Updated: Jun 26, 2019
Our flight-path takes us to the Southeast region of the country, where hospitality is at its finest. The only thing hotter than the weather is the food – which is no doubt paired with a cold glass of sweet tea. “Sweet Home Alabama” plays in the background, and the conversation is football. Whether it's the local high school team, college,or at the professional level, football is a way of life in the South.
The NFC South has been one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL in recent history, having three different division champs in the last four years. It has also been one of the more prominent divisions for fantasy football, with high-flying offenses and often sub-par defenses. Our first stop is Atlanta, where the Falcons reside in the beautiful Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After a disappointing 7-9 season, the Falcons look to rebound with much of the same cast that led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2017. With a plethora of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the offense was forced to be aggressive, which paid dividends for fantasy owners of several key pieces of the offense.
Let's take a look at three important pieces of the Falcons' attack.
Matt Ryan – QB Last year, Ryan rebounded from a less-than-stellar performance in 2017 with 4,924 yards (3rd overall) 35 touchdowns. The first round pick out of Boston College no doubt benefited statistically from the aforementioned mentioned banged-up defense, as well as a struggling rushing attack. It's worth noting that Dirk Koetter is back in the fold as offensive coordinator. This should bode well for the quarterback; in three seasons with Koetter he averaged over 4,600 yards per season and nearly 29 touchdowns.
While Ryan had a solid campaign in 2018, he was sacked 42 times – the most in his career. It's no surprise the O-line has been a focal point of the Falcons off season, spending two first round picks on offensive linemen and adding two more in free agency. Keeping Matty Ice looking nice and clean is top priority for this unit, and assuming he stays healthy, he should be poised for another top ten finish among quarterbacks. He's currently being drafted as the sixth QB off the board (ADP 6.09), which is a bit earlier than I'd prefer to take him; however there's certainly a lot to like if you can get him a round or two later.
Devonta Freeman – RB It seems it's been ages since Devonta Freeman broke onto the scene
as a fantasy stud with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, and you may be thinking he's mostly done; running backs careers are short-lived, and his best days are behind him. In the words of the great Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”.
At 27 years old, Freeman is certainly not the youngest back in the NFL, but the case can be made that a lot is left in the tank. Recently he's been a full participant in mini camp, and with Tevin Coleman gone now in San Francisco, the backfield is his for the taking (sorry, Ito Smith).
While we can't predict the health of a player (this job would be so much easier if we could), I think it's a bit of a far cry to call Freeman “injury prone”.
As mentioned before, the Falcons have made efforts to improve the offensive line, in which Free should be a beneficiary as well. He's currently being drafted as the 16th RB off the board (ADP 3.06). I think this is a great value for a guy who has the ability to be a top 12 back.
Calvin Ridley – WR I could've taken the easy route and said “Julio Jones will be great!”, but more than likely you already know that so...
Calvin Ridley has been a topic of controversy much of this off season in terms of fantasy football. He finished as the WR 20 last season, but much of his production came on the back of ten receiving touchdowns (three in week 3 alone). My initial feeling on Ridley was “he'll certainly regress. There's NO WAY I'm drafting that guy!” However, the more I look into his potential outlook, the more I like him as a valuable fantasy asset.
While he more than likely will have fewer than 10 touchdowns, keep in mind the Falcons spent a first round pick on Ridley in the 2018 draft. A larger role should be in the cards for the other receiver from Alabama. If you owned Ridley last season, you probably remember times where his production would disappear; at times, he didn't feel like a top 24 receiver. He's currently being drafted as the 25th WR off the board (ADP 5.11). With an increased role in the offense, Ridley owners can expect smoother sailing in 2019. I expect him to finish right around WR 20 again; if you can grab him in the sixth round I think he'll return on value.
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