The passing game returns all the key pieces, with headliner Julio Jones fresh off leading the league in receiving yards per game for the third time in the past four seasons. Where the Falcons need to improve is on the ground, and they hope two first-round offensive linemen will have an impact for a healthy Devonta Freeman and 2018 rookie Ito Smith, the No. 2 in the absence of now-departed Tevin Coleman.
Record: 7-9 (17th in NFL)
PPG: 25.9 (10)
YPG: 389.1 (6)
Pass YPG: 290.8 (4)
Rush YPG: 98.3 (27)
Pass attempts per game: 38.6 (5)
Rush attempts per game: 21.9 (30)
2018 Fantasy finishes
QB: Matt Ryan — QB2
RB: Tevin Coleman* — RB18; Ito Smith — RB50
WR: Julio Jones — WR4; Calvin Ridley — WR21; Mohamed Sanu — WR32
TE: Austin Hooper — TE6
*No longer with team
Number to know: 64.0%
Remember when the Falcons couldn’t score in the red zone without Kyle Shanahan? They found the end zone on 64% of their red zone trips in 2018, a top-10 mark in the league, up from 49.2% in 2017.
Head Coach: Dan Quinn (5th year)
Offensive Coordinator: Dirk Koetter (1st year – previously Head Coach, TB)
Rankings and Projections
How much run will Ito Smith earn?
“Devonta Freeman has 15 touches or fewer in 10 of his past 16 games. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Falcons coaching staff insisted on using multiple backs. That would mean more Smith. His 3.5-yard rookie rushing average doesn’t exactly evoke confidence, but a lack of serious competition for the No. 2 role does. And if Freeman gets hurt again, watch out. That’s why he’s worth a Round 8 pick.” — Dave Richard
One sleeper, one breakout, and one bust
Sleeper: Mohamed Sanu
The Falcons No. 2 wide receiver in 2018 has an early ADP north of 225. That just doesn’t make much sense. Maybe Ridley takes such a massive step forward that he totally eclipses Sanu, but Sanu was slightly better in basically every category last season with the exception of touchdowns. Sanu even had a higher catch rate on catchable passes than Ridley, thanks to only three drops to Ridley’s nine. All that is to say, it’s not totally clear Ridley was a better player than Sanu in 2018. There’s no guarantee he will be in 2019, either.
Breakout: Ito Smith
Smith wasn’t terribly impressive as a rookie, but the Falcons felt good enough about the 2018 fourth rounder to let Coleman walk in free agency. Smith will have to improve on his 3.5 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per catch, but in this spot, you’re betting on the offense around him more than the player. Smith may not make much of an impact when Freeman is healthy, but if Freeman goes down, he would have a huge opportunity.
Bust: Calvin Ridley
It’s tough to know what to make of Ridley coming into his second season. Scouts love him, but he’s a bit small, didn’t rate out terribly well athletically at the combine (his 4.50 40-yard time at the combine doesn’t look quite as good once you account for his size), and he’s old. Like, only one month younger than Tyler Boyd, who is entering his fourth season and was pretty much left for dead as a prospect at this time last year. Ridley had a fine rookie season, but the 10 touchdowns make it look a lot better than it was. In the event of a Jones injury, he probably has more upside than Sanu, but you’ll also have to take him in the fifth round if you want to chase that upside.