This article will dig into the Falcons for the 2021 football season. Players left, players came in, and coaches changed. All will have some impact on the upcoming season. We can’t predict the future but can give a good gauge of how things will change.
Let’s dive in!
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first: Julio Jones was traded to the Titans for a 2nd round pick (plus some later ones too).
What does that mean for the rest of the team?
Calvin Ridley’s going to be a stud. He is a top 5 receiver for this year. This has been looked at in-depth already, so I won’t go much into it here. Without Julio, Ridley averaged 11+ targets, 90+ yards, and 20+ fantasy points per game (PPR).
Draft him with confidence. Enough said.
Russell Gage will jump up to the WR2 on the team with Julio’s departure.
His numbers last season without Julio from the beginning to the end of the 2020 season:
He definitely got better as the season went along. I suppose we can cut him a break, as the head coach was fired midway through the season and it was the covid year, as it will be known.
If you extrapolate his numbers from after their bye week, he was on pace for 140 targets, 90 receptions, 1000 yards, and 8 TDs. That estimate seems like a good gauge of his production so expect WR2 numbers for the season.
He’s going very late in drafts, so he’s definitely worth the pick after the 7th round I’d say.
The Julio news doesn’t affect Hayden Hurst as much as selecting Kyle Pitts 4th overall in the 2021 draft. More on this to follow.
As for Matt Ryan, the offense can gel without the presence of Julio, as seen last season. Matt Ryan had top 10 finishes down the stretch through the end of the season. The fantasy primetime. Julio missed the last month of the season plus a few games sprinkled throughout the season, so those numbers were without the superstar. He has led the league in completion percentage going all the way back to 2012, so he’s far from being a scrub, to begin with.
It must be noted that he scored 5 fewer fantasy points per game without Julio than with him over the span of his career.
I will remind you that he’s 36, and father time will come sooner or later. but he’s likely a few years away from the wheels falling off.
Another major change this season: Kyle Pitts Gets Selected 4th Overall.
Widely considered a generational talent at the tight end position, the Falcons decided to punt on changing QBs and take Pitts. The Julio news of course only helps Pitts. Julio leaving lets up a ton of targets and some of those will go to Pitts.
I do think that the hype is unreal for him though. His ADP is in the range where for him to hit at that ADP, he’d have to have the most insane rookie year ever on record. Tight end is a position that traditionally takes some adapting to the NFL, longer than RB or receiver, as the TE needs to block and run routes.
I’ve seen him bumped up to TE4 in dynasty, which may be a stretch to say before he’s even set foot on the field, but goes to show everyone sees the upside.
I’d feel comfortable drafting him in the later rounds in redraft since he’s very unlikely to have a difference-making season for your team this year.
Hayden Hurst is honestly an afterthought at this point. Hurst had a decent enough season for a tight end last year finishing as TE9 in Half PPR. He wasn’t a difference-maker and was frustrating at times I’m sure for owners, but the tight end position is a wasteland, so he finished as a TE1.
With Pitts there now, he’s not useful for fantasy, unless in deeper leagues and hopefully TE premium just to help out with the point shortage.
I think the addition of Kyle Pitts also helps Matt Ryan, as he can hopefully be used as a red-zone threat along with helping the o-line when needed. Ridley is unaffected by this news.
The last major change this season is: Arthur Smith was hired as the Head Coach.
They hired Arthur Smith after they fired Dan Quinn in week 5 last season and didn’t commit to the interim HC for the coming season. He was the Offensive Coordinator for the Titans over the last 2 seasons.
As OC on the Titans, they made the playoffs both years and won their division in 2020. They made it to the AFC championship in 2019, losing to the eventual Super Bowl winner (which was the Chiefs if you feel that 2019 was like 10 years ago like I do).
Ryan Tannehill had a passing TD% of 7.7% and 6.9% in 2019 and 2020 respectively (that’s really high). If that is able to be replicated in Atlanta, Matt Ryan would score 35+ TDs and be a top-tier QB.
There is a major difference between the Titans and the Falcons: No Derrick Henry. The top of their depth chart at RB is Mike Davis. He’s not bad, but he’s not an RB you can use to just run the ball down their throats. He averaged a 3.9 YPC last year, which isn’t great (CMC averaged 3.8 but only played in 3 games). It’s safe to say they won’t be a run-first team like the Titans are.
In conclusion, the team has been in flux this offseason, with the loss of their star wide receiver, drafting of Kyle Pitts, and hiring new coaching staff along with a new GM. We’ll see how the offense changes under the new coaching scheme and leadership. The defense is still pretty bad, so they will be passing a lot, per usual. Matt Ryan has always been a gunslinger, and I don’t see that changing. Ridley will feast, and Gage will most likely be a solid WR2 based on how he was used at the end of the year last year and how the team uses their WR2 in general (Ridley was on pace for similar production when he was second fiddle to Julio in 2019 and 2020).
They are highly doubtful to win their division though and will have to deal with the Bucs most likely taking the division. The offense can put up points under Matt Ryan but they haven’t had a winning season since 2017. I hope they can at least have a winning season, but we’ll see how well they can do without Julio Jones.
(Cover Photo Credit: John Griffin / Getty Images)