a massive jump in passing attempts in 2018 for Hooper to have a higher ceiling.
Other Options: Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen, Alex Gray, Troy Mangen, Jaeden Graham
K Matt Bryant – At age 41, Bryant had the best year of his career in 2016. He set career highs in field goals made (34) and extra points made (56) with a plus success rate (91.9). He followed up that season by making 34 of 39 field goals (87.2 percent) and all 35 of his extra points. Matt made 17 of his last 18 kicks over 50 yards and 32 of 41 since arriving in Atlanta. Over nine seasons with the Falcons, Bryant made 88.1 percent of his field goals. He made 117 of his 118 extra-point tries over the last three seasons. Top 12 kicker for sure with repeated upside with strong all-around play by the Falcons’ offense in 2018.
Atlanta has a neutral schedule for their run defense, but they do have five tough matchups (PHI, CAR X 2, NO X 2, and DAL). At the same time, they face five teams (CIN, TB X 2, ARI, and WAS) who struggled to run the ball last year. The Cardinals will be much better with David Johnson back in the starting lineup.
The Falcons’ pass defense will be challenged in five games (NO X 2, PIT, and TB X 2) while also having six games (CAR X 2, CIN, CLE, DAL, and BAL) vs. teams that struggled to pass the ball last year.
Atlanta finished 9th in the league in rushing yards allowed (1,665) with nine TDs and six runs over 20 yards. They allowed 4.1 yards per rush with 25.1 rushes per game.
The Falcons ranked 12th in passing yards allowed (3,429) with 22 TDs and only eight Ints. QBs gained 6.7 yards per pass attempt with 43 completion over 20 yards. Their defense had 39 sacks.
DT Grady Jarrett set a career high in tackles (55) and sacks (4) in his third season in the NFL while grading highly against the run. Jarrett played the best football of his career in 2017. DT Deadrin Senat should move into the starting lineup at least on run downs after getting drafted in the third round in 2018. His game is built on strength and power with minimal value rushing the QB.
DE Vic Beasley failed to match his great success in 2016 (39 tackles and 15.5 sacks) after starting the year with a hamstring injury. Last year he missed two games while delivering 29 tackles and five sacks. Beasley is a former first-round draft pick (2015) who tends to be a neutral run defender. DE Takkarist McKinley picked up 20 tackles and six sacks in limited action in his rookie season after the Falcons drafted him in the first round. He comes to the NFL with a high motor and playmaking ability. McKinley has excellent speed (4.59) with an attacking mindset. His negative on his scouting report is his hands, which is a coachable area, which will be needed to help Takkarist become a better pass rusher.
LB Deion Jones was a beast in his second year in the NFL after getting drafted in the second round. He had 138 tackles, one sack, ten defended passes, and three Ints. Jones did make some mistake against the run, which is an area he’ll need to improve going forward. LB De’Vondre Campbell posted 92 tackles with two sacks and four defended passes in his first season with starting snaps. His best value comes in coverage with some risk defending the run. Duke Riley looks to be the favorite to win the other starting job at linebacker. His game is built on quickness while being undersized (6’0″ and 232 lbs.) leading to him needing a clear run to add value to the run defense. Duke needs to get stronger while improving his feel for developing plays. His skill set points to more value in pass coverage.
S Ricardo Allen finished with a high rating in both run defense and pass coverage even with a drop in production (54 tackles, two defended passes and one Int). S Keanu Neal has 222 tackles, 14 defended passes, and one Int in his first 30 games after being drafted in the first round in 2016. His best value comes in run support.
CB Desmond Trufant regained his form after missing the last seven games of the 2016 season with torn pectoral muscle that required surgery. Last year he played in both pass coverage and against the run. Trufant had 41 tackles, one sack, 12 defended passes, two Ints, and one TD. CB Robert Alford played at his highest level since the Falcons drafted him in the second round in 2013. He set a career high in tackles (68) and defended passes (20) while adding one interception. With Isaiah Oliver added in the second round in 2018, Atlanta has a third option at cornerback with upside in coverage.
The Falcons built their defense with speed with a foundation of players to defend the pass. They have to edge pass rushers at DE, but the interior of the line and the linebacker core doesn’t have the talent to add huge value rushing the QB. The run defense should play well with game score limiting the chances. With two more edge rushers closing the passing window, Atlanta would have a much better chance at creating turnovers and possible TDs. More of second Fantasy defense due to a hot and cold schedule in 2018.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks