The ridiculous success of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons’ offense was one of the most surprising developments of the season. A team that had struggled to simply snap the ball in 2015 (thanks Mike Person) became one of the highest-scoring and most efficient offensive attacks of all time.
There were many reasons behind the massive improvement in offensive production: Matt Ryan fully grasped the scheme and played at an elite level, the WR and TE depth was overhauled and improved, the offensive line grew into a top-5 unit with the addition of All-Pro C Alex Mack, Kyle Shananhan coordinated a vicious and versatile offensive game-plan.
The offense was so impressive, so incredible, and so productive (from a real and fantasy perspective) that it begs an important question: will the Falcons’ 2017 offense continue that fantasy dominance?
The answer is, more than likely, yes—however, don’t expect Atlanta to repeat the same level of historical efficiency that they did last season. That type of season comes around once in a lifetime, and it’s unlikely for any team to repeat that level of success in back-to-back years. Instead, expect a top-5 offense and a productive fantasy season from the Falcons, not a record-shattering one.
As far as whether or not you should target certain Falcons’ players in your fantasy drafts, that is a bit more interesting. If you had players like Matt Ryan, Taylor Gabriel, and Tevin Coleman on your fantasy roster last season, you probably fared pretty well. The reason? You probably got those players at fantastic value relative to their fantasy production.
Going into the 2016 season, Ryan was a late round pick (I snagged him in the 13th round in one league and off waivers in another). Fantasy owners saw him as a low-ceiling option coming off a disappointing 2015 campaign. He ended the 2016 season as a top-3 QB in most scoring systems, and led many teams to a fantasy championship (myself included).
Ryan helped your team gain an edge over the competition because of the price you paid for his production. He was a comparable player to Aaron Rodgers most weeks, who was the first QB drafted in a majority of leagues (usually in round 3-4). Once again, the value is what helped lift your fantasy roster. Instead of using a 4th round pick on Rodgers, you got an elite QB1 in the 13th round in Ryan and used that 4th-rounder on another position of need.
That type of value will be hard to come by with Falcons’ players this year. Coming off their historic and dominant season, fantasy owners across the world will be targeting players like Julio, Ryan, and Freeman with early picks. If you want those guys, you’ll need to pay full price to get them. That shouldn’t preclude you from selecting them—after all, Julio, Ryan, and Freeman are all likely to produce excellent fantasy seasons again in 2017—but you won’t be getting the same return on your investment as in 2016.
For example, let’s compare the ADP (Average Draft Position) of a few Falcons players at this point in the offseason compared to where they were last year. For this exercise, I’ll be looking at 12-team PPR ADP.
2016 ADP: 1.02 - WR2 (1st round, 2nd pick)
2017 ADP: 1.05 - WR2
Julio’s ADP has actually gone down from last season, but he’s still the second WR selected in most leagues. Owners are switching back to valuing the elite RBs more (David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell) after a WR-centric 2016 season. Compared to some of the other Falcons on this list, Julio is someone you should absolutely target at his current ADP. He’s an elite WR1 with game-winning upside every week. In the mid-to-late 1st, he’s an excellent value.
2016 ADP: 13.03 - QB20
2017 ADP: 5.03 - QB4
Without a doubt the most striking change from 2016-2017, Ryan’s ADP has gone through the roof coming off an MVP campaign. Fantasy owners are heavily influenced by recency bias, and this is pretty convincing proof of it. Ryan had never been a stellar fantasy QB prior to last season, but fantasy owners now view him as the QB4 behind Rodgers, Brady, and Brees going in 2017.
My advice is to wait on Ryan until late round 6, early round 7. If you really want him, take him there and no earlier. I’d avoid taking a QB early unless it’s Aaron Rodgers, and even then, wait until he’s a good value (~5th round).
2016 ADP: 2.07 - RB7
2017 ADP: 1.11 - RB6
Freeman is an example of a player who’s value has increased, but not substantially. After another excellent fantasy season in 2016, owners appear to trust Freeman as a reliable RB1 going into 2017. That assessment is correct in my opinion, and I’d be perfectly willing to use a late 1st-early 2nd rounder to add him to my roster. You’re taking him at full price—but if you trust the player and his production, you should be willing to do so.
2016 ADP: 10.12 - RB46
2017 ADP: 5.02 - RB19
The other player that shows a meteoric rise in ADP going into the 2017 season is Tevin Coleman. Fantasy owners were clearly mesmerized by his explosive plays and ability in the passing game, to the point where he’s being drafted as an RB2. In this case, however, I would warn you to stay away. Coleman is a better real football player than a fantasy player for one main reason: his workload will vary week-to-week, and that kind of volatility is not something you want from your RB2. I would love to play Coleman as an RB3/FLEX, but his current price is simply too high.
As you can see, fantasy owners are clearly buying into the Falcons’ offense this offseason, leading to a drastic increase in the price of most of Atlanta’s fantasy-relevant players. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be interested, only that you may not be getting the insane value that you did with your Falcons’ players last season.
For those that are drafting super early (you shouldn’t do that, but do you), here are a few slept-on Falcons’ players that you should target for good value:
- Taylor Gabriel (ADP: 14.10 - WR77) ~ Gabriel was a tremendous FLEX option last year, and his role is only going to increase in 2017 with the Falcons likely transitioning to more 3-WR sets. You can pick up Gabriel towards the end of your draft and expect borderline WR2 production—he’s got an exceptionally high floor for a boom/bust WR due to his use in the running and screen game.
- Austin Hooper (ADP: UDFA) ~ Hooper is being completely forgotten in fantasy drafts, but I believe he’s a sleeper pick to finish as a TE1 in fantasy this season. Take him as a second TE prospect late, or if you’re feeling lucky, take him as your primary TE and stream the position if he flames out. He’s an extremely low risk, high-reward player.
Do you believe the Falcons’ offense will be a fantasy dynamo again in 2017? Who are some Falcons’ players you’re targeting? Surprise sleepers or players you’re avoiding? If you have fantasy questions, feel free to send them my way.