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2021 Player Outlooks: Atlanta Falcons

By Ken Ilchuk | 6/18/21

Matt Ryan

QB Matt Ryan
(2020 QB Rank - No.12, 22.1 FPts/G)

Despite leading the league in pass attempts and ranking fifth in passing yards, Ryan was just a borderline QB1 in 2020. Hurt by the loss of his top target Julio Jones (missed seven games and was hobbled in two others), a suspect offensive line, and a general lack of mobility from the pocket, he and the Falcons offense were frustratingly inconsistent. But with five 300+ yard games and eight multi-TD games, Ryan was just good enough for owners to consider each week, especially during the bye weeks.

Entering 2021, Jones is gone. So is HC Dan Quinn. But new head man Arthur Smith seems to have convinced GM Terry Fontenot that Ryan has at least a couple years left. The veteran signal caller has a re-structured contract and no significant competition in the QB room beyond AJ McCarron and rookie free agent Feleipe Franks. The team also invested a couple draft picks on the interior of the o-line, and added perhaps the most dynamic skill player in this yearís draft in Florida TE Kyle Pitts.

Though Smith was a decidedly run-first guy in his previous stop as OC in Tennessee, thereís no Derrick Henry on this roster, and while Fontenot used some serious draft capital to upgrade the defense, weíre still not sure the pass rush and the defensive backfield are quite there yet, which means Ryan could once again be trying to throw his way to victory every week. With top targets Calvin Ridley, Pitts, Russell Gage, and TE Hayden Hurst able to align just about anywhere on the field, Ryan and the passing attack have the potential to be explosive.

Ryan may not get off to a blazing start as all the new pieces come together, but as we approach midseason, donít be surprised if he starts putting up some serious numbers, provided everyone stays healthy.

RB Mike Davis
(2020 RB Rank - No.16, 14.9 FPts/G)

An unrestricted free agent signing this Spring, Davis availed himself nicely as the starter in Carolina last season while Christian McCaffrey dealt with injury issues. He proved to be a durable runner, averaging just under 4.0 yards per carry on 165 totes, but his real value may come as a receiver. He had 59 catches in 2020 and the 5th-most targets of any back in the league. As at QB, the RB corps is young, so short of a late signing or injury, Davis figures to be the guy lining up behind Ryan. HC Arthur Smith has promised a more balanced offensive attack than Falcons fans have seen in recent years, which bodes well for a steady workload for Davis. But his versatility as a receiver could be the thing that gives him significant sleeper value.

WR Calvin Ridley
(2020 WR Rank - No.4, 18.8 FPts/G)

Ridley had a breakout campaign in 2020, setting career highs in receptions (90) and receiving yards (1,374) while posting 9 TD. Thrust into the WR1 role due to nagging injury issues to Julio Jones, he showed big play ability and the versatility to attack from the slot or the boundary, as a deep threat, and as a catch and run weapon on short and intermediate routes. With Jones gone, expect Ridley, who has averaged over 11 targets per game when Jones was out of the lineup, to be a full-on fantasy stud in 2021. His versatility, HC Arthur Smithís offensive creativity, and the presence of Kyle Pitts, Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst, and even Mike Davis and Christian Blake keeping defenses honest could equate to new heights for Ridley, who has proven to be nearly uncoverable at times.

WR Russell Gage
(2020 WR Rank - No.52, 11.8 FPts/G)

Gage is another Falcons receiver who posted career numbers in 2020. He caught 72 balls on 109 targets for 786 yards and four scores, all career highs. But with just one 100-yard game and no multiple-TD games, he averaged just 6.5 fantasy points, even when opportunities presented themselves with Julio Jones out. HC Arthur Smith plans to move him around in the new offense, which should help create favorable matchups from the slot, where heís done most of his work to this point, and out on the boundary. Heíll be on the field opposite Calvin Ridley, but it remains to be seen who gets more targets, him or rookie Kyle Pitts. Gage is a borderline WR2/WR3 depending on how that scenario plays out.

WR Christian Blake
(2020 WR Rank - No.134, 3.9 FPts/G)

Despite being on the field for a significant percent of Atlantaís offensive snaps in 2020, Blake got limited opportunities as a pass catcher, collecting 13 balls on just 18 targets in 16 games. Listed as a starter on early depth charts in the Falcons 3-wide sets, Blake still figures to be the 4th receiving option at best in this offense, even with additional playing time, and will be hard-pressed to make a fantasy impact from week to week.

TE Kyle Pitts
(2020 TE Rank Ė N/A)

A rare combination of size, speed, athleticism, and crazy ball skills, Pitts is already drawing comparisons to Calvin Johnson, and that makes sense. At 6í6Ē, 245, he looks more like a big receiver than a tight end, and he will create matchup nightmares at every level of the defense. His athleticism will allow him to work from all parts of the field, and he will be a lethal threat in the red zone with the size to shield defenders and the hands to snatch the ball away from his body. When he, Ridley, and Gage are on the field together, itís going to create major problems for defensive coordinators. Youíll draft him as a TE, but heís going to produce like a WR1.

TE Hayden Hurst
(2020 TE Rank - No.15, 9.3 FPts/G)

Hurst had his best season in 2020 after coming over in a trade from Baltimore. At first glance, given the arrival of No.4 overall pick TE Kyle Pitts and the rest of the talented receiving corps, itís hard to imagine Hurst replicating his 88 targets and 6 TD from a year ago. But upon closer review, new HC Arthur Smith favored 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) as OC in Tennessee, and with Pitts serving as more of a deep threat along the seam, itís easy to see Hurst playing a role much like Jonnu Smith did for the Titans, working the short routes. Hurst may be on the field more than people expect but drafting him as anything more than a handcuff for Pitts is not advisable at this point.

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