If you’ve been following along throughout the summer, our writing staff has taken aim at projecting the floor and ceilings of each pass-catching unit around the NFL. The Target Practice series features a team-by-team analysis that now boards a “midnight train to Georgia”, to borrow a phrase from the great Gladys Knight.

The Falcons finished 2018 at 7-9 after starting an abysmal 1-7 out of the gate. This team was bent on throwing the ball because of their lack of success on the ground ranking 30th in rushing yards per game. Matt Ryan led the league in completions despite missing a week. We know the yardage will be there as Ryan has averaged 4,600 passing yards over the last nine years. He trails only Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger in that stretch in yards per game. Why do we care about yardage? Because they give us a piece of the puzzle in projecting offenses from a 10,000-foot view. I wrote more about this last year in Projecting Offenses and Who Owns the Targets if you want a deeper dive into the process.

The Falcons have a 7.5 Vegas win total projection according to Sharp Football Stats and he projects the Falcons to face toughest offensive schedule including toughest pass schedule in the league. Yikes! Let’s dive into the target distribution and what could be in 2020.

Vacated Targets

One of the first places to begin projecting an offense is by examining opportunity and pace. How much of the passing pie is available, how often does this team throw and how do we split up those targets? I recently published an article highlighting a trend between Vacated Targets & the RB Position in Fantasy Football. Another question that often comes up when evaluating multiple pass catchers is Do Offenses Have ‘Too Many Mouths to Feed‘? If you want a deeper dive into those subjects, feel free to give them a read before going any further.

For the 2020 Atlanta Falcons, they head into the season with the most targets up for grabs in the NFL. TE Austin Hooper signed a massive free-agent deal with the Browns leaving behind 97 targets, although his poor aDOT suggests a majority of these targets were of the dump-off variety. Free-agent Devonta Freeman had only seven double-digit fantasy games en route to an RB21 finish. However, 70 targets is a significant amount to divide out. The Falcons fleeced a second-round draft pick from New England for Mohamed Sanu halfway through the year and if you add up the remaining vacated targets, almost 40% of the passing pie is available.

Player Vacated Targets from 2019 Market Share
Austin Hooper 97 14.8%
Devonta Freeman 70 10.7%
Mohamed Sanu 42 6.4%
Justin Hardy 26 4.0%
Others 21 3.2%
TOTAL 256 39.1%

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Todd Gurley– Floor: 40 targets/ Ceiling: 95 targets

As a Falcons fan, I’m excited despite Mike’s recent poo-poo thrown on the Ice + Fire Picks podcast. Gurley ran the 4th most routes at the RB position in 2019 but was criminally underutilized by the Rams in that regard. There is reason to see upside with Gurley in the passing game. Luckily, OC Dirk Koetter’s return to Atlanta showed a slight improvement in RB market share at 16.9%, up from 14.5%, the 3rd-worst mark in the league in 2018. Devonta Freeman averaged almost four receptions per game in his four years as the starting RB. The Falcons’ zone-blocking scheme works well with his skillset although the team was bottom-5 in rushing plays. The Rams obviously still trusted him in the red-zone as he had 3rd most attempts inside the 20-yard line. Injuries aside if I was projecting Gurley, I’d look for something like 252 rushing attempts, 1,015 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs, 81 targets, 66 catches for 403 yards, two receiving TDs, and two fumbles. I’m seeing closer to RB12.

Julio Jones– Floor: 125 targets/ Ceiling: 170 targets
I’ll confess: Julio Jones is by far my favorite player in the NFL… ever. But to take off my ATL cap for a second, realize that Jones has averaged 162 targets per season over the last six seasons. There are some absolute monster totals in his resume including a 2015 season where he went 136/1871/8 on 203 targets. As Matt Ryan goes in the TD department, so goes Julio. He should continue as the de facto WR1 in this offense but perhaps this is the year his market share dominance takes a hit with so many other viable options. He’s still a top-5 fantasy WR but his ceiling feels a bit more capped at age 31 season.
Calvin Ridley– Floor: 94 targets/ Ceiling: 135 targets

Many around the fantasy industry are bullish on Ridley for 2020. I’ve seen him as high as WR10(!) in initial ranks. It’s easy to buy-in to his 3rd-year ascendance but sometimes he vanishes on the field. He’s hard to project because physically he shouldn’t be a red-zone weapon, although he’s shown a knack for the endzone since his rookie year. He’s not a burner but more of a tactician running smooth routes. I’ve written elsewhere about Ridley’s chances for a 3rd year Chris Godwin-type leap where the #1 is clearly Julio but Ridley just keeps getting peppered with targets and the TDs fall his way. Talent-wise I couldn’t put him near the top-10. For BestBall, I don’t mind taking him as your team’s WR1 IF you went RB heavy in the 1st couple of rounds or you secured Travis Kelce or George Kittle. In terms of stating him out, I’d put his median projection at 115 targets, 76 receptions, 1,110 yards, and seven TDs, all of which is slightly above last year’s 16-game pace beside the TDs.

Mark Brown/Getty Images

Russell Gage– Floor: 60 targets/ Ceiling: 105 targets

Over the final two months, he was running 60+ percent of the snaps and some of that was even before Sanu left. But there’s nothing in his prospect profile that makes me think he’s anything more than “right place at the right time” WR3. His fantasy bones were made when Julio was out. If the overall offensive volume goes down, I can’t see him have more than two or three relevant fantasy games. The 74 targets he had last year doesn’t tell the entire story considering Ridley only played 13 games, Julio missed one, and Hooper only 13. He surprisingly led the WRs in red-zone targets, something Falcons fans like myself must be shaking their heads at. Gage was brought up recently as a favorite late-round dart throw in BestBall drafts by my fellow DFS co-host Matthew Betz. If the Falcons continue to run 11-personnel at a high rate, he will see the snaps.

Hayden Hurst– Floor: 65 targets/ Ceiling: 95 targets

Hayden Hurst, former 1st round pick, was acquired for a 2nd round pick from the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. He steps into the role of Austin Hooper who, as mentioned earlier, was a short target magnet. The way the Falcons used Hooper was not special by any means. His aDOT last year was 6.8 and it looked like that on the field. Hurst actually had one more “deep target” than Hooper (5-4) despite running 271(!) fewer routes. It’s hard to compare Baltimore to Atlanta in terms of TE usage because, in Atlanta, the TEs have basically been a safety valve at best. There is literally no-one behind Hurst, although UDFA Jared Pinkney was thought to be a 2nd/3rd rounder last year. I can see how Falcons are depending a lot on Hurst. But if he sees somewhere around 65-70 targets that sound about right in this offense. He’s worth a shot as a late-round guy given the upper-tier offense especially IF the TDs go his way. I profiled Hurst earlier this offseason in Narrowing the Field to Find 2020’s Mark Andrews.

The post Target Practice: The 2020 Atlanta Falcons (Fantasy Football) appeared first on Fantasy Footballers Podcast.

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