If solid yet unspectacular is what you are after then Matt Ryan should be your fantasy quarterback. Since emerging as a viable QB1 in 2010, Ryan has finished as the 9th, 8th, 5th, 9th and 7th ranked fantasy option at his position over the last five years. During those years, he has thrown for between 26 and 32 touchdowns. Over the last four years, he has thrown for between 4,177 and 4,694 yards, and his points per game spans 21.6 and 24.0. And he hasn’t missed a game in five years. In 2015, Ryan loses slot receiver Harry Douglas after losing Tony Gonzalez following the 2013 season. Those losses together with a shaky offensive line and a diminishing Roddy White make it impossible to predict a breakout year for Ryan in 2015. While the presence of new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should bring more play action opportunities and the lack of a true short yardage thumper should increase Ryan’s attempts in the red zone, we still view him as a lower tier QB1.
One of the more polarizing players taken in this year’s NFL Draft, Coleman joins a group of Falcons running backs that have done little to establish themselves in the pros. That spells opportunity for the 4th round pick out of Indiana. Possessing outstanding speed having run a 4.39-40, Coleman generated plenty of big plays in college but lasted until the 4th round due to his lack of instincts as a runner as well as poor agility. Draft pundits felt that he didn’t make enough tacklers miss in college and questioned his ability to consistently generate big plays as a professional. In Atlanta, he will only need to unseat disappointing 2014 4th round pick Devonta Freeman in order to win a spot in the starting lineup. We expect that to happen early. What we don’t expect is for the 6’1″, 210 pound Coleman to emerge as a workhorse type back. Look for him to see between 12-15 touches per game which should allow Coleman to emerge as a mid-tier RB3 albeit one with upside.
Considered a mid-tier dynasty prospect after being taken in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Freeman’s stock took a tumble after his less than impressive rookie season and the team’s selection of Tevin Coleman in the 4th round of this year’s draft. Even with Steven Jackson struggling, Freeman was unable to take hold of the running back job. Lacking size at 5’8″ and 206 pounds as well as top end speed (40 time of 4.58), Freeman struggled to a 3.8 YPC average on 65 carries while adding 30 receptions for 225 yards and a touchdown as a receiver despite struggling in pass protection. Although the Falcons listed him as the starter throughout OTA’s, we expect that Coleman’s potential will allow him to unseat Freeman either by opening day or early in the season. The truth is that this will likely evolve into a platoon type situation but we expect Freeman to be the lesser half of that option. He rates as an upper tier RB4 unless he wins the starter’s position in the preseason.
Over the last two seasons Smith has displayed game breaking ability but the sample size has always been too small to consider him a truly viable option for fantasy. And we don’t expect that to change in 2015. With 28 carries for 289 yards and five touchdowns to go along with 15 receptions for 232 yards and three scores, Smith has averaged a touchdown every 6.1 touches, which is completely unsustainable. With a pair of young running backs in Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman ahead of the 29 year old Smith (30 in September), Smith’s road to playing time is blocked barring injury.
Despite being one of the league’s most explosive playmakers, Jones has yet to put together a truly outstanding fantasy season. In 2012, he scored an impressive 10 touchdowns but managed just 1,198 yards. In 2014, he posted 1,593 receiving yards (3rd most in the league) but found the end zone just six times. Heading into 2015, Jones will once again be the key cog in the Falcons passing attack that figures to take plenty of deep shots with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s reliance on play action and rollouts. And with a lack of receiving talent at tight and on the wide receiver depth chart, Jones should approach or surpass his career high target count of 163 from last season. Did we mention that Shanahan has a history of heavy usage of his main receiving option (hello, Pierre Garcon with 184 targets in 2013)? Jones is almost a sure bet to finish 2015 as a top five fantasy wide receiver although his foot issues add some risk to that equation.
At first glance, White’s 2014 production leads you to believe that he is just another aging receiver on the decline. However, a closer look reveals that White was quite efficient, catching 64.5% of his targets (80 of 121) while scoring a touchdown every other game (seven in 14 games) and averaging 9.6 PPG which ranked 20th amongst the league’s wide receivers. Heading into 2015, there don’t seem to be any negative issues that would cause one to predict a decline in his production other than age. Slot receiver Harry Douglas left for Tennessee and will presumably be replaced by rookie 4th round pick Justin Hardy, who quite likely isn’t ready for prime time. The tight end situation is a complete mess. The running game lacks a thumper who can excel in short yardage meaning White should be in line for a solid amount of red zone looks. Currently being drafted as a high end WR4, we expect White to return low end WR2 production.
Signed by Atlanta in the 2014 offseason, the expectation was that Hester would returns kicks and play a big part in the Falcons offense. However, with injuries causing Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas to all miss at least some time, Hester put together his finest season as a receiver since 2009, catching 38 passes for 504 yards and a pair of touchdowns, plus he found the end zone once as a rusher. With slot receiver Douglas having signed with the Titans in the offseason, some might jump to the conclusion that Hester has a chance to emerge as a weapon playing out of the slot, particularly given the Falcons issues at tight end. Don’t expect that to happen. Hester is best suited to line up outside and his value to the Falcons lies in his ability as an occasional deep threat or subbing in for Jones or White. If those two miss time, Hester shapes up as a potential replacement option in deeper leagues.
After four years of teasing the Redskins with his potential, Hankerson brings his talents to the Falcons in 2015. The former 3rd round pick will battle Devin Hester and rookie 4th round pick Justin Hardy for the crumbs left behind by Julio Jones and Roddy White. While he has a chance to win that job given his familiarity with new Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense from their time together in Washington, Hankerson still shapes up as waiver wire material. In deeper dynasty leagues, he is mildly intriguing given his talent and the lack of young talent the Falcons possess at wide receiver and Roddy White’s advancing age.
With Harry Douglas having signed with Tennessee in the offseason, the Falcons used a 4th round pick in this year’s draft on Justin Hardy. The East Carolina product figures to work out of the slot as a pro due to his outstanding agility (the best 3 cone drill speed at the combine) but lacks top end speed, having run 4.56 in the 40. While offseason reports indicate that Hardy played well in OTA’s, he isn’t worthy of a roster spot in redraft formats. He rates as a lower tier dynasty option who is more intriguing in PPR formats.
After watching 2013 4th pick Levine Toilolo completely bomb in his attempt to replace the legendary Tony Gonzalez, the expectation is the Falcons will likely split the playing time at the position with Tamme rotating in to handle more of the receiving work. Toilolo caught 31 passes for just 238 yards (average YPC of 7.7) with a pair of touchdowns with a game high of just 34 receiving yards, failing to top 20 receiving yards in 11 games. Can you say zero impact? Look for him to be relegated to more of a blocking role in 2015. Tamme comes over from the Denver Broncos where he was relegated to a bit role over the last two seasons due to the emergence of Julius Thomas. However, he totaled 52 receptions for 555 yards in 2012 and at 30 years of age, should have something left to offer. However, he won’t have much to offer your fantasy team. This is a situation that should be avoided by all fantasy owners.