Football is finally back, and as a result, we’re greeted with the return of fantasy football once again as well. I’ll be doing some weekly analysis on Falcons players in regards to their fantasy football prospects over the course of the season.
Everyone is 0-0 to start the new season, and the promise of trash talking all of your friends is more present and appealing than ever at this time of year.
Atlanta has a highly anticipated Week 1 matchup lined up against the Philadelphia Eagles, in what will be the first regular season game of the new NFL season. Today, we’ll look at which Falcons players you should start and which players you should sit in that matchup, from a fantasy perspective.
Matt Ryan - Sit
I do feel like Matt Ryan should have been drafted in all leagues as a high upside QB2, and if he is on the waiver wire in your league and you have a disposable player on your bench, you may want to look into taking a flier on Atlanta’s starting QB.
However, I would have to advise against starting Ryan in a tough Week 1 matchup on the road, against a stout defense. The Eagles’ defense surrendered the 10th fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs in 2017. Ryan threw for 210 yards and one touchdown against Philly in the Divisional Round — neither mark is strong from a fantasy perspective — and was consistently hounded by pressure from a rampant Eagles defensive line.
Ryan should have a bounce-back year thanks to the continuity of having a second-year offensive coordinator, but he starts the season with an incredibly tough matchup when you take the dominant defense and hostile environment into account. Stash him on your bench for now.
Devonta Freeman - Start
You probably took Freeman in the second round and are therefore not going to sit him to start the season, there’s nothing wrong with that. With the volume and goal-line carries he’ll get in what should be a potent offense, he always has a chance at having a big game, but I would temper expectations just a little bit this week.
The Eagles’ defense is incredibly stingy against the run — giving up the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2017 and being the only team in the league to allow less than 1,000 yards rushing in the regular season. Only the Titans and Patriots gave up less than the six rushing TDs the Eagles surrendered last season as well.
Freeman had a miserable playoff game in Philadelphia in January — rushing for a meager seven yards on 10 carries — but it was discovered afterward that he was playing hurt in that game. Start Freeman in Week 1, but don’t expect the type of production we’ve grown accustomed to.
Tevin Coleman - Start
I know, I just talked about how unrelenting the Eagles’ defense is against opposing running backs, but for some reason that seems to not apply to Tevin Coleman. In two career games against Philadelphia, Coleman has totaled 159 rushing yards on 30 carries.
Against the Eagles in the playoffs, Coleman registered 79 rushing yards on just 10 carries, and would have probably led the Falcons to victory had he been given more opportunities to touch the ball.
What really makes Coleman an attractive start this week is how potent he is at catching the ball. While they shut down the run frequently, Philadelphia gave up the second most receiving touchdowns to opposing RBs in 2017. Freeman is also a capable receiving back, but the Falcons have reportedly promised Coleman a more prominent pass-catching role this season. Confidently start Coleman as at least a flex option this week.
Julio Jones - Start
You drafted Julio Jones in either the late first round or the early second round; you’re going to start him in every matchup. Jones was force-fed in the Divisional Playoff game in January, being targeted 16 times when no other Falcon got more than five targets. While I wouldn’t expect that drastic of a target discrepancy in this game, Jones should still be Ryan’s favorite target.
For as stingy as Philadelphia’s defense was last year, they were incredibly susceptible to opposing wide receivers, giving up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing WRs over the course of 2017.
Jones recorded 101 receiving yards in the playoff game, and was inches away from catching the game-winning touchdown as well. He’s a must-start this week, and should be among the top-scoring WRs in fantasy to start the year.
Mohamed Sanu - Sit
Sanu is someone who can be a nice bye week fill-in later on in the season, but this is a game where you’d be better off leaving him on your bench. In what’s likely to be a low-scoring game, with Julio Jones dominating looks and the Eagles burning the clock with a run-heavy approach, there may not be enough targets to sufficiently feed Sanu.
The Rutgers man can account for a touchdown catch (or maybe even touchdown pass) in any given game, scoring a TD in six different matchups last season, but that’s not a smart thing to bank on unless you have to. Sit Sanu out of this one unless your team is ravaged by injuries.
Calvin Ridley - Sit
This is not the easiest matchup for a rookie WR making his first career NFL start. While Ridley ought to be owned in all formats, his situation is very much similar to Sanu’s — there won’t be enough targets to make him a reliable play this week.
Ridley will likely be the fourth or fifth option in the passing game behind veterans Julio Jones, Sanu, Coleman and maybe even Austin Hooper. Ryan will build his trust and rapport with the first-round draft pick as time goes on, but I don’t think the timing is entirely down yet so early in the process.
Austin Hooper - Sit
Hooper is someone whom we thought took that next step in Week 1 last season, when he went off against the Bears for 128 receiving yards and an 88-yard touchdown catch. He didn’t go over 50 receiving yards for the rest of the season, however. As a result, Hooper will need to take that next step this season, and until we see that he’s done that, I have to advise against starting him.
The Eagles are a middle-of-the-road team against tight ends in fantasy football, giving up the 18th-most points to opposing TEs in 2017. Hooper had just one catch for three yards in the Divisional Round against them, however, and he can’t really be trusted in this Week 1 matchup.
Matt Bryant - Start
I’ll make this one easy. As long as he’s healthy, start Matt Bryant every week because of how prolific the Falcons’ offense has the potential to be and how accurate he is when given the opportunity to kick.
The Eagles gave up the second-fewest points to opposing fantasy kickers in 2017, so don’t expect Bryant to singlehandedly win you your matchup this week, but he’s still as reliable as they come.
Atlanta Falcons D/ST - Start
The Falcons defense will need to generate more turnovers to be consistently reliable in fantasy football this season, but they’re a decent streaming option against an Eagles offense which only scored 15 points against them in the playoffs and which looked awful in the preseason.
If Carson Wentz were starting, it would be a much higher risk to stream the Falcons’ defense, but they get an uptick with Nick Foles being announced as the starter.
Tune in weekly for Falcons start/sit advice throughout the rest of the regular season.