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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.