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Projecting Falcons fantasy football value after the 2019 NFL Draft

Devonta Freeman is a happy man.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft has come and gone, as we turn out attention to how things will potentially play out on the field come the 2019 season, now that we know what the roster will predominantly look like.

For those who pay close attention to fantasy football, the analysis continues throughout the entire offseason despite the fact that fantasy is a 16-week game (and in some cases 17 weeks) played exclusively throughout the regular season. The draft is an opportune time to reset and study the adjusted fantasy landscape which we now have after the latest influx of new professional football players.

The Atlanta Falcons came out of this draft with (presumably) two new starting offensive lineman for whom they spent a premium in OG Chris Lindstrom and OT Kaleb McGary. They added some depth to the running back corps in the form of Qadree Ollison and Marcus Green, brought in another edge player in John Cominsky, and bolstered the CB depth with Kendall Sheffield and Jordan Miller.

Let’s look at the fantasy impact this draft class will have on Atlanta’s fantasy relevant players in the 2019 season.

Devonta Freeman

If you had to pinpoint one big fantasy winner for the Falcons based on this draft, it would no doubt be Devonta Freeman. It’s no secret that the Falcons would like to run the ball more this coming season, and they seem poised to do so with these offensive line additions.

Lindstrom and McGary are run blocking savants who should be able to open up holes which just weren’t there for Atlanta’s run game last season. The Falcons may look to check Freeman’s workload a little bit, in an attempt to keep him fresh and injury free. Ollison and Ito Smith are in that depth role and in position to spell Freeman for a series here and there. The Florida State product should find himself running through some of the widest gaps he’s seen in his career on the carries he does get, however.

Expect a drastic improvement to the 27th ranked rushing attack Atlanta showcased in 2018. As long as he retains his role around the goal line and stays healthy, Freeman could end up being a steal if you manage to snag him in the mid-to-late second round, with other fantasy owners maybe weary after his rough 2018.

Matt Ryan

There has been a concentrated effort to rebuild the offensive line around Matt Ryan this offseason, and the Falcons have done so by adding three new starters to the unit.

Ryan was an elite fantasy quarterback in 2018, finishing as the overall QB2 in standard scoring fantasy leagues — MVP Patrick Mahomes was the only player to score more points at the position. I think Ryan takes a step back from that kind of production in 2019, but he should still remain among the position’s elite.

Lindstrom and McGary should prove to be upgrades over Wes Schweitzer/Brandon Fusco and Ryan Schraeder in pass protection, and we should see a decrease in the 42 sacks given up by the Birds in 2018. Expect to see a more dangerous and efficient Ryan in real life as a result, but his raw fantasy statistics will likely take a hit with the greater emphasis on the run game and the expected improvement by the defense.

Julio Jones

Jones is about as steady as they come at the wide receiver position in fantasy football, but he demands to be taken with a premium pick in exchange for that steadiness. He was the overall WR4 last year in standard scoring leagues.

If healthy, Jones is always a lock to be a top 10 scoring fantasy WR. The expectation is that Ryan will have more time to throw when he has to, but that he won’t have to throw as much as a result of a stronger defense and revamped run game with the new additions from the draft. Either way, I expect Jones to get his no matter how much Ryan throws, since he’s the best weapon in football.

An improvement from Calvin Ridley will likely take away a few targets from Jones, but it should also take away some of the concentrated attention he gets as well. Julio will be an elite fantasy option in all formats.

Calvin Ridley

Ridley should improve after getting a year of NFL football under his belt. He very clearly hit a rookie wall in 2018, but should be more adjusted to the grind of a 16-game schedule in his second go-round.

The Falcons didn’t add a single receiver in the draft to really threaten his place as Julio Jones’ primary compliment, but I wouldn’t expect to see another year of 10+ receiving touchdowns with a likelier emphasis on ground and pound expected in the red zone this year.

Ridley’s organic improvement should keep him on your radar as a weekly FLEX start at minimum in all formats in 2019. He’ll likely produce 1000+ yards, but with a few fewer TDs than he saw in 2018.

Mohamed Sanu/Austin Hooper

I grouped Sanu and Hooper together because they seem like the biggest fantasy losers as a result of the draft. It’s already been mentioned that an additional emphasis on the run game will likely result in fewer passes attempted by Matt Ryan. Those attempts which will be sacrificed will largely come out of Sanu and Hooper’s targets.

Julio Jones will always get his steady amount of looks per game, and Ridley should be in line for an increase in targets in 2019 thanks to his expected organic improvement going into year two.

Expect a decrease in Sanu’s 94 targets and Hooper’s 88 targets in 2019. Hooper should still get some looks as a fantasy starter due to how shallow the TE position is but Sanu shouldn’t be anything more than fringe bench piece at best.

Atlanta Falcons D/ST

The hope is that the Falcons will be able to hold onto the ball longer and control the clock more through a bruising run game, and that that’ll help out the defense as a result. Among the defensive draft picks, I wouldn’t expect anyone other than Sheffield to take up a significant role on the defense in 2019 (and I’m using the word “significant” very loosely), but young depth is always a nice thing to have.

The defense should definitely be on your streaming radar in 2019 with the return of injured starters, Dan Quinn now calling the plays, and hopefully more of a controlled clock by the offense. Questions regarding the pass rush keep this unit from being a potential legitimate weekly start, however.