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2022 Team Reports
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Atlanta Falcons Writers
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Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was brought in for his adaptability and tendency to get the best out of players. Smith has historically preferred using a creative and varied run game to open up the middle of the field for his receivers and tight ends to attack.
Marcus Mariota has not started an NFL game since 2019 with the Titans. Since, he has been the primary backup to Derek Carr in Las Vegas, throwing a total of 30 passes. Mariota's mobility is his greatest trait and has been an average-at-best passer by most secondary metrics in the NFL. The good news is Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson offer unicorn-type weapons for Mariota on the Falcons offense. Mariota, pairing with Patterson, in run game concepts will be the most watchable aspect for a Falcons team looking more towards 2023 than pushing for a playoff appearance in 2022.
Desmond Ridder fell in the NFL Draft to Round 3, but was scooped up by Atlanta. Ridder, like Marcus Mariota and Feleipe Franks on the roster, is a mobile quarterback where his athleticism and rushing upside is an overt strength. Ridder will battle Franks for the primary backup job and not winning it would be a surprising outcome for the rookie considering Franks is dabbling with the tight end position as well.
Cordarrelle Patterson reinvented himself in 2021, a season where he turned into the Falcons version of Deebo Samuel, a true two-way offensive weapon. Patterson's usage in a given game varied from a primary running back to a primary receiver with quality utility in both regards. If viewing Patterson through the running back prism, only five backs with 100 or more rushes had more receptions than Patterson's 52 last season. If viewing Patterson as a wide receiver, only Deebo Samuel (at times) can be an offensive weapon comparable to Patterson's 153 rushing attempts. Patterson returning to Atlanta is the best news for a repeat, or expansion, of his usage with 205 offensive touches. The lack of skill position talent beyond Kyle Pitts is a vote of confidence in Patterson being heavily involved as well.
Damien Williams had a modest role in the Bears backfield in 2021 where more than half of his 56 offensive touches came in a two-week stretch with David Montgomery out of the lineup. Khalil Herbert was a rookie success story from Day 3 and Williams was a free agent in search of another opportunity this offseason. With Mike Davis being released shortly after the NFL Draft, Williams projects as the secondary option with upside beyond Cordarrelle Patterson on the depth. Tyler Allgeier projects as a rookie factor on the depth chart should Williams or Patterson falter as older backs.
Qadree Ollison enters his fourth year with the Falcons after being a mid-Day 3 selection in 2019. Ollison has the profile of a big-bodied back who can move well enough and contribute in the passing game. Ollison will push for a contributor role and be a veteran hurdle for Tyler Allgeier to initially make his way up the depth chart.
Tyler Allgeier joins the depth chart as a Day 3 rookie. Allgeier is a jack of all trades profile with good enough size, athleticism, and two-way production to project a three-down role should the Atlanta depth chart open due to injury in 2022. Allgeier has a solid veteran, albeit on the older side, in Damien Williams to hurdle for any meaningful role.
Drake London, a commonly projected selection for the Falcons with their first-round draft pick during the draft process, joins Atlanta's anemic depth chart with strong target upside in Year 1. London is a big-bodied target who excelled through contact, lined up inside and on the perimeter, and presents an easy target for his quarterback. London, paired with Kyle Pitts, offers one of the biggest tandems of targets in the NFL. Bryan Edwards was a trade acquisition by Atlanta, from Las Vegas, for a Day 3 selection in May. Edwards, a former Round 3 selection, has largely been a disappointment for the Raiders over his two seasons. Edwards is a big-bodied receiver, much in line with Kyle Pitts and Drake London, as the Falcons build a collection of super-sized targets. Edwards is on the bust track through two seasons but was not likely to see much usage for the Raiders with Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow, and Darren Waller. The Falcons offer a stronger, albeit still tempered, opportunity for Edwards to turn around his sluggish career start.
Olamide Zaccheaus is the longest-tenured of the depth chart and has progressed in each of his three NFL seasons, but was still a tempered 406 yards and three touchdowns stat line despite Calvin Ridley being a non-factor last year. Zaccheaus projects as a historically weak WR1 on an NFL depth chart, making the Falcons miss Russell Gage, who left in free agency. Damiere Byrd has been a nomadic NFL receiver on his fifth team in seven seasons. Byrd has quality athleticism but big plays have eluded him. Byrd has not had a year of at least 13 yards-per-reception since his one-catch rookie season and five career touchdowns on 117 catches is a woeful mark for any receiver with legit vertical ability. Expect Byrd to be challenged for the WR3 role. KhaDarel Hodge has shown flashes over his four-year NFL career, spanning now four teams and 30 receptions. However, Hodge is closer to being outside the NFL fringe than making the Falcons' final roster and being their regular WR2 or WR3 throughout the season. Auden Tate bombed his pre-draft workout, torpedoing his promising college profile from possibly Day 2 to almost falling out of the NFL Draft entirely. Auden Tate has enviable size at 6-foot-5 and more than 220 pounds, paired with strong hands and range. Tate is a wildcard on the Falcons depth chart if he shows more of his impressive 575-yard campaign in 2019 than his injuries and 17 receptions total over the past two seasons, spanning 16 games total. Frank Darby was a late-round selection by the Falcons in 2021, playing mostly on special teams as a rookie. Darby showed big-play ability at Arizona State and is yet another wildcard on a generally wide-open opportunity canvas of the Falcons passing game.
Kyle Pitts had staggering expectations entering the NFL with a unicorn-like profile of physical traits plus being the fourth overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Pitts quickly took over the Falcons passing game to the tune of being their WR1 with Calvin Ridley leaving the team after not being effective in the opening weeks. Pitts' rookie season would have been even more impressive on paper if not for a historically low touchdown rate, finding the end zone a mere one time on 68 receptions and 110 targets. With a lacking wide receiver depth chart - rivaling the worst in the NFL - only the limitations of Marcus Mariota under center will temper any ceiling being within reach for Pitts in 2022. Anthony Firkser flamed out in Tennessee after being a breakout candidate and the assumed starter in 2021. Firkser instead faded to a career-low 8.6 yards-per-reception on a team without a WR3 presence plus wide receiver starters A.J. Brown and Julio Jones both missing time during the season. Firkser devolves back into his familiar role as an ancillary option in Atlanta, but expect to see a quality number of snaps as tight end starter Kyle Pitts will rarely be aligned in-line or in a traditional tight end role.
- LT Jake Matthews
- LG Elijah Wilkinson
- C Matt Hennessy
- RG Chris Lindstrom
- RT Kaleb McGary
- Drew Dalman, Jalen Mayfield, Germain Ifedi
This group is led by former Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Matthews. Matthews is a durable eight-year vet who has not missed a start since 2014. Center Matt Hennessy and right guard Chris Lindstrom grade as good players, although Hennessy has been pushed by Drew Dalman. Left guard Elijah Wilkinson arrived from Denver to challenge Jalen Mayfield. Right tackle Kaleb McGary has improvement to make, but, overall this is a solid, middle-of-the-pack line, about league average.
Koo's fantasy fortunes fell with the Falcons offense in 2021. After a standout 2020 campaign, Koo was still outstanding, hitting 27-of-29 field goals and all 30 extra-point attempts, but that low volume - including only five attempts from 50+ (he made four) and seven from 40-49 (he made six) - kept Koo out of the preferred group of fantasy kickers. He should probably be left on the waiver wire to open the season, but monitor the Falcons offense to see if they can make him relevant again.
Cordarrelle Patterson is possibly the best kickoff returner in history, but as his offensive involvement increased in 2021 his special teams efforts tailed off. Patterson set career lows in returns at 18 and average per return at 24.1 (his first season under 28 yards since 2014). In his place, the Falcons turned to rookie Avery Williams, who was serviceable but unspectacular.
The Falcons defense was toothless in the first year of Dean Pees stewardship, a distant last in the league in sacks, and in the bottom 10 in points and yards allowed. Their lack of impact personnel make this very predictable. Atlanta did sign Grady Jarrett to an extension to anchor their defensive line, and they have a legit shutdown corner in A.J. Terrell paired up with a savvy veteran signing in Casey Hayward, but there's still a lack of pass rush punch and both safety positions are potential big weaknesses with unproven or unheralded players among the candidates to start. We'll be open to enough improvement to use the Falcons defense in matchups against the Bears and Steelers, but chances are they will remain on the waiver wire for the entire season.
- EDGE Lorenzo Carter, DE Grady Jarrett, DT Ta'Quon Graham, DE Marlon Davidson, EDGE Arnold Ebiketie [R]
Yuck. That was the only way you could describe the IDP assets on the Atlanta defensive line after the 2021 season. Their highest-scoring defensive lineman, Grady Jarrett, was a defensive tackle who likely didn't even rank in the top 60 on the season, and had one week that you didn't regret starting him. Dante Fowler was the second-highest scorer of the bunch and he might not have even cracked the top 100 at the position. Nobody else on this defensive line should have been rostered at any point in the season, and if you are a manager that was unfortunate enough to have to start one of those players, I offer you my sincerest condolences. So why were they so bad for IDP? For starters, the Falcons used a heavy rotation on the interior defensive line outside of Jarrett - who saw work all over the line in odd and even fronts. Additionally, the edge rushers in Atlanta were incapable of, well...anything. Aside from Grady Jarrett, there wasn't a single lineman that graded higher than a 57 on PFF, and Jarrett only graded at a 67. While talent might not be the most important factor in IDP for a position like linebacker, for example, it certainly is more significant at defensive line. Atlanta was severely lacking in that department. Rush will rotate with Graham on the interior defensive line, and Taylor could give the team some quality snaps, but there isn't much talent ready to break out on the depth chart.
After the 2021 season concluded, the Falcons cut Fowler (to the surprise of nobody) and extended Jarrett despite him having his worst season since his rookie year. They did sign former Giant Lorenzo Carter who performed about league average last year on a pass rush efficiency basis, so expect him to be in the mix. Fast forward to the NFL Draft, and the Falcons select Arnold Ebiketie near the top of the second round and DeAngelo Malone in the third. While defensive coordinator Dean Pees ran a rotation on the edge last season, there are instances in his coaching career where he has supplied an edge rusher with enough volume to be fantasy relevant (Harold Landry in 2019, Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon in 2017, Courtney Upshaw and Elvin Dumervil in 2015, to name a few). While it certainly isn't a sure thing to expect Ebiketie and Malone to see the lion's share of snaps starting in week 1, they do seem to be set up for more volume than almost any other rookie edge. Lorenzo Carter should have a decent snap floor but doesn't appear to have monstrous upside, not to mention his linebacker tag on some platforms. . Grady Jarrett could very well have a bounce-back year with more capable pass-rushers beside him, but unless you're in a DT-required league, he likely won't reach starter territory. There are no other players on this defensive line worth considering should an unfortunate injury occur to one of the starters.
Thankfully, the linebacker position was much more exciting in Atlanta last year, albeit for IDP purposes only. The Falcons' defensive coordinator Dean Pees is a former inside linebackers coach, and apparently, that means he thinks running two linebackers on every down is a good idea. In any case, IDP managers were certainly elated over his decision to do so, because it made Foyesade Oluokun and Deion Jones two of the highest-scoring linebackers in fantasy last season. Foye left the team in free agency. In his stead, incumbent backup Mykal Walker, recently-signed Rashaan Evans, and second-round rookie Troy Anderson will compete to replace him. While it seems like a long shot to expect one player to hold that #2 role alongside Deion Jones for the entire season, there is no doubt that whoever wins out over those three will see tremendous value. One of the greatest ways a manager can get an edge in IDP leagues is to acquire three-down linebackers at a very low price. There is certainly value in ambiguity with this linebacker room, and taking shots on any of these three players could prove to be a fruitful investment. Deion Jones is no sure thing, either. He could get traded or released before the season and went into the offseason banged up. While he has historically been an above-average linebacker, he struggled in spots last season. There is a nonzero chance that he loses his job at some point this year that is if he stays with the team, although the odds of this happening are admittedly very low if they don't release or trade him before the season. Should any of these players fall prey to injury, expect a 'next man up' situation where another linebacker will step in and immediately be IDP-relevant.
Evans is the favorite to start, which makes Walker and Andersen likely backups. Walker could give way to Andersen and his sky-high athletic ceiling in time, but since he's coming from a lower level of college football, Walker should be able to hold him off as the top backup inside for at least this year.
A.J. Terrell was the lone bright spot in an otherwise unexciting secondary for the Falcons last year. He and Fabian Moreau manned the outside corner roles and played over 1,000 snaps each. Duron Harmon played predominantly deep safety and also saw over 1,000 snaps. These three were the only defensive backs to stay healthy and hold a consistent role all season. Atlanta's starting slot cornerback, Isaiah Oliver, was injured in week 4 and the team struggled to find a player to replace him for the remainder of the season. Erik Harris started at strong safety and was productive for IDP until he tore his pec in week 14. Afterward, Jaylinn Hawkins filled in for him and was not productive before landing on the COVID list. Shawn Williams then filled the strong safety role for the final two weeks of the season and put up incredible numbers. I share this because it paints a pretty accurate picture of what you can expect from the defense in 2022. The only changes that occurred this offseason are that Fabian Moreau's contract expired and the Falcons signed Casey Hayward to replace him. Isaiah Oliver and Erik Harris both re-signed with the team on one-year deals, so managers should expect them to reprise their roles as the starting slot corner and starting strong safety. Should injuries occur to any position, it seems that backup strong safety is the only one that could be roster-worthy, but perhaps we see production out of Richie Grant if he takes a step forward in year 2.
Tabor, a former second-round pick, should push 2021 fifth-round pick Williams for playing time. Marlowe and Hawkins will compete with 2021 second-round pick Richie Grant, and Harris, a productive starter last year, but in the autumn of his career. The team hopes Grant seizes a starting job. It's possible we see all four of the team's safeties get playing time this year with no clear consistent players for IDP purposes.