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2018 Team Report: Atlanta Falcons

Offensive Philosophy

While the results were not what Falcons fans had hoped for in 2017, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian largely kept intact the offensive system installed by wunderkind Kyle Shanahan in 2015 and 2016. The offense tends to play at a slower pace and skew a bit more run-heavy than league average, relying on a running back committee. Atlanta's lower pass volume is compounded by the presence of target-hog Julio Jones on the roster, leaving fewer passes to go around for everyone else.


Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup(s): Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert [R], Garrett Grayson

Starting QB: With Kyle Shanahan gone to San Francisco, Matt Ryan regressed back to his historical averages following a standout 2016 season. The biggest difference was a 5% drop in completion rate and a touchdown rate nearly cut in half. The overt catch-and-run opportunities were reduced across the board for his targets. Another concern was Atlanta turning into an empty yardage offense, ranking 15th in points but 8th in yards. Without strong mobility or an elite arm, Ryan is at his best with a clean pocket or delivering with anticipation through a big hit. Ryan's touchdown rate in 2017 was third-lowest of his 10-year career and QBR his lowest since 2009. Outside of Julio Jones, Ryan's weapons are middling with a later-career Mohamed Sanu, first-round pick Calvin Ridley, baseline-level starter at tight end in Austin Hooper, and Justin Hardy as the only other notable receiver on the roster.

Backup QB: Matt Schaub returns as the No.2 quarterback for the Falcons in 2018. Schaub throw a total of three passes in his two seasons with Atlanta since departing Atlanta back in 2006 for starting opportunities in Houston. Schaub has eroded from his mid-career peak, throwing 13 touchdowns to 20 interceptions dating back to 2013 as he fizzled out of Houston. Atlanta is one of many NFL depth charts needing a developmental young quarterback with starting upside to challenge a lackluster veteran option. The team will hope that UDFA Kurt Benkert or former Saints third-round pick Garrett Grayson will fill the bill.

Running Backs

Starter: Devonta Freeman
Backup(s): Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith (R)

Starting RB: Devonta Freeman's 2017 season mirrored the overall offensive regression by Atlanta following Kyle Shanahan's electric 2016 version. Freeman missed two games, the most of his career to-date, and predictably dropped from a by-far career-high 4.8 yards-per-carry in 2017. Freeman also saw a significant dip in red zone opportunities, a stark 30% drop on a per-game basis from 4.3 to 3.0 (combining rushes and targets). Through the air, Freeman saw a dip of nearly a catch per game. Freeman also fumbled a career high four times.

Backup RBs: Tevin Coleman's best trait is his straight line speed. Through three seasons Coleman has been at home in his secondary committee role behind Devonta Freeman. Coleman excels with a well-defined runway through the line of scrimmage more than breaking down defenders laterally one-on-one. Coleman has averaged more than 11 yards-per-catch in back-to-back seasons and a hearty eight touchdowns on less than 200 touches a year ago. Coleman's offensive role is steady, but tempered with a healthy Devonta Freeman, depending on a breaking a long gain. Ito Smith joins the roster after being selected on Day 3 by Atlanta in 2018. Smith is undersized at less than 200 pounds, but offers an elite receiving profile from Southern Miss and decent athleticism for his size. Smith offers more dynamic qualities than Terron Ward behind Atlanta's top options and should be an upgrade at #3 running back.


Wide Receivers

Starters: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu
Backups: Calvin Ridley [R], Justin Hardy, Devin Fuller, Marvin Hall

Starting WRs: Julio Jones continued his dominant streak of production, now four years running, with more than 1,400 yards in 2017. Jones is one of the elite physical specimens in the NFL at receiver, capable of breaking for a long touchdown on any reception. While Jones did not miss a game in 2017, he has been managed with in-game rest and limited weekly practices more in recent seasons. Jones' lone flaw over his career has been his lack of touchdown production considering his volume and yardage totals. Jones' three scores in 2017 and surpassing eight touchdowns in a season just once in his seven-year career. Mohamed Sanu has been a serviceable, but not exciting, No.2 receiver for the Falcons two years running. Sanu's yards-per-catch has dropped in three consecutive seasons, but Sanu has been a decent touchdown producer, including all five of his touchdowns in 2017 on targets inside the 10-yard-line, a much better short-range result than teammate Julio Jones.

Backup WRs: Calvin Ridley joins the Falcons as their splash draft pick in Round 1. Ridley's best trait is his route running. His production was stunted by Alabama's lagging pass game, but also Ridley enters the NFL with more name cache than profile as an older prospect and less production and athleticism for his size than the typical Round 1 draft pick. Ridley profiles as a No.2 receiver, and the team is working him at the slot and outside to give him more opportunities to get on the field. Justin Hardy was a strong producer in college, but has struggled to impact the Falcons passing game due to lagging athleticism. Hardy's three seasons of production are nearly identical stat lines. At best, Hardy is a baseline roster option with minimal upside to push for a larger role. UDFA Marvin Hall flashed speed in 2017 and could see his role grow as a vertical specialist.

Tight Ends

Starters: Austin Hooper
Backups: Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert

Austin Hooper took a step forward in his second season, more than doubling his reception and yardage totals from 2016. Hooper has not been a field-stretcher to-date outside of schemed design to get Hooper wide open on corner and crossing routes. Logan Paulsen is on his fourth different team in as many seasons as an older NFL veteran. Paulsen is a blocker first and second in his depth chart impact, only serving as a target in outlet situations or when lost by opposing defenses. Paulsen has only 16 receptions in his last 46 games with limited appeal outside of freeing Austin Hooper for a few more pass routes. Eric Saubert was active for 14 games as a 2017 rookie without seeing a target. Saubert was an elite producer in college, off the radar at Drake, but an average athlete. He could push Hooper for targets if he has shown growth during his second training camp.

Place Kicker

Matt Bryant: Matt Bryant fell from first in the league in kicker scoring in 2016 to eighth in 2017, mainly because the Falcons gave him 22 fewer extra point attempts after their offense lost coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He actually had two more field goal attempts, but also missed two more field goals than he did in 2016. Bryant actually had more misses (3) from 30-39 yards than he had from over 40 (2), and that's even more surprising when you consider that he had 19 attempts from 40+ and only 13 from 30-39. There's room for improvement if Bryant returned to his historical conversion rate from 30-39 or the Falcons offense irons out some wrinkles in year two under Steve Sarkisian. Bryant is a good choice once the top 5-6 kickers are off of the board.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Justin Hardy, Calvin Ridley [R], Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis

The Falcons typically give all of their returns to a single player. In 2017, that player was Andre Roberts. The drawback to this approach is when that player moves on, the team is left with a wide-open race between candidates with very little experience. First-round pick Calvin Ridley wasn't known for return skills at Alabama, but the team is working him as a returner to see if he can contribute there this year. Marvin Hall has some kick return experience from his college days at Washington and could help here.

Punt Returners: Justin Hardy, Calvin Ridley [R], Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis

The Falcons typically give all of their returns to a single player. In 2017, that player was Andre Roberts. The drawback to this approach is when that player moves on, the team is left with a wide-open race between candidates with very little experience. First-round pick Calvin Ridley wasn't known for return skills at Alabama, but the team is working him as a returner to see if he can contribute there this year. Justin Hardy has some experience returning punts from his college days. Reggie Davis was both a punt and kick returner at Georgia.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jake Matthews, LG Andy Levitre, C Alex Mack, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Ryan Schraeder LT Jake Matthews, LG Andy Levitre, C Alex Mack, RG Wes Schweitzer, RT Ryan Schraeder
Key Backups: Ben Garland, Wes Schweitzer, Sean Harlow, Ty Sambrailo

Center Alex Mack is the cornerstone of the Falcons' offensive line. Mack was the first team AP All-Pro center. The left side of Jake Matthews and Andy Levitre are mostly solid and right tackle Ryan Schraeder continues to perform at a relatively high level. Veteran Brandon Fusco could steal the right guard reps from last year's starter Wes Schweitzer. Ben Garland is a versatile backup (who also plays DT) and Ty Sambrailo is a decent swing tackle. Overall, this line ranks among the top tier in the league. Their ranking can improve should they resolve the right guard situation.

Team Defense

The Falcons had a quiet 2017 from a fantasy team defense perspective. They only created 16 turnovers, and without Adrian Clayborn's six-sack outburst against the Cowboys, they would have been below average at generating sacks. There's hope for improvement if Vic Beasley can avoid injuries like the hamstring tear that slowed him down last year and 2017 first-round end Takkarist McKinley can blossom in his second year. Grady Jarrett is one of the best in the league at getting after the quarterback from the interior defensive line, and the team has a lot of speed at linebacker with former LSU teammates Deion Jones and Duke Riley, and 2017 breakout performer De'Vondre Campbell. Keanu Neal is often a literal impact player in the secondary and a good group at cornerback got even better with the addition of 2018 second-round pick Isaiah Oliver (Colorado). If the offense can find its bearings in year two of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's tenure, the Falcons could play with the lead more often and have matchup value as a fantasy defense like they had in 2016.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Grady Jarrett, DT Jack Crawford, DE Vic Beasley, DE Takkarist McKinley
Backups: DT Terrell McClain, DL Joey Ivie, DE Brooks Reed, DE Derrick Shelby, DT Tani Tupou, DE J'terius Jones, DE Martin Ifedi, DL Deadrin Senat [R]

Starting DL: The Falcons have some questions to answer along the defensive front after the departure of the surprisingly productive Dontari Poe left a hole up front. Fortunately, the consistent domination of Grady Jarrett, who took his game to the next level in 2017, will soften the blow. Jarrett played almost 900 snaps last season and represents a cornerstone piece on this unit. Projected to line up beside him is Jack Crawford, who missed time last season and profiles more as an edge rusher than a true difference maker on the interior. The edge defenders look strong, however, with reports from head coach Dan Quinn that Vic Beasley will move back to defensive end on a full-time basis in 2018. His numbers took a dip in 2017 as the team deployed him as a Sam linebacker, but it seems Quinn has seen the error in his ways. The team also picked up the fifth-year option on Beasley, a vote of confidence in his future with the team. Second year pass rusher Takkarist McKinley will line up opposite Beasley and should be a full go for training camp after a 'minor' shoulder procedure this offseason. He played fewer than 500 snaps in his rookie year, but 2018 should see him thrust into the fray more often.

Backup DL: Veteran pairing Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby provide the primary depth for a unit that, overall, lacks in star quality. Reed is entering his age-31 season and took a pay cut this offseason to remain with the Falcons. Shelby, meanwhile, was released and subsequently re-signed this offseason after brief interest from other teams. Joey Ivie, Tani Tupou, JT Jones and Martin Ifedi will scrap it out for the remaining rotational positions. Deadrin Senat is a nice developmental player to have in the wings, having put together a rock solid college career, but his impact in the NFL will mainly be as a run stopper and gap clogger. Terrell McClain was added post-draft to provide some punch on the interior.


Starters: MLB Deion Jones, WLB Duke Riley, SLB De'Vondre Campbell
Backups: LB Kemal Ishmael, LB Foye Oluokun

Starting LBs: The strength of the Falcons defense lies at the linebacker level, where the combination of Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and youngster Duke Riley embody the speed, toughness and playmaking ability that head coach Dan Quinn covets. Deion Jones is the straw that stirs the drink, however; his down-to-down impact is unquestionably one of the biggest in the league. Jones produced signature plays last season and played almost 1,200 snaps, cementing his place as one of the finest young linebackers in the game. Alongside him is Campbell, who moved to the strong side in 2017 and excelled, allaying some of the fears surrounding his coverage ability in the process. If Jones is the Bobby Wagner of this defense, Campbell is the K.J. Wright, an unsung hero but a key cog in the machine. With Riley expected to assume a larger role after recovering from a meniscus surgery, Campbell may stay on the strong side. Riley, meanwhile, should benefit from Vic Beasley's move away from the linebacker position and will pick up any snaps he left behind. Riley may be benched in subpackages, but his profile as an athlete suggests he can make a real impact.

Backup LBs: The Falcons are lacking depth at linebacker entering camp, but this is likely something they will address. In the draft, the only addition was 7th round pick Foye Oluokun, while former safety Kemal Ishmael provides the veteran depth.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford, S Keanu Neal, S Ricardo Allen
Backups: CB Isaiah Oliver [R], CB Brian Poole, CB Justin Bethel, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, S Damontae Kazee, S Sharrod Neasman, S Quincy Mauger, S Marcelis Branch

Starting DBs: The cornerback duo of Desmond Trufant, a perennial pain for opposing offensive minds to conquer, and Robert Alford, in his own right a feisty, underrated type, is perhaps one of the best in the league. Trufant has been the model of consistency in his first five seasons, routinely blotting out premium pass-catchers and allowing the coverage to slide away from him. Trufant has established a reputation for being stingy with giving up big plays and broke up 12 passes last season when his coverage was tested. Alford, often overshadowed by the higher profile Trufant, nonetheless makes his presence felt. He had 20 pass breakups last season and his highest solo tackle count of his career (58). This duo should continue to thrive. The enforcer of the Falcons defense is Keanu Neal, who has really come into his own and cemented his place among the best at his position. Neal takes no prisoners with his tackles, and his ability to transition and cover backs and tight ends has turned him into an all-round safety who can present matchup nightmares. Alongside him is Ricardo Allen, who rounds out a young secondary. Allen's place is the most tenuous, however, although it should be heartening to him that the Falcons did not select a safety in the NFL Draft.

Backup DBs: Among the backups, Brian Poole has been the standout player, manning the nickel position and doing an outstanding job, totaling 91 solo tackles and 13 pass breakups in his first two seasons. Justin Bethel was signed in free agency to provide depth behind outside cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. The team brought back Blidi Wreh-Wilson after he made a small contribution last season, mostly on special teams. Youngster Damontae Kazee profiles as a cornerback/free safety swing option, while Sharrod Neasman, Quincy Mauger and Marcelis Branch will be fighting for roster spots come August. Isaiah Oliver is the classic modern day NFL cornerback and has a chance to be a starter within a season or two.

Last modified: 2018-06-03 20:17:32