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2015 Team Report: Atlanta Falcons

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup(s): Sean Renfree

Starting QB: Matt Ryan improved steadily as a passer from 2010-2012, going from 3,705 yards passing with 28 TDs and just nine interceptions thrown during 2010 to 4,177 yards passing, 29 TDs and 12 interceptions thrown in 2011 and finishing 2012 with 4,719 yards passing, with 32 TDs and 14 interceptions thrown. However, during the 2013 season Ryan hit a plateau in his numbers (even though he attempted a career-high 651 passes and completed a career-high 439 passes) with 439/651 for 4,515 yards passing, 26 TDs and 17 interceptions. His yardage and TD numbers dipped enough to bounce him down to #10 among all fantasy passers during 2013 after finishing sixth among all fantasy quarterbacks in 2012. Last year, Ryan's final numbers rebounded to 415/628 for 4,694 yards, 28 TDs and 14 interceptions thrown, landing him at #7 among all fantasy quarterbacks for the 2014 season. Ryan's been among the top-ten fantasy quarterbacks for five straight seasons, playing in all 16 games for the past five years. Ryan's durability hasn't been an issue at all thus far in his pro career. Ryan is just now entering the prime years of his career at 30 years of age. He is the linchpin of the Atlanta offense - Ryan handled 628 of the 632 passes attempted during regular-season by the Falcons last year.

Backup QB: Third-year player Sean Renfree (Duke) was NFL Network's Mike Mayock's sleeper QB of the 2013 draft, and the Falcons scooped him up in the seventh round of the draft at pick #43 (249 overall). Renfree is a high-percentage passer, who hit 282/434 (64.9% completion percentage) for 2,891 yards passing, 14 TDs and 11 interceptions for Duke during 2011 and 297/442 (67.2% completion percentage) for 3.113 yards, 19 TDs and 10 interceptions during 2012. T.J. Yates was released at cutdowns leaving Renfree as the sole backup to Matt Ryan.

Running Backs

Starter: Tevin Coleman [R]
Backup(s): Devonta Freeman, Terron Ward, Michael Ford
Fullback(s): Patrick DiMarco

Starting RB: Tevin Coleman was drafted this past spring to replace now-departed Steven Jackson - he set the Indiana University school record for rushing yards in a season during 2014 with 2,036 yards to his credit (one of only three Big Ten players to get more than 2,000 yards rushing in a season - Larry Johnson and Melvin Gordon are the other two). According to NFL.com, half of Coleman's 28 career rushing touchdowns were of 43-plus yards, including eight of 64-plus yards. He is noted for outstanding, star-caliber speed though there are some concerns raised by scouts about his pad level, ability to break tackles, and his creativity running once past the initial wave of defenders. Coleman is considered a boom-bust draft pick but will have the advantage of working with the Falcon's new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is noted for his skill in bringing out the best in his running backs. One important training camp note: Coleman and DeVonta Freeman both are nursing hamstring injuries as of Thursday, August 6 - the team hasn't given out a time-table for their return yet.

Backup RBs: DeVonta Freeman was selected at 4.03 of the 2014 draft (Florida State). After the 2014 draft, Footballguy Matt Waldman expected Freeman to compete for touches on the football during 2014 (Freeman handled 65/248/1 rushing and saw 37 targets for 30/225/1 receiving during 2014 in a part time role) and then potentially supplant Jacquizz Rodgers as the #2 in Atlanta for 2015, which is indeed how the scenario has worked out, with Rodgers moving on to Chicago during free agency this past spring. However, the Falcons drafted Coleman with the 73rd pick of the 2015 draft, likely signalling that Freeman will stay in his backup role during 2015, though he may be the junior partner in a potential running-back-by-committee. Terron Ward is an undrafted free agent who has received some training camp reps due to Coleman and Freeman's injured hamstrings. Michael Ford was signed on August 7 in the wake of Coleman and Freeman's injuries to provide another back to take reps in camp. He was formerly a Bear, but spent 2014 out of the NFL.

Fullback: Falcons' fullbacks are unlikely to produce fantasy-worthy numbers during 2015. Incumbent starter Patrick DiMarco had zero carries and 14 targets for 9/62/1 receiving during 2014, scoring his first NFL TD during three seasons as a pro.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Julio Jones, Roddy White
Backups: Justin Hardy [R], Devin Hester, Leonard Hankerson, Eric Weems

Starting WRs: Julio Jones enters the 2015 season as the unquestioned #1 wide receiver in the Falcons' stable of pass catchers. His impact on the team's offense was made clear during 2013 as the Falcons' passing attack struggled in Jones absence - (he was lost after week five, 2013 due to a fractured foot). Jones returned to health during 2014, finishing with career highs in targets (163), receptions (104) and yards (1,593) while hauling in six TDs over 15 games played. His best TD total to date came during 2012 (138 targets for 79/1198/10 receiving over 16 games). He is one of the dominant, young wide receivers in the NFL right now at 26 years of age. Roddy White is the Falcons' #2 wideout despite entering the 2015 season at 34 years of age. He rebounded somewhat from an injury-plagued 2013 season to post 125 targets for 80/921/7 receiving during 2014 - but it was the second season in which he's averaged less than 12 yards per reception. White is entering the twilight of his NFL career.

Backup WRs: Harry Douglas, the long-time #3 wide receiver for the Falcons, has moved on - the Falcons drafted Justin Hardy to replace him. Hardy is a sure-handed, short-and-intermediate route runner who is noted for converting first downs on more than 70% of his catches as a senior at East Carolina. He is also noted as a nasty run blocker. Devin Hester will again handle the kick and punt returns for the Falcons during 2015 - he was also fairly involved in the passing game during 2014 with 59 targets for 38/504/2 receiving to his credit. Leonard Hankerson is a big (6'2, 211 pounds) receiver late of Washington who has struggled to stay on the field during his pro career due to knee injuries. He has played for OC Kyle Shanahan before, though, so Hankerson is familiar with the system.

Tight Ends

Starters: Levine Toilolo
Backups: Jacob Tamme

Super-sized Levine Toilolo is a huge (6' 8", 260 pounds) tight end who showed a knack in the red-zone on limited touches during 2013. However, his 2014 season was a disappointment in fantasy terms (51 targets for 31/238/2) as he was asked to stay in and block with the struggling Atlanta offensive line for much of the year. During 2015 free agency the Falcons signed Jacob Tamme, late of Denver, who had his best season as a receiver in Indianapolis during 2010 (67/631/4 receiving). Tamme may challenge Toilolo for the starting job during training camp, and Tamme appears to be the better hope for fantasy production from the tight end position entering 2015. This is a situation that bears watching during the 2015 training camp/preseason.

Place Kicker

Matt Bryant: Kicker Matt Bryant did well during 2014, hitting over 90% of his field goals (29 out of 32) and all 40 of his extra point attempts. He was re-signed to a three-year contract during the 2015 off-season, and is set as the Falcons' place kicker for the foreseeable future.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Nick Williams, Robert Alford

Devin Hester showed no signs of being slowed by age as the 31-year old led the league in kickoff return yards in 2014. Hester should again dominate the return game for the Falcons again this season. The offseason departure of Jacquizz Rodgers to Chicago leaves an opening for Hester's backup. Defensive backs Eric Weems and Robert Alford both have return experience and could be called upon in a pinch. With Hester going on Injured Reserve with a designation to return, Weems is handling the return duties in the meantime.

Punt Returners: Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Nick Williams, Robert Alford, Phillip Adams

The punt and kick return situations in Atlanta are similar both in that Devin Hester will be the primary returner, and that the backup positions were affected by offseason roster churn. Eric Weems is the player most likely to be used when Hester is unavailable, with Nick Williams having also been mentioned by the coaching staff. Robert Alford remains a candidate, and the team might also look at cornerback Phillip Adams who comes to the team from Oakland. Adams has 37 career punt returns for the 49ers and Raiders, though only maintained a 6.1 yard average.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jake Matthews, LG Sam Baker, C Joe Hawley, RG Jon Asamoah, RT Ryan Schraeder
Key Backups: T Tyler Polumbus, G Peter Konz, T Lamar Holmes, G Mike Person, G Harland Gunn, C James Stone, T Jake Rodgers [R]

Right guard Jon Asamoah is easily the line's most consistent player, but unfortunately that's not a high bar to reach right now. The selection of Jake Matthews high in the first round has been a dissapointment for the Falcons. Matthews has replaced Sam Baker at the job (Baker could actually still start due to the free for all at left guard) but Matthews needs to be a more consistent pass protector for this line to get any better in the rankings. Matthews is tough, he has played hurt a ton and that has hurt his performance. Hopefully he can be better if he can stay healthy. At left guard, the team will give Mike Person and Harland Gunn a chance to win that job from Baker in preseason. If either player could emerge, it would be a relief for the Falcons' front office, who might just cut Sam Baker. At right tackle there's a similar scramble as Ryan Schraeder, Lamar Holmes and Tyler Polumbus square off for the job. Joe Hawley is a solid and gritty player at center but is not exceptional in either phase of the game. Overall this line has several position battles to be resolved and needs to get better play out of a player they hope will be their franchise left tackle. If these things can happen, look for the Falcons' line to rise up the rankings.

Team Defense

The Falcons weak defense added top edge rushing prospect Vic Beasley in the draft at #8, and they also signed Brooks Reed and Adrian Clayborn to bolster a paper-thin front seven. Maybe the most important upgrade for the Falcons came at head coach with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who hired long-time NFL assistant Richard Smith to be his defensive coordinator. Smith was most recently a linebackers coach at Denver and Carolina, so he should help one of the soft spots in this mushy defense. Even while ranking in the bottom 10 in D/ST scoring, the Falcons had a few big games against division opponents and could deserve streaming/DFS looks in good matchups if the defense looks improved early on. Devin Hester isn't as dangerous as he was in his heyday, but Hester is a still a net plus for this D/ST because of his ability to break returns for touchdowns.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Paul Soliai, DT Jonathan Babineaux, DE Tyson Jackson, DE Ra'Shede Hageman
Backups: DE Vic Beasley [R], DE Kroy Biermann, DE Cliff Matthews, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Malliciah Goodman, DT Grady Jarrett [R], DT Ricki Havili-Heimuli (IR)

Starting DL: Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has taken the reins in Atlanta and with his arrival heralds a scheme change. Reports this offseason indicate that he will incorporate a 4-3 under front that he deployed so effectively in Seattle. Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux will get the nod on the inside at 1-technique and 3-technique respectively. Babineaux has been a Falcon his entire career and still has plenty to offer as a pass rusher, even at the age of 33. Soliai, the free agent acquisition from last year, disappointed in his first season in Georgia and will be expected to improve as a stout run defender in 2015. Tyson Jackson will more than likely be asked to play the role that Red Bryant excelled at in Seattle as a two-gapping DE. After originally being released by Atlanta this offseason, Kroy Biermann was re-signed and should fit in well as the 'Otto' strongside linebacker in Quinn's scheme. Biermann led the team in sacks (4.5) and tackles (75) last season and should be a nice chess piece for this new scheme. Biermann's varied usage in the preseason - from defensive end to strongside linebacker - bodes well that the coaching staff intend to use him as such. First round pick Vic Beasley will also get his fair share of looks, and has excelled as a pass rusher in preseason in limited snaps.

Backup DL: The Falcons invested their first round pick in speedy edge rusher Vic Beasley. With some refinement to his technique, the young stud should see the field early as a designated pass rusher, gradually transitioning into the full-time 'Leo' role. Beasley has expressed confidence that he can be an every-down player. The team certainly doesn't lack options in depth along the defensive line, but overall talent level may be an issue. Second-year pro Ra'Shede Hageman is the most talented of the group. Hageman, a star of last year's 'Hard Knocks', has lost a bit of weight this offseason and appears leaner and stronger. If he can translate it to the field, he could secure a starting berth or at the very least be a strong rotational option. Veteran Adrian Clayborn was signed after he and the Bucs parted ways. More of a run stopper than a pass rusher, he could be a nice interchangeable piece along the front seven and has made quite an impression with his preseason play. O'Brien Schofield saw only limited snaps in Seattle last season and is a player who is familiar with the scheme. Fifth round pick Grady Jarrett could earn a primary backup role within a year and see meaningful snaps as a rotational gap-plugger in year one.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Paul Worrilow, SLB O'Brien Schofield, WLB Justin Durant
Backups: LB Allen Bradford, LB Nathan Stupar, LB Joplo Bartu, LB Brooks Reed (IR-DFR)

Starting LBs: Not the fastest or the prettiest making plays, Paul Worrilow nonetheless gets the job done for the Falcons at middle linebacker. The plucky linebacker has led the team in tackles the past two seasons. He and Justin Durant, who will slot in at weakside linebacker, will be the players relied upon in subpackages this season. Not the player he used to be, Durant can still contribute and will be a strong presence on the second level in a scheme that protects the 'Will' linebacker. Brooks Reed rounds out the starting trio after he was signed from Houston on a five-year deal. He offers great versatility, having played both inside and outside linebacker in his career. Reed will line up as the 'Otto' strong side linebacker in the Falcons' 4-3 under front, but first he must recover after undergoing groin surgery that will force him to miss the opening six weeks of the season. O'Brien Schofield will deputize in his absence.

Backup LBs: Joplo Bartu will provide decent depth for the Falcons at an important position, but won't contribute much on special teams. Former Seahawk Allen Bradford should be a quality backup option and provide excellent play on special teams, as will Nathan Stupar.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford, SS William Moore, FS Ricardo Allen
Backups: CB Jalen Collins [R], S Kemal Ishmael, CB Phillip Adams, S Robenson Therezie, S Charles Godfrey, CB Dezmen Southward

Starting DBs: Desmond Trufant has made his case with his play as one of the finest young cornerbacks in the game. To use a Seahawks comparison, he will be the Richard Sherman of the defense, athletic enough to stay stride for stride with receivers and expected to put his nose in and make tackles on the perimeter. The same will be asked of Robert Alford, who disappointed in his second season. He will get the first crack at the job, but rookie Jalen Collins will be breathing down his neck. Veteran William Moore returns at strong safety after suffering injury last season. Kemal Ishmael, who totaled 77 tackles and 22 assists as he moved between free and strong safety last year, was presumed to take the starting job at free safety, but Ricardo Allen lined up there in the preseason and seems to have a firm hold on the job.

Backup DBs: The Falcons bolstered their depth at defensive back with the addition of former LSU cornerback Jalen Collins in the second round of the draft. Collins, who only made 10 starts in college, reminded draft analyst Mike Mayock of Antonio Cromartie. Collins' length will be an asset in a division with many big-bodied receivers. Otherwise, the Falcons have little in the way of quality depth at the defensive back position. Former Jet Phillip Adams was signed as veteran depth, but is a liability in coverage. Charles Godfrey was released by the Panthers last season and would be the primary backup at safety. Undrafted rookie Robenson Therezie managed to make the roster after a strong preseason despite an injury. After reportedly being on the roster bubble, Dezmen Southward scraped onto the roster off the back of a tremendous final preseason game.

Last modified: 2015-10-06 17:04:18