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After another disappointing season, the Falcons brought in Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to be the head coach, which could bring about a significant change in offensive philosophy. On the other hand, they took a generational tight end at No. 4 overall and may still struggle on defense, so maybe it won't be that different -- except for the fact that they won't have Julio Jones for the first time since 2010 after he was traded to the Titans.

2020 Review

Record: 4 - 12 (29)
PPG: 24.8 (16)
YPG: 368.4 (18)
Pass YPG: 272.7 (5)
Rush YPG: 95.8 (27)
PAPG: 39.3 (4)
RAPG: 25.6 (20)

2020 Fantasy finishes

QB: Matt Ryan QB12
RB: Todd Gurley* RB29; Brian Hill* RB50; Ito Smith RB73
WR: Calvin Ridley WR5; Russell Gage WR37; Julio Jones* WR53 
TE: Hayden Hurst TE11
*No longer with team

Team Outlooks: TitansPanthersRavens

Number to know: 643

That's how many pass attempts the Falcons have averaged over the past three seasons, tops in the NFL. The gap between the Falcons and No. 5 (the Rams) is larger than the gap between the Rams and No. 16. How much will that change with the combination of a change in offensive philosophy as well as the loss of Jones? Last season, Jones played seven full games -- he missed seven overall and left two others early -- and while there wasn't a significant change in pass attempts overall, the passing game really struggled without Jones:

  • w/ Jones: 39.4 attempts per game, 68% completion, 324.3 YPG, 2.1 TD, 0.4 INT, 8.2 Y/A
  • w/o Jones: 38.9 attempts, 63%, 256.8 YPG, 1.2 TD, 0.9 INT, 6.6 Y/A

Obviously they didn't have Pitts, who could be a significant difference-maker in his own right, but those are still pretty startling numbers. Smith might determine that it's in the team's best interest to slow the game down and lean on the run a bit more without Jones. On the other hand, Mike Davis is the lead back here and this is still a team that hasn't been able to run the ball well since 2017, so I don't expect this to be a run-first offense or anything like it. This isn't Tennessee. Derrick Henry ain't walking through that door. 

2021 Offseason

Draft Picks 

1. (4) Kyle Pitts, TE
2. (40) Richie Grant, S
3. (68) Jalen Mayfield, OT
4. (108) Darren Hall, CB
4. (114) Drew Dalman, C
5. (148) Ta'Quon Graham, DL
5. (182) Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DL
5. (183) Avery Williams, CB
6. (187) Frank Darby, WR, OL

Coaching staff changes

HC Arthur Smith (prev.: Titans OC), OC Anthony Lynn (prev.: Chargers HC), DC Dean Pees (prev.: Titans DC)

Additions

RB Mike Davis, TE Lee Smith, DL Barkevious Mingo, DL Brandon Copeland, DB Fabian Moreau

Key Departures

WR Julio Jones, OL Justin McCray, OL Alex Mack, S Keanu Neal

Available Opportunity 

295 carries, 65 RB targets, 111 WR targets, 16 TE targets 

2021 Preview

Award
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Jamey Eisenberg
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Dave Richard
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Heath Cummings
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Chris Towers
Matt Ryan15172123
Mike Davis24242225
Qadree Ollison31353168
Calvin Ridley7456
Russell GageNRNR60NR
Kyle Pitts7665
Hayden Hurst2524NRNR

Chris Towers' projections

QBMatt RyanPA: 571, YD: 4,112, TD: 26, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 33, YD: 114, TD: 1
RBMike DavisCAR: 217, YD: 867, TD: 7; TAR: 61, REC: 46, YD: 337, TD: 2
RBQadree OllisonCAR: 72, YD: 286, TD: 2; TAR: 12, REC: 9, YD: 68, TD: 1
WRCalvin RidleyTAR: 155, REC: 99, YD: 1436, TD: 9
WRRussell GageTAR: 95, REC: 61, YD: 642, TD: 4
TEKyle PittsTAR: 109, REC: 68, YD: 847, TD: 6
TEHayden HurstTAR: 49, REC: 32, YD: 346, TD: 2

Biggest Question

How pass-heavy will Arthur Smith be as head coach?  

The Falcons have been among the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL for a long time, so the hiring of Smith presents some interesting challenges when trying to project how they'll look in 2020. Will Smith try to install a similar offense to what Tennessee ran? I'm doubtful, because a good coach adjusts to his personnel, and the pass catchers here are much more talented than the running backs, even with the loss of Jones. 

One sleeper, one breakout and one bust

Sleeper
ATL Atlanta • #25
• Experience: Rookie
2020 Stats (Louisville, 8G)
RUYDS
822
REC
16
REYDS
127
TD
8
FPTS/G
19.9

There's room for someone in the passing game to step up here, but there was room for that in 2020 when Jones was out and nobody really did. So I'll throw out a candidate to be the next James Robinson. Hawkins was an undrafted free agent out of Louisville where he was the lead runner in both 2019 and 2020, rushing for 2,355 yards and 16 touchdowns over his career. He's a bit undersized and doesn't have elite speed, but he has some potential as a big-play rusher and could do more as a receiver than he did in college. The assumption is that Davis is going to be the lead back and be a useful Fantasy starter as a result, but mediocre veterans who are only Fantasy relevant due to their projected workload tend to be pretty bad investments for Fantasy -- look at Todd Gurley last year. Hawkins doesn't need to be drafted in a 12-team league, but in deeper leagues, he's worth one of your last picks just in case. 

Breakout
ATL Atlanta • #8
Age: 20 • Experience: Rookie
2020 Stats (UF, 8G)
REC
43
REYDS
770
TD
12
FPTS/G
24.0

As a rule, rookie tight ends aren't great Fantasy options, but Pitts seems like the exception to every rule. Tight ends aren't supposed to average nearly 100 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game in college. Tight ends aren't supposed to run a 4.49 40-yard dash at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds. Pitts is more like a gigantic wide receiver than a tight end, and the Falcons will probably look to use him that way now that Jones is gone. He should be the No. 2 option in the passing game, and I still expect this to be a relatively high-volume passing game, so 100 targets should be a pretty easy goal. Only five tight ends got to that level last season, so Pitts already figures to be in some rarified air. Can he buck the long-term trends for rookie tight ends? If anyone can, Pitts should be able to. I have him at TE5 coming into the season, and that's projecting him more conservatively than I wanted to. 

Bust
ATL Atlanta • #2
Age: 36 • Experience: 14 yrs.
2020 Stats
PAYDS
4581
RUYDS
92
TD
28
INT
11
FPTS/G
20.9

You saw those stats without Julio last season. Pitts should be a difference maker, but I don't expect he'll be as good as Jones as a rookie -- or, you know, ever. I've got Ryan projected for the ninth-most pass attempts in the league but with pretty average efficiency across the board and essentially nothing from the running game. Maybe five years ago, that would have been enough to make Ryan a solid starting Fantasy option. But in this environment, with so many promising young quarterbacks capable of contributing with their legs as well as their arm, it makes him a borderline No. 2. Not someone I want to draft as a starter. 

So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.