2020 Preview: Atlanta Falcons


Falcons teammates Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Nick Saban's ...

The 2020 NFL Season is nearly upon us, and in anticipation of the new season we’ll be previewing the action team-by-team, using the draft order from last season. The previews will kick off with the Bengals and run right through the reigning champion Chiefs. Come back each day to check out your favorite team. All ADP and Rankings reflect PPR scoring. 2020 Projections are based on a 12-team league (i.e. WR1 (Top 12), WR2 (13-24), WR3 (25-36)).

            The Falcons entered the 2019 season looking to make a splash, but they landed with a thud. The team opened the season 1-7 heading into their bye week and appeared to be headed toward a coaching change. But in the second half of the season the Falcons went 6-2, finishing 7-9 and second in the NFC South. That surge at the end—which included four straight wins to close the season—was enough to bring Dan Quinn back for another season.

            But the Falcons made plenty of adjustments to their personnel in the off-season. The NFC South also didn’t get any easier with a new regime in Carolina and Tom Brady joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The division also still has the Saints, a team that seems poised to contend for a Super Bowl title. The Falcons need to make a move if they want to keep the band together in 2021, so is this the year Matt Ryan and Julio Jones get back to the playoffs?

Off-Season Changes

            The two biggest changes came as the Falcons saw key contributors leave. Devonta Freeman led the team in rushing the past few seasons but struggled with injuries in 2019. He left as a free agent and remains unsigned. The Falcons also saw a key contributor to the passing game leave as tight end Austin Hooper—who caught more than 70 passes each of the past two seasons—signed a huge free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns. But the Falcons made moves to replace both with free agents, including one of the biggest names on the market in running back Todd Gurley.

            Gurley—who played at the University of Georgia in college—rushed for more than 5,400 yards and 58 TDs in five seasons for the Rams. Gurley was one of the top RBs in 2017 and 2018, adding 19 and 21 total TDs, respectively, in each season. But a gimpy knee seemed to hold him back in 2019, though he appeared in 15 games. The Falcons are hoping the Rams’ loss is their gain. To fill the hole at tight end, the Falcons snagged Hayden Hurst from the Ravens. Hurst caught 43 passes for 512 yards and three TDs for the Ravens.

Fantasy Impact

            The Falcons are led by Ryan, the veteran quarterback who finished as QB11 in 2019. There’s no reason to think he won’t be a QB1 again in 2020. Gurley, meanwhile, was RB14 in a down year in 2014. I think he’s solidly an RB2 for the Falcons in 2020. The Falcons have a few other RBs, including Quadree Ollison and Ito Smith, but none are worth rostering in re-draft for me.

            The Falcons’ passing attack is led by two great receivers in the veteran Julio Jones and the up-and-coming Calvin Ridley. Jones finished with 99 receptions for 1,394 yards and six TDs while Ridley had 63 receptions for 866 yards and seven TDs in 13 games. Jones finished as WR3 and Ridley finished as WR27. I expect Jones to be a Top 5 receiver in 2020, an easy WR1, and Ridley to move into WR2 territory. Both will be great values. I’m not interested in any other Falcons’ receiver, though Russell Gage is currently projected as the third receiver for the team. Hurst is more of an unknown, but he has a great opportunity to take a step forward. I have him as a mid-TE2, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he finishes better than that.

Prediction

            The Falcons still have a talented offense and a lot of the pieces that were in place when they went to the Super Bowl following the 2017 season. But injuries and inefficient play have plagued them on the field. Despite their talent, I think they’re just the third best team in the NFC South. They should be around eight or nine wins, and could sneak into the playoffs, but I’m not betting on it.

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a proud member of the Drive-In Podcast Network.

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