Just as a reminder or for those who may be new to the Eyes of the Guru series. For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, the model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
The Falcons have good talent up front. Three of the four defensive ends that figure heavily into the rotation are former first- or second-round picks and their starting defensive tackles are proven veterans. Unlike many teams, there are not a lot of moving parts in Atlanta at any of the defensive positions. While that makes it easier to say what we can expect in fantasy terms, it does not necessarily mean a great deal of IDP value.
A glance at the career numbers of Vic Beasley Jr suggests radical year-to-year inconsistency. As a rookie in 2015, he had 20 tackles, 7 assists, 4 sacks, and forced 3 turnovers. In Year 2, Beasley exploded for a line of 32-7-15.5 with 6 forced fumbles, a recovery, and a score. Just when we thought he would take the next step and become one of the game's prolific pass rushers; his totals last season were much closer to those of 2015 with a ho-hum 23-8-5. A deep look into the situation reveals we should not put much if any of the blame for his inconsistency on Beasley. Instead, we can look directly at the coaching staff and their decision to play his at strongside linebacker.
At 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, Beasly is undersized for a three-down defensive end at the pro level. He holds up well versus the run for his stature but setting the edge is not one of his strengths. Thus the coaching staff has tried to play him at strongside linebacker in hopes it would keep bigger blockers from getting to him while still allowing Beasley to use his speed off the edge. He has seen time at linebacker in all three seasons but in 2016 he had a lot more opportunity with his hand on the ground. During the big season Beasley worked regularly at end and stayed on the field a lot more in general; that year he logged a career-high 671 defensive snaps, compared to 485 in 2017. The best news fantasy managers could possibly have heard were muttered by head coach Dan Quinn back in January when he said Beasley will be used exclusively at end in 2018. There is no doubt he will have IDP value but there remains one important point to consider before we automatically project top-12 production.
When Quinn was the defensive coordinator in Seattle, the fantasy value of his defensive linemen was stunted by the rotational system. He would use several players at each position so rarely did anyone stay on the field more than 60% of the time. This philosophy followed Quinn to Atlanta so we can expect to see Beasley, Brooks Reed, Takkarist McKinley, and Derrick Shelby all play at least 400 snaps at end. Because he is an outstanding pass rusher, it is safe to expect double-digit sacks from Beasley, but he may be hard-pressed to reach 30 solo tackles again.
Grady Jarrett finished last season at 34-21-4 and was a top-10 tackle despite missing a couple games. It is a great sign that his production has steadily increased since joining the team as a fifth-round pick in 2015. Maybe the most important factor in terms of Jarrett's IDP value; the Falcons are willing to leave him on the field. He played nearly 80% of the defensive snaps last season which was by far the most of any Atlanta lineman. At 6-foot-0 and 305 pounds, Jarrett is a bowling ball with a low center of gravity that makes him tough to get under and move. He has the ability to hold ground at the point of attack, the power to push the pocket, and enough athleticism/quickness to provide a little wiggle as a pass rusher. Jarrett has 4 sacks in each of the past two seasons and all the signs point to continued production. At age 25, he is just entering his prime so we may not yet have seen Jarrett's best football.
Jack Crawford missed most of last season with a torn biceps but should be ready to contribute when camp opens. He provides a solid veteran presence and seems likely to open the season as a starter but rookie third-round pick Deadrin Senat could push for the job right away. Senat is a near clone of Jarrett in both stature and skill set. As a three year starter for South Florida, he totaled 104 career tackles with 74 assists, 7 sacks and a couple forced fumbles. The organization clearly views Senat as a future starter, all that remains to be seen is how quickly he gets on the field and if he will get enough snaps to provide Fantasy worth.
- DE Vic Beasley Jr – Low-end DL2 with some upside
- DE Brooks Reed – Marginal value at best
- DE Takkarist McKinley – Great talent but not enough opportunity
- DE Derrick Shelby – Rotational player with limited upside
- DT Grady Jarrett – Quality DT1 with top-five upside
- DT Jack Crawford – Marginal fantasy impact
- DT Deadrin Senat – Sleeper and dynasty target in tackle-required leagues
- DT Terrell McClain – No fantasy impact
- DT Garrison Smith – No fantasy impact
Deon Jones is the new breed of linebacker in the NFL. At 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds he is tiny by traditional standards but what he lacks in size he makes up for with speed, athleticism, and instinct. Jones excels at slipping through traffic and finding the ball carrier on run downs and is among the league's best at the position in terms of coverage. From a fantasy perspective, there is nothing to dislike. Jones has a solid rookie season in 2016 then improved on in year two enough to land in the Top-5. His 91 solo stops were fourth most by a linebacker in 2017 while his 47 assists tied for seventh most. Jones even makes a significant big play contribution. Heading into year three he already has 6 career interceptions, a forced fumble, a sack, 19 pass breakups and a pair of scores; and all of that before his 24th birthday. If his body can withstand the rigors of the position Jones will be a perennial Top-10 linebacker. He is just entering his physical prime so we may see even more from him in years to come.
At this time the sure fantasy value among Atlanta linebackers starts and stops with Jones, but there is a possibility we could get another quality starter going forward. The Falcons team roster still calls Vic Beasley Jr an outside linebacker. Assuming they follow through on Coach Quinn's promise to shift Beasley to end, someone is going to move over to strongside linebacker.
Last season De'Vondre Campbell saw the majority of the playing time on the weak side with Duke Riley getting just enough snaps to render both players virtually useless. The only experienced linebacker on the roster behind those two is converted former safety Kemal Ishmael and the most significant offseason addition at the position was sixth-round pick Foye Oluokun. Thus expectations are either Campbell or Riley will move to the strong side, putting one of them in line for a three-down role.
Speculation is all over the spectrum heading into camp with everything from Riley playing on the strong side and Campbell working all three downs from weakside, to Campbell holding a three-down role but working on the strongside in base packages. There are even a few who believe Campbell will be a two-down strongside backer with Riley getting the chance to start weak and play in sub packages as well. About the only thing we really know here is Campbell is a little bigger and may be more suited to play on the strong side. Even that is not telling, however, as Quinn has played smaller guys at that position in the past. At this early stage, Campbell is our best option to roll the dice on if you must make that call before we get clarification. Right now the Falcons probably are not sure what they will look like at outside backer come week one.
- MLB Deion Jones – Quality LB1 with top-five potential
- WLB De'Vondre Campbell – Depth with LB3 upside
- SLB/WLB Duke Riley – Dark horse sleeper with LB3 upside if things break just right
- WLB Kemal Ishmael – Injury sleeper
- OLB Foye Oluokun – No fantasy impact expected
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