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Player Outlooks (2021)
QB Matt Ryan: Ryan was poised to be a huge offseason winner, but the Falcons trading Julio Jones obviously knocks his outlook down a bit. That said, Arthur Smith coached Ryan Tannehill to a 55:12 touchdown-interception ratio in 26 starts with Tennessee, and Kyle Pitts can immediately be a dangerous weapon alongside Calvin Ridley. The former NFL MVP had a season with 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions relatively recently (2018), so consider Ryan a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 that could be forced into shootouts.
RB Mike Davis: Atlanta won’t run the ball like the Titans did with Derrick Henry, but Davis is the lead back on an offense we still expect will be very good, and there aren’t any other proven options on the depth chart. If the offensive line is able to gel, Davis—who had 1,015 total yards in 2020 for the Panthers—can be a solid RB2 option for a team that just had Todd Gurley score nine times in nine games before knee issues became more of a factor.
RB Qadree Ollison: The size of Ollison (six-foot-one, 232 pounds) is something to immediately take note of when projecting this backfield, and if Mike Davis struggles early, the third-year runner would be in line to take advantage. He only had one touch last season, but Ollison scored four touchdowns in eight games as a rookie, and we like the talent as an early-down option.
RB Javian Hawkins: Hawkins is basically the complete opposite to Ollison as a five-foot-eight, 183-pound back, and it’s not unreasonable to expect he will earn a significant chunk of receiving work if the Falcons decide on having a committee. The problem for the undrafted rookie is that Mike Davis is a very capable pass-catcher, so he will need to flash enough this summer to earn a role; full PPR leagues should have Hawkins on the radar.
WR Calvin Ridley: We aren’t going to give it away, but as mentioned would be the case in our draft guide, the ranking of Ridley had a very minimal change following Atlanta’s trade of Julio Jones. The new “Batman” for the Falcons is going to get more attention, but he proved he could handle it whenever Julio was out of the lineup, and Arthur Smith is going to move his top weapon around to create mismatches (and avoid shadow coverage). After going for 100+ receiving yards in eight-of-15 games last year, Ridley should again be among the NFL’s best.
WR Russell Gage: Gage certainly gets a boost with more targets opened up, but the hype might get a bit out of control over the next several weeks. For his career, the 25-year-old has averaged a modest 6.7 yards per target, and some have even suggested he should be viewed as a strong WR3—which is way too rich considering some of the young wideouts going outside the top 40 at the position. Look for the passing attack to be filtered through Ridley and Kyle Pitts for the most part.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson: It will be interesting to see the positional designation for Patterson if he ends up playing more running back for Atlanta, but we expect he’ll be a better real-life asset—particularly in the return game—than he will be fantasy option. Although Patterson is averaging 6.1 yards per carry for his career, the number dropped to 3.6 yards per carry on a career-high 64 attempts in his final year with Chicago.
WR Olamide Zaccheaus: Perhaps they will end up making a move, but the Falcons are likely higher on their internal options than those outside the building, and that includes Zaccheaus. In three games with five or more targets last season, he averaged 5.3 receptions, 76.7 yards and 0.3 touchdowns; and he notably had a 93-yard touchdown as a rookie in 2019. The juice Zaccheaus brings will make him a definite riser if he looks like the clear No. 3 receiver in preseason action.
WR Frank Darby: Darby doesn’t possess top-tier physical tools, but he has a smoothness to his game that could make him a favorite of Matt Ryan, and the Falcons liked him enough to take in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Based on his skillset, the rookie could be insurance behind Russell Gage as he develops following a lost 2020 campaign while in college,
WRs Tajae Sharpe and Christian Blake: Sharpe has some familiarity with Arthur Smith from their time together in Tennessee, but both he and Blake will battle it out as depth this summer. Neither is expected to have much redraft appeal to begin the year.
TE Kyle Pitts: He is a rarity already in that TE1 value will be unchallenged from Day 1, but exactly how high should Pitts be drafted? While the history of rookie tight ends is worrisome from a statistical perspective, each situation is different, and Pitts has the size and athleticism to be a mismatch nightmare—even against NFL defenders. Investing in the No. 4 overall pick will be pricey, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be worth it.
TE Hayden Hurst: In his first season with the Falcons, Hurst had 50+ yards and/or a touchdown in nine-of-16 games, and the trade of Julio Jones helps him hold quality value alongside Kyle Pitts. Arthur Smith successfully utilized various tight ends in Tennessee, but the group is obviously much more stable with a couple of first-round picks in Atlanta. Consider Hurst an optimistic TE2 option.
Best 2021 value: RB Qadree Ollison (FantasyPros ECR: RB115)
Ollison basically not even being on the radar in redraft leagues makes him an easy choice here, and at worst, he is the logical handcuff to Mike Davis on an offense that could surprise (even without Julio Jones). He probably won’t make any overall Top 200 lists barring an eye-popping summer, but Ollison should be getting more buzz.
Best dynasty investment: QB Matt Ryan
Atlanta was reportedly high on Trey Lance before he went to San Francisco, but the fact remains that they didn’t take a signal-caller with the No. 4 overall pick—and the new regime doesn’t expect to be drafting in the top five again anytime soon. Matty Ice getting rejuvenated by a new offense could extend his prime with four more seasons until he reaches his age-40 campaign.
Exclusively in 2021 draft guide.
Stat to know
Exclusively in 2021 draft guide.