The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. Having covered all of 2017’s non-playoff NFL teams, it’s time to review the rest, with the next squad being:
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
Many had pegged Matt Ryan as a prime regression candidate after finishing as the overall QB2 in 2016, though few could have predicted he’d finish with the lowest touchdown total since his 2008 rookie year. Ryan ended up finishing as the overall QB15 in 2017, and threw multiple touchdown passes in just five of 16 games played (with zero three-score or more performances). While Ryan is obviously not as bad as his 2017 stats, he’s more of a 25-30 touchdown per season guy going into his age-33 season than the guy who tossed 38 scoring passes two seasons ago. Feel free to take advantage of fantasy owners who may have soured on Ryan after last season, as you can likely land him late in your summer drafts given how deep the quarterback position is this year.
For the second season in a row, Devonta Freeman formed a tandem with Tevin Coleman as the Falcons’ respective 1A and 1B running backs. Freeman ended up missing out on his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season while also missing two games due to a concussion, and Coleman’s usage was just unpredictable enough to prevent him from having standalone value in the games Freeman played. The Falcons running back committee should remain status quo heading into 2018, as both Freeman and Coleman still are still under contract, with Freeman signed through 2022 and Coleman’s rookie deal expiring in 2019. Once again, if you’re planning to draft Freeman this summer, it would be a good idea to also nab Coleman in the later rounds, as the latter has proven useful when given the starting role (Coleman has averaged 70.6 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns in five career games he’s started and finished). Former undrafted free agent Terron Ward will return as the third-string running back, and only gets into the offensive mix when one of the guys ahead of him suffers an injury.
Julio Jones had a strange 2017 season, as he finished second in receiving yards, but only scored three touchdowns, as the Falcons inexplicably refuse to look Jones’ way in the red zone. Seemingly a modern-day version of Andre Johnson, Jones has finished with no fewer than 1,409 yards in any of his last four seasons (and as of this writing is the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards per game with 95.3), and has hit double-digit touchdowns just once in his seven-year career (10 in 2012). Having turned 29 this past February, Jones should still have some gas left in the tank, though it will take a major change in the Falcons offensive game planning for him to suddenly become the scoring machine he could be at 6-foor-3 and 220 pounds. Touchdown woes aside, Jones remains locked in as one of the top wideouts for fantasy purposes. Mohamed Sanu will again serve as a solid though unspectacular No. 2, having averaged 678 receiving yards and 4.5 touchdowns per year over his two seasons in Atlanta. Sanu likely won’t be draft-worthy outside of deep leagues (14-plus teams), but should be on everyone’s radar as a bye-week streamer. Despite regressing in 2017 after posting 35 catches, 579 yards and six touchdowns the year prior, Taylor Gabriel took his talents to Chicago via a four-year, $26 million free agent contract signed last March. Having caught no more than 21 passes in any of his three seasons with Atlanta, 2015 fourth-round pick Justin Hardy is looking like nothing more than a depth option heading into his age-26 season.
While many view Austin Hooper’s 2017 as disappointment, he posted nearly double the receiving yards and nearly triple the receptions from his 2016 rookie year. To be fair, about a quarter of Hooper’s receiving output came in Week 1 against Chicago (2 catches, 128 yards, TD), but it’s encouraging to see the young tight end take a significant step in his development. Hooper has plenty of opportunity in front of him if he can improve further going into Year 3, as the Falcons have little in the way of quality pass-catchers behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Fellow Stanford alum and 2013 fourth-round pick Levine Toilolo was cut this past March after signing a three-year, $12 million contract extension in March 2017. Toilolo (scooped up by Detroit a few weeks after being cut) was never really a threat to Hooper’s perch atop the depth chart, so the former’s absence won’t be felt from a fantasy perspective.