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.
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
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.
- We break down the Julio Jones trade on the Fantasy Football Today in 5 podcast. Listen below and follow at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:
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 Dave Ragone (prev.: Bears pass game coordinator), DC Dean Pees (prev.: Titans DC)
295 carries, 65 RB targets, 111 WR targets, 16 TE targets
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Matt Ryan||PA: 571, YD: 4,112, TD: 26, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 33, YD: 114, TD: 1|
|RB||Mike Davis||CAR: 217, YD: 867, TD: 7; TAR: 61, REC: 46, YD: 337, TD: 2|
|RB||Qadree Ollison||CAR: 72, YD: 286, TD: 2; TAR: 12, REC: 9, YD: 68, TD: 1|
|WR||Calvin Ridley||TAR: 155, REC: 99, YD: 1436, TD: 9|
|WR||Russell Gage||TAR: 95, REC: 61, YD: 642, TD: 4|
|TE||Kyle Pitts||TAR: 109, REC: 68, YD: 847, TD: 6|
|TE||Hayden Hurst||TAR: 49, REC: 32, YD: 346, TD: 2|
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.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
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.
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.
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.