Last season the Falcons went (7-9), finishing third in the NFC South division. The Falcons ranked 13th in points scored in 2019. The Falcon’s offense will once again be run by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, so will have some continuity going for them in 2020. Dirk likes the passing game to be run off of the play action. The offensive line has gotten younger and a little more talented this offseason, looking at the film last season they looked really bad so an upgrade was definitely needed. The team will look to establish the run a little bit more in 2020, but a bottom ranked defense may make that tough to do if the Falcons are in catchup or shootout mode, in addition to a line that may underwhelm again in 2020. The team has concerns of depth at the skilled positions such as running back and wide receiver.
Matt Ryan (QB) – last season with the defense being terrible and ranking towards the bottom of the league, Ryan had to air the ball out a lot in 2019. Ryan threw the ball somewhere in the neighborhood of 684 times, and will likely do so again in 20020, as the defense projects to be terrible again. Many are worried that Ryan’s volume won’t be there in 2020 with the addition of Gurley, but as you read below you shouldn’t be. Ryan had a bit of a down year statistically in 2019, and historically as always bounces back the year after a down year. The loss of Hooper doesn’t hurt Ryan’s outlook as many think, as he is replaced by the athletic Hayden Hurst who can do everything Hooper can and then some. Ryan will boast one of the best wide receiver groups in the league, and an offensive line that isn’t great, but not terrible either.
Fantasy Spin: Matt Ryan should offer better value this season compared to last. Ryan likely can be had late in drafts this summer after the 9th to 10th rounds, which is tremendous value for a quarterback that will finish as a QB1 in 2020. We have Ryan ranked as our 9th quarterback in redraft and 13th quarterback in dynasty formats, making him a QB1 in both.
Todd Gurley (RB) – many in the fantasy industry are excited for the landing spot of Gurley this offseason, as they view this as a fantasy friendly environment. We would agree that it is a fantasy friendly environment, but we disagree in the Gurley excitement. Looking at Gurley’s tape from 2019 we see a back that didn’t look particularly good. Gurley is a downhill power explosion runner or a momentum runner as they call it. Last season Gurley didn’t have that explosion, which is a cause of concern for us. Gurley doesn’t possess that natural shiftiness or elusiveness that great backs tend to have. In the past Gurley was able to make up for lapses in his run game by contributing as a pass catcher, but last season he seemed to even lack the agility needed to make him effective in that area as well. Let us put that in perspective for you in 2017 when Gurley had his 2,000 yard season he ranked 5th in yards per route run. This past year Gurley ranked dead last in that same category, which does not bode well for him in 2020. The problem for the Falcons is there really aren’t any capable runners behind him either. Ito Smith has proven he cannot be relied upon week in and week out to be the teams starter. This entire backfield is a fade to us entering 2020.
Fantasy Spin: If Gurley doesn’t find that explosion it could mean bad news for the fantasy owners that are willing to take him in 2020. We are staying away from Gurley in 2020 due to the lack of explosion, an offensive line that will likely struggle run blocking again, and because the team will likely have to air the ball out more times than not in 2020. We have Gurley ranked as our 20th running back in redraft and 27th in dynasty formats. The value will not be there to make it worth the gamble on Gurley, as he is being taken as the 28th overall pick in most drafts at this point. There are far better options in the third round, do not fall for the name value here.
Julio Jones/Calvin Ridley/Russell Gage (WR) – Julio Jones has been one of the most consistent wide receivers we have ever seen, making the Pro Bowl in every season except one (due to injury) since 2012. Jones enters 2020 as the clear lead dog in this passing attack again in 2020, and with the departure of Hooper could see even more targets this season. Ridley entering his third season as a pro could be in line for a breakout season in 2020. The Falcons use Ridley on the outside opposite Julio most of the time, but is effective from the slot when placed there. Ridley coming into the league was not viewed as an alpha receiver. Ridley was looked at by most as a nice complimentary receiver to a team’s top receiver. Ridley doesn’t project as a volume receiver which caps his upside, as he will have some big weeks and then follow that up with some bad weeks. Russell Gage likely will be the guy to man the slot for the Falcons in 2020, a role vacated last season by Mo Sanu. He will be moved to the outside at times as all three of these receivers are versatile players. Gage is a big bodied player who moves well for his size. The team has expressed a few times this off season that they are going to expand his role, as there really is no quality depth behind him on this depth chart.
Fantasy Spin: Julio Jones is in line to have another 1,500 yard season as the Falcons top dog. Julio finished second only behind Michael Thomas in fantasy points in 2019. He has been a consistent top ten fantasy receiver for pretty much his whole career, and that should remain the same in 2020. We view Julio as a WR1 in redraft as he is our 3rd ranked wide out. In dynasty he falls down to a mid range WR2 ranked as our 16th wide receiver, as he is getting up there in age. Calvin Ridley is more of a piece of the offensive puzzle and not the center piece. This is what makes it difficult for us fantasy owners because Ridley will no doubt have some big games in 2020, but figuring out when it will be is tricky. Ridley will have games where he catches 8 balls for 180, and then the following week he will disappear with a 2 for 20 game, which as you know is very frustrating. Ridley enters 2020 has a solid WR2 in both redraft and dynasty leagues as he ranks as our 12th and 18th receiver respectively. With the Falcons likely throwing a lot again in 2020 it isn’t crazy to imagine Gage catching close to 65 balls in offense that gets its pass catchers volume. With that said Gage enters 2020 as our 65th ranked wide receiver in redraft and our 109th ranked wide receiver in dynasty leagues.
Hayden Hurst (TE) – is probably the most interesting player on the Falcons entering 2020. Hurst slides into a position vacated by Austin Hooper when he left town for the Browns. Hurst will assume a role that in 2019 was very productive for the Falcons. Hooper saw a lot of targets (97) in this offense last season, playing in 13 games. Hurst will offer the offense the same at the position and then some, as Hurst is more athletic than Hooper. Hurst is much better after the catch than Hooper which will also be an upgrade for the Falcons passing attack on the short to intermediate areas of the field. Hurst was drafted to the Ravens in 2018 at the same time as Mark Andrews, and never really saw much opportunity or volume in the offense. In his rookie season injuries derailed his debut, and then in 2019 Andrews emerged as the dominating tight end of that group. 2020 will be different as Hurst figures to be a heavy volume tight end in this offense.
Fantasy Spin: Matt Ryan has shown in the past that if he trusts his tight end he will be sure to pepper him with targets. This is how we see this playing out for Hurst starting in 2020. Hurst will be given a big role in the offense where he will be the guy to man the middle of the field and be used as Ryan’s safety blanket. Not only is his role in the offense a reason to draft Hurst this season, but his value is one of the best entering fantasy drafts this summer, as he has and ADP of 125 or later. To put that in perspective for you look at a guy in Hunter Henry who hasn’t been able to stay healthy a full season yet, and is going at least 60 picks before him, don’t be that person. Be the person soaking up the value and taking Hurst later, trust us you will thank us for that. Hayden Hurst comes in as our 7th receiver in redraft making him a solid TE1. In dynasty he is our 12th ranked tight end entering 2020.
Defense – this unit finished 2019 ranked 23rd in points allowed. This unit projects to us to be just as bad in 2020. The team could not rush the opposing quarterback last season, hence the addition of Dante Fowler this offseason. The hope for defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is for Fowler to become that primary pass rusher and Takkarist Finley can become that secondary rusher. The secondary will be young especially at corner back as they will start first round rookie AJ Terrell and opposite him a young player in Isaiah Oliver, who will need to start producing entering year three.
Fantasy Spin: This unit is a work and progress and will be a bottom seven defense in 2020. We have them ranked as our 31st fantasy defense entering 2020. This 31st ranking tells us to stay away from them in all formats in 2020.
Strength of Schedule
The Falcons wide receiver corps will face the 11th easiest schedule this fantasy regular season. Their playoff schedule will be the 3rd toughest during weeks 14-16. Gurley will be looking at the 8th toughest schedule during the fantasy regular season. The back will then have the 15th toughest schedule during the fantasy playoffs. Ryan will face the 3rd toughest schedule during the fantasy regular season, and the 9th toughest during weeks 14-16. Hurst will face the toughest fantasy regular season schedule and will face the 16th easiest playoff schedule from weeks 14-16.