Things are certainly ramping up in the world of fantasy football with free agency now in full swing. By the way. Could someone please tell the Cleveland Browns that free agency is in full swing.
Now that we are seeing just where players are landing it brings their fantasy potential into a bit more focus. Granted the NFL Draft will also alter the fantasy landscape but we are getting more valuable information with each new signing.
We continue our early division by division fantasy breakdown with a look at the NFC South.
QB- Ooof! Yes. In true ‘wordsmith’ fashion that is the best word to describe the 2015 fantasy season of Matt Ryan. Especially considering that a quick look at MyFantasyLeague.com Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers from last year show that Ryan was the 7th QB off the board. He was being selected ahead of Tom Brady, Tony Romo and Cam Newton. Ok, the Romo thing worked out but only due to yet another collarbone injury for Tony. Needless to say, when you go off the board as a top-10 fantasy QB and have a season in which you throw 21 touchdowns and turn the ball over 21 times, it wasn’t a good year.
The 21 touchdowns were the fewest Ryan has produced since 2008 and he simply never looked comfortable in the offense last year. In a recent report at ESPN, Ryan admitted that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense was “too much” for him at times which was apparent by his numbers. There were 10 games in which Ryan threw for merely one or zero touchdowns and only once in 2015 did he toss three scores in a game. By contrast, he threw for the three touchdowns or more four times in 2014.
Still a relatively young QB, Ryan should be able to bounce back but will need to get on the same page as Shanahan for the offense to click. To this pundits say, Ryan could use a reliable TE such as he had in Tony Gonzalez, but hey…what do I know? Well, I do know that until I see an offense that operates a lot smoother than the 2015 edition for the Falcons, Ryan lies just outside the top-10 fantasy QBs. The King of the ‘pick-six,’ Matt Schaub, was recently signed to backup Ryan and has no fantasy value.
RB- Hello there Devonta Freeman! The second year RB out of Florida State took the fantasy world by storm finishing as the top fantasy RB in both standard and PPR formats. He finished with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and scored 14 touchdowns as a dual threat. Freeman’s 73 receptions were the third most by a RB and his 1,061 rushing yards were the seventh highest rushing total. A closer look shows that a lot of Freeman’s production was put up in Weeks 3-7. How much you ask? Well in those five games he amassed 825 yards from scrimmage (roughly 50% of his season total) while racking up nine touchdowns (64.2 % of his season total). Yes. The man was on fire during that stretch. So that tells us that in the other 10 games he played (Freeman missed a game due to a concussion) Freeman came back down to earth as a fantasy producer. He remained a PPR force catching 46 passes for 331 yards and a pair of scores but averaged only 48 rushing yards per game with three touchdowns. Freeman will enter 2016 as the lead back for the Falcons and is a back-end of the top-10 fantasy RB.
The main reason that we don’t like Freeman as a top-5 fantasy option is the presence of Tevin Coleman. Coleman began the season as the starting RB but a rib injury forced him out of the lineup and then the performance of Freeman kept him out of the lineup. Concussion issues would cost Coleman the final two games of the season and he finished his rookie campaign with only 87 carries. He did manage to average 4.5 yards per carry which was actually higher than the 4.1 Freeman averaged. All in all though, Coleman was a disappointment for fantasy purposes especially considering that he was being drafted higher than Freeman according to MFLs 2015 ADP rankings. The good news is that in a Shanahan-led offense there is a spot for a home run hitting option like Coleman and he should enter 2016 healthy and ready to roll.
There is more good news for both Freeman and Coleman with the signing of center Alex Mack in free agency. Anyone who selects Freeman must draft Coleman as the obvious handcuff. Coleman is worth a late round flier in redraft leagues even if an owner doesn’t have Freeman.
WR- Only the erratic (I am being kind) play of QB Matt Ryan kept Julio Jones from supplanting Antonio Brown as the top fantasy WR in 2015. The number two finish was the second consecutive top-10 finish for one of the elite fantasy WRs in the game. Jones was targeted a whopping 203 times and set career highs in receptions with 136 as well as receiving yards posting 1,871. Jones topped 135 yards receiving eight times last season while catching nine-or-more passes in 10 games. You get the picture. Even in a down year for his QB, Jones was fantasy gold and is a top-three fantasy WR and first round draft selection in 2016.
Things get a bit hazy after Jones when examining the WR corps as there wasn’t much to get excited about from a fantasy perspective. Veteran Roddy White posted his lowest totals in a decade and was an afterthought in the offense. The Falcons decided to part ways with White releasing him and fantasy owners need to do the same.
Former Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu has been signed and will likely step in as the slot receiver and should see more looks than he got in Cincinnati. Sanu sometimes struggles with drops but should be a bit of a fantasy factor with an increase in playing time and targets. He will have more value in PPR formats and brings WR4/flex value.
That brings us to a player that suddenly has a bit more upside than a few weeks ago. As a rookie, Justin Hardy played in merely nine games catching 21 passes for 191 yards. He’s definitely worth holding on to in dynasty formats and now becomes an interesting redraft option mainly because the Falcons are still thin at WR. How thin you ask?
Well consider that Leonard Hankerson was second on the team in touchdowns for receivers with three and finished the season as a member of Buffalo Bills. After he suffered a hamstring injury and missed multiple games, the Falcons first put Hankerson on IR and then released him from it allowing him to hit waivers.
Unheralded Nick Williams caught a pair of touchdowns but is not a realistic fantasy option as he’ll battle to make the 53-man roster.
TE- This is another position that I believe needs addressing from both a NFL and fantasy standpoint for the Falcons. While Jacob Tamme did just manage to crack the top-15 in PPR scoring by hauling in 59 passes, the TE position accounted for only two scores last year. In fact, after the retirement of Tony Gonzalez following the 2013 season, TEs have caught a total of five touchdowns in the last two years. To put that in perspective, Gonzalez put up eight scores in his final season. While he is a serviceable player, Tamme is not the answer for Atlanta or fantasy owners in 2016. At 6’3” and 230-pounds, Tamme isn’t utilized as a red zone threat and lacks the speed to split the seam.
Over the last couple of preseasons there has been buzz surrounding Levine Toilolo mainly because he’s 6’8” and could be a red zone threat. That ship has sailed as Toilolo saw 12 targets in 16 games last season. It’s not going to happen folks. There is no fantasy value at TE for this team right now.
K- Despite missing the final six games due to a quad injury, Matt Bryant is still under contract with the Falcons through 2017. Bryant is 40 years old and was only six for nine in field goals from 40-49 yards. There are younger and better options out there.
D/ST- It’s the same-old same-old for this D/ST. No pass rush. The Falcons finished the 2015 season with a league-low 19 sacks which was 1 ½ more sacks than J.J. Watt produced. Since 2011, this defense has averaged only 27 sacks per season. The recent signing of DE Derrick Shelby was a nice move and he will team with Vic Beasley to bolster the edge rush. This unit still suffers from a lack of big-play potential. It’s going to take some time to bring in enough quality players on all three levels of the defense to make this D/ST a viable fantasy option. Avoid at all costs.