The Falcons made an unsuccessful play this past off-season for hometown star Deshaun Watson, doing so while Matt Ryan — the greatest player in the history of the franchise — was still on the roster. While Ryan took the pursuit in stride, it was also evident it was time for him to move on from a rebuilding franchise, and the Falcons shipped him to Indianapolis, where he has a much better chance to win.
Atlanta will head into 2022 with Marcus Mariota — head coach Arthur Smith’s former pupil in Tennessee — as their “bridge” quarterback. Whether or not that’s a bridge to 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder or (more likely) a 2023 first-round pick remains to be seen.
The Falcons retooled their receiving corps this off-season with several huge additions — literally. All of first-round pick Drake London, trade acquisition Bryan Edwards, and free-agent signings Auden Tate and Anthony Firkser are 6’2” or taller, joining freak TE Kyle Pitts. If the Falcons stink at football, it’s still possible they have the best basketball team in the NFC South.
Ultimately, the youth movement and a poor offensive line are likely to leave Falcons fans looking to 2023 before long.
Atlanta Falcons Franchise Focus Companion Podcast with The Falcoholic’s Kevin Knight
|Season Win Total (O/U)||5 (+125/-150)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 5.5 (-110) in late March to 5 (+125) in late July
Super Bowl: +6000 in mid-February to +20000 in late July
Premium subscribers get Tom Brolley’s betting preview here.
Key Offseason Moves
|QB Marcus Mariota||WR Drake London||QB Matt Ryan (Ind)|
|CB Casey Hayward||EDGE Arnold Ebiketie||WR Calvin Ridley (suspended)|
|EDGE Lorenzo Carter||LB Troy Andersen||WR Russell Gage (TB)|
|RB Damien Williams||QB Desmond Ridder||TE Hayden Hurst (Cin)|
|OT Elijah Wilkinson||EDGE DeAngelo Malone||EDGE Dante Fowler (Dal)|
|WR Auden Tate||RB Tyler Allgeier||LB Foyesade Oluokun (Jax)|
|WR Bryan Edwards|
|OT Germain Ifedi|
Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule
Quarterback: 12th-toughest (-0.11)
Running Backs: 3rd-toughest (-1.06)
Wide Receivers: 15th-toughest (-0.07)
Tight Ends: 11th-toughest (-0.31)
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace splits by score (2021)
When within a score – 28.3 (15th)
When trailing – 26.5 (20th)
When leading – 27.5 (7th)
Play volume (2021)
Passes per game – 38.0 (19th)
Runs per game – 23.5 (30th)
Total plays per game – 61.5 (31st)
Pass/Run splits by score/situation (2021)
When within a score (1st-3rd quarters) – 8th pass rate (62%) / 25th run rate (38%)
When trailing – 16th pass rate (67%) / 17th run rate (33%)
When leading – 2nd pass rate (60%) / 31st run rate (40%)
On early-downs – 19th pass rate (53%) / 14th run rate (47%)
As currently constructed, this team is built to be more run-heavy than most are anticipating. Now, I’m by no means suggesting that the Falcons are going to turn into the 2019 Ravens. But I think a proxy of the 2021 Lions is the plan here.
Last year, Atlanta went very pass-heavy not just because they were trailing a lot – but because it’s the only thing they could do somewhat well.
Will Atlanta lean that heavily on the pass again with Matt Ryan gone?
Two new runners in Tyler Allgeier and Damien Williams will at least give the Falcons some stability on early-downs while Cordarrelle Patterson is a fun swiss army knife. Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder are both capable runners, too. Might we see a big spike in the Falcons zone-read/RPO game? Regardless, I’d highly doubt the Falcons will be as pass-heavy as they were last year. This is a totally different offense.
The Falcons did not have a major identity in 2021. They ran all of 11, 12, and 21 personnel on over 20% of their plays last season, which means they were mixing and matching a lot of their players. 11 personnel will likely be tough to run heavily with rookie Drake London currently projected to be the teams WR1. 21 personnel would require two of Cordarrelle Patterson, Damiem Williams, and rookie Tyler Allgeier to be on the field at the same time which is definitely not ideal. The best bet for the Falcons most effective personnel in 2022 is 12 personnel. HC Arthur Smith is reunited with tight end Anthony Firkser from when they were together in Tennessee. Firkser is a solid TE2 option with Kyle Pitts taking the TE1 role. Pitts led all tight ends last season in routes run as an outside wide receiver. He also had the third highest yards per route run from the outside last season in the entire league behind only Deonte Harty and Antonio Brown among players with 100+ routes on the outside.
Cordarrelle Patterson was a revelation last season converting from a WR to a full time RB for the Falcons. Atlanta utilized outside zone run concepts on almost half of all their carries in 2021. Unfortunately Patterson really wasn’t all that effective on outside zone runs. Among players with 50+ carries on outside zone runs he ranked 17th out of 23 qualifying backs. For Arthur Smith to truly unlock the type of offense he ran in Tennessee with Derrick Henry, this number will have to improve. It remains to be seen if rookie Tyler Allgeier can be more effective in this offense, but the Falcons should be looking to find a replacement for Patterson in 2022 and beyond.
Projected Fantasy Contributors
Marcus Mariota (Proj: QB28 | ADP: 219 | Pos ADP: QB30)
Mariota has a shot to reestablish himself as a viable NFL starter under his former OC in Tennessee, Arthur Smith. Unfortunately, he’ll have to do it behind a bad offensive line and with a thin receiving group. Mariota hasn’t made a start since 2019. Injuries took their toll, but Mariota never materially improved in his time as a starter. From 2015-19, exactly 50 quarterbacks attempted at least 500 passes. Among that group, Mariota ranks 27th in completions (62.9%), 26th in passer rating (89.6), 17th in YPA, 25th in TD rate (4.3%), 31st in INT rate (2.5%), and 40th in sack rate (8.1%). He has been the definition of mediocre, and this likely isn’t the team on which he’ll get past that. For fantasy purposes, his rushing ability is at least somewhat intriguing, but probably overrated — in 61 career starts, Mariota averages just 22.1 rushing yards per game. He’ll have to do more than that on the ground and be more than a mediocre passer to hold off rookie Desmond Ridder all year.
Desmond Ridder (Proj: QB35 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: QB35)
A four-year star at the University of Cincinnati who led the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff in 2021, Ridder was the second QB taken in the 2022 NFL Draft — behind only Kenny Pickett. Of course, the entire league didn’t think very highly of this class in general, as Ridder was merely the 74th overall pick of the Draft. Nonetheless, he lands in a spot where he might get some starts as a rookie, and perhaps early, if vet Marcus Mariota struggles. Our Greg Cosell quite liked Ridder’s tape for what he is, as it “showed an accomplished QB with the needed physical and athletic traits profile to develop into a quality NFL starter. Ridder has size, arm talent, and mobility, plus a natural sense of poise and composure to his play. While Ridder has an easy and effective mobility to his game and can make second-reaction runs with his smooth athletic ability, he did not look to leave the pocket until his throwing options were exhausted, and he rarely broke down in the pocket unnecessarily.” However, the biggest drawback for Ridder was accuracy — Cosell wrote his ball placement was “erratic,” and per SIS, Ridder threw an on-target pass from a clean pocket on just 76.4% of his attempts in 2021, second-worst in the class. It’s worth pointing out that some QBs with NFL coaching can really improve ball-placement issues — Dak Prescott comes to mind (Prescott was a fourth-round pick). Ridder has the skill set to become an interesting fantasy QB if he gets a chance to play, even if he never becomes a very accurate passer.
Cordarrelle Patterson (Proj: RB36 | ADP: 109 | Pos ADP: RB36)
The irony about Patterson is that, as predominantly a WR for seven of his first nine NFL seasons, he was likely playing the wrong position. But playing that position before the Bears and especially the Falcons made him mostly a back the past two years likely extended his career, which has an argument for being one of the weirdest careers of all time. (Keep in mind that Patterson is one of the greatest kick returners in NFL history, to boot.) With 153/618/6 rushing and 52/548/5 receiving in 16 games last season, Patterson scored the 9th-most fantasy points of any running back. He had three top-5 weekly finishes and seven more as a top-24 back, so he was truly an elite Waiver Wire pickup. But he did wear down. In Weeks 1-9 before an ankle injury that cost him a game, C-Patt averaged 19.2 FPG (making him RB6 in this span). In Weeks 12-18, C-Patt put up just 10.9 FPG (making him RB31). Patterson’s role as a receiver was also cut after his injury. From Weeks 1-9, Patterson averaged 18.3 routes per game. In Weeks 12-18, C-Patt dropped to just 14.4 routes per game. While it’s likely that Patterson can continue to play at a relatively high level because he hasn’t accumulated the touches that most RBs have by his age, it’s also more than noteworthy that he’s 31, and likely better suited to a part-time role with a focus on passing downs. If rookie Tyler Allgeier can handle the early-down grinder role, that may be what Patterson does in 2022, though the passing-down work is where the calorie-rich touches come.
Tyler Allgeier (Proj: RB44 | ADP: 151 | Pos ADP: RB47)
Because he lacked explosive traits, Allgeier (4.60 40-yard dash) fell to the fifth round in April’s NFL Draft, but he really popped in Scott Barrett’s production model after running for 1601 yards and 23 TD at BYU last season. Allgeier’s skill set isn’t the hardest to find, but we’ve also had multiple players with his skill set pop for fantasy because of opportunity. And this summer, there have already been reports that Allgeier could end up being the Falcons’ “lead” back, with Cordarrelle Patterson in more of an ancillary role. He could succeed in such a role — our Greg Cosell wrote that Allgeier “has the look and feel of a volume runner who can wear down a defense over the course of four quarters with the important question being whether he will be given the opportunity to be that kind of back at the next level. That is an open question, and my sense is he will not be seen that way in the NFL, but he does possess higher-level sustaining traits and he could well be team and scheme specific in terms of being a foundation runner.” Cosell compared Allgeier’s skill set to that of Jordan Howard (also a fifth-round pick) and Alexander Mattison, who have produced big fantasy numbers when called upon — Howard for full seasons, and Mattison for one-game blowups. The problem for Allgeier being fantasy relevant even if he leads this team in carries is that the Falcons are likely to be absolutely rancid offensively, limiting scoring opportunities. On top of that, the offensive line isn’t very good.
Damien Williams (Proj: RB77 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: RB89)
Super Bowl LIV hero Williams played 12 games with the Bears in 2021 after taking 2020 off because of COVID-19. He played a small role, carrying the ball 40 times for 164 yards and 2 TD, adding 16/103/1 receiving. He’s always been a receiving-first kind of back, and in that role, he’s likely the direct backup to Cordarrelle Patterson here in Atlanta this season. Of course, that gives the Falcons two primary receiving backs who are on the wrong side of 30, behind a bad offensive line. He almost certainly won’t have value unless Patterson is injured.
Qadree Ollison (Proj: RB122 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)
Ollison is a big plodder (6’1”, 232 pounds) who has 5 career rushing TD on 44 carries. He’s basically jumped back and forth from the practice squad to the Falcons’ active roster in his three years in the NFL, receiving a call-up when the Falcons need a bruiser to handle carries. The expectation is that he will be behind rookie Tyler Allgeier for that role at the outset of 2022, but Allgeier still has to prove it in training camp and the preseason. Still, on a team not expected to score many TDs, someone who has been exclusively TD-dependent for even minuscule fantasy value like Ollison (he has 5 career catches for 19 yards) isn’t going to exactly warm our cockles even if he outplays expectations. He might not even make the team if return man Avery Williams impresses.
Drake London (Proj: WR43 | ADP: 76 | Pos ADP: WR37)
Look, London was the 8th pick in the NFL Draft, so obviously the Falcons loved him. He popped in Scott Barrett’s production model and drew a Michael Thomas comp from our Wes Huber. He had an early breakout age, which bodes well for young WR prospects. However, he was a polarizing prospect among the Draft Twitterati, and was not a favorite of our Greg Cosell, who worried that his contested catch profile would be better suited to a big slot role for London, an opinion also shared by some around the industry. Let’s start with those who love London — comparisons to Mike Evans have been thrown around, though we personally don’t think he moves that well. Even 80% of Evans would make London a potentially elite “X” receiver, it goes without saying. But let’s suppose Cosell and London’s detractors are right and London doesn’t separate enough to be a true dominant perimeter receiver. A “big slot” wouldn’t automatically doom London to bust status like other contested-catch artists of recent years — and that list is admittedly not pretty.
Top WR Seasons by % of Receptions coming on Contested Catches (minus screens)— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 9, 2022
+Power 5 only, min. 800 receiving yards to qualify, 2017-2021
1 N'Keal Harry, 2018
2 JJ Arcega-Whiteside, 2018
3 Jalen Reagor, 2018
4 DRAKE LONDON, 2021
5 Denzel Mims, 2019
128 Marquise Brown, 2017
But instead, Cosell offered up an intriguing comparison for London in his evaluation — Marques Colston. Cosell noted London’s body control and hands, and while Colston was never known as an elite separator, he still caught over 700 passes in the NFL. And ironically, because the Falcons have an elite “X” separator in TE Kyle Pitts, they might be best suited to London in the slot! It’ll be fascinating to watch him as a rookie, but ultimately it’s possible he’s an inefficient producer because of poor QB play, despite the Falcons likely having to play from behind often.
Bryan Edwards (Proj: WR89 | ADP: 212 | Pos ADP: WR93)
Despite ample opportunity with the Raiders the last two years, Edwards has not lived up to his third-round draft capital, catching just 45 passes in 28 games… though he did average 17 yards per reception. Edwards will get a fresh start with the Falcons, and quite frankly, it’s a good spot for him to get some more playing time and develop. One thing that will be interesting to watch is Edwards’ role in Atlanta. It’s possible his best role in the NFL is in the slot — per our Fantasy Points Data, Edwards averaged 0.82 yards per route run outside in 2021 (14th-worst among WRs with 150 routes run), but was one of the top slot receivers in the game by that metric, with 2.04 YPRR (more than Chris Godwin). Given it’s possible that Drake London functions as a big slot receiver as well, it will be interesting to see how the Falcons deploy their receivers.
Olamide Zaccheaus (Proj: WR109 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)
A situational — very situational — deep threat in his first two years with the Falcons, Zaccheaus had to play more in 2021 because Atlanta’s receiving corps completely collapsed. He turned in career bests in catches (31) receiving yards (406) and touchdowns (3) while playing all 17 games. At 5’8” and 193 pounds, Zaccheaus’ speed-first profile is unique among the WRs here, because they have an abundance of size everywhere else (Drake London, Bryan Edwards, Auden Tate, Kyle Pitts). He also has the most experience of this WR room in Arthur Smith’s offense as well.So he should have a role… it’s just not likely a big one.
Auden Tate (Proj: WR116 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)
Tate fits the profile of the big receivers that the Falcons have spent a lot of time acquiring this off-season… and he’s the biggest of the bunch (6’5”, 228). He’s also the slowest… timed at 4.68 in the 40 at the 2018 NFL Draft. And it’s possible he’s even slower now. He’s caught 14 or fewer passes in three of his four seasons. He seems like a backup here… potentially even backing up TE Kyle Pitts at the “X” position.
Damiere Byrd (Proj: WR132 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)
Byrd was the only “small and fast” receiver the Falcons added to their roster this off-season, and he’ll likely compete with and/or rotate with Olamide Zaccheaus for snaps. This speaks much more to the nature of the Falcons’ receiving corps than it does to Byrd, but his 117 career catches are the most among anyone in this WR room, and the most behind just RBs Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams on the entire roster. Again, that’s less of an accomplishment for Byrd and more of a commentary on the state of this roster.
Kyle Pitts (Proj: TE3 | ADP: 33 | Pos ADP: TE3)
By a tight end’s standards, Pitts’ rookie season was a huge success. Still, even though he broke the TE record for yards in a rookie season (1,026), he had zero TD upside and flopped hard at his fourth / fifth round ADP. Since the beginning of 2000, Pitts’ 10.4 FPG in his rookie season ranks fourth-best among rookie tight ends. Jordan Reed (12.7), Evan Engram (11.6), Jeremy Shockey (11.4), Aaron Hernandez (10.1), and Rob Gronkowski (9.7) round out the top-6. But he “struggled” when he was the Falcons’ primary target. He was actually better (11.6 FPG in five games) with Calvin Ridley than without him (10 FPG in 12 games) last season. Here’s the thing, though – Kyle Pitts isn’t a tight end. He’s a wide receiver. Pitts lined up out wide or in the slot on a whopping 79% of his routes last season, which is ridiculous. For reference, Travis Kelce lined up as a WR on 76% of his routes. Pitts handled his role well, too. His 2.02 receiving yards gained per route run was 18th-best among all players and just behind Gabe Davis (2.03) and Tyreek Hill (2.14). Pitts’ 11.2-yard average depth of target downfield led all TEs.
Largely because his aDOT was so high, Pitts was among the bottom of the position in catchable targets (76.2%). Are we sure that improves with Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder under center? You’re definitely not getting a discount on Pitts after he burned everyone last year, either. Nonetheless, Pitts is one of the freakiest athletes we’ve seen in quite some time, and really, he’s the Falcons’ “X” receiver — their best separator on the perimeter. If you are someone who likes to bet on talent, there are few players who have more of it.
Anthony Firkser (Proj: TE53 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)
Familiar with Arthur Smith’s system from their time together in Tennessee, Firkser has been used much like Kyle Pitts in his career as a big slot/perimeter receiver as opposed to a true in-line tight end. Per our Data and Research team, only 14.4% of Firkser’s routes in 2021 were run from an in-line position, less than even Pitts (20%)! So he looks very much like a “backup” to Pitts. Of course, the Falcons have a lot of big receivers who, in theory, have inside-outside versatility, and it’ll take some time to see how exactly they deploy them. The Falcons could well employ a blocking TE, but it appears that’ll be sixth-round rookie John FitzPatrick. Firkser has some past chemistry with Marcus Mariota in the event he’s called upon, and again, he knows the offense.
Huber’s Dynasty Buy-Low
Atlanta’s roster was the most difficult in the league to land on a dyno value. Kyle Pitts and Drake London are being drafted appropriately, so the list of elite talent is exhausted. Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier are not only plodding scrubs, they are both being drafted well before they should. Olamide Zaccheaus is an annoying fly encircling his QB to waste targets, and Bryan Edwards was essentially acquired from the Raiders for a used washing machine. Edwards flamed out in Las Vegas for a reason; plenty of athleticism, completely lacking in ball skills. Zaccheaus has been trash unless a Cover 6 is on the field, which isn’t nearly often enough. Calvin Ridley is a decent value right now. We just have no way of knowing how long his suspension will extend.
Let’s dig very deep with this one. After Pitts and London, Auden Tate could be the guy. Tate is a 50:50 possession receiver, but with nothing close to the after-the-catch skills of a Pitts or London. He won’t even turn 26 until February. Best of all, he’ll provide the Falcons with actual skill against multiple coverages – Cover 1, 2, 3 and 6. The sample size is small, but Tate deserved more run in Cincinnati’s lineup. That’s precisely what he should be able to carve out in Atlanta. It should come as no surprise to learn that Tate is listed outside of the FFPC dyno start-up top-250. Nobody should be selecting Tate inside 20 rounds. However, if the format extends to 25-or-more rounds, tossing a last-round dart at Tate could pay off well if he secures a featured role.
Hansen’s Final Points
He has cheat code potential with his running, but Marcus Mariota also has an intriguing collection of weapons to work with in a pair of sharp offensive minds in HC Arthur Smith and OC Dave Ragone, and Mariota has the edge in the QB battle with rookie Desmond Ridder because he’s been with Smith in Tennessee. Smith loves big receivers, and with four pass-catchers in the mix checking in at 6’3” or taller, Mariota has legit TD potential. Will he deliver? That’s hard to say because he’s been underwhelming and injury prone, but at the very least, with an ADP of over 200, he has better ROI potential than most other QBs on the board. But if the vibes are shaky this summer and/or great for Ridder, it’s all a moot point in terms of him being draftable.
He’s a similar player to Marcus Mariota and a four-year college player, so Desmond Ridder should not be discounted this summer. But if he does play, it will likely be due to a Mariota injury or brutal showing by the veteran, so no one’s drafting Ridder (ADP of 260+).
In my experience, when fantasy assets come out of nowhere like Cordarrelle Patterson last year, and then get ADP love the next year, it almost never works out. To wit: Mike Davis in this backfield last year. His role isn’t exactly clear after wearing down as a runner in 2021, but Patterson will obviously be a “weapon” for their innovative coaches, and they didn’t make a big move at RB, so his ADP of around 110 RB38 is fair. In fact, even though he’s not for me this year, we’re slightly above the markets with C-Patt. If rookie Tyler Allgeier settles into the early-down role only, Patterson could fit in nicely as the receiving back and weapon.
Rookie ADPs can change quickly in August, but it’s still a surprise that Tyler Allgeier’s ADP has stayed around 150 as camp opened in late-July. He’s not a special back, but he’s easily their best early-down option as long as he picks up the offense relatively well. It’s tough to project him for more than 10-15 catches for his rookie season, but my starting point for his carries was 195. If that projection does not drop all summer, then Allgeier will be a clear value. He was the RB50 as of 7/29, and we were above that at RB44. If he ends the summer ranked inside our top-40 at RB, that’ll mean his fantasy prospects are looking good. He’ll need to get TD love to really move the needle, but he should be more than useful.
With an ADP of 265 as of late-July, the masses aren’t expecting much from aging veteran Damien Williams, and neither am I. We are way over the markets who have him at RB114, but he’s only our RB75 and that’s assuming that he has a pulse all summer. If his vibes are great all summer and the rookie Tyler Allgeier has issues, then Williams might crack our top-200.
He’s somehow stuck on this roster for three seasons, but Qadree Ollison’s not someone remotely worth consider in fantasy drafts.
Since he’s a polarizing prospect, I think Drake London’s showing this summer will really help us handicap him as he heads into his rookie season. Based on his draft status and the team’s depth chart, his opportunity is unparalleled, at least in theory, among all rookie WRs. I’m not that into him in a low-volume passing game, but I’ve been wrong on big receivers in run-heavy offenses before (AJ Brown). For now, we have him a little below the markets at WR43 (ADP is WR39), but with a strong showing in August, ideally in the slot, we’ll probably price him with the markets. In other words, we do not view him as a great pick this year.
He may go down as one of those strong prospects who just doesn’t pan out, but it’s not over yet for Bryan Edwards, whom HC Arthur Smith is hoping can be his new AJ Brown at the X receiver spot. Edwards never gained the trust of Derek Carr, but Carr’s an odd cat, so Edwards may be a change-of-scenery guy this year. He’s got both downfield and red zone abilities, so we’re considerably above the markets as our WR88. If he doesn't pop, it’ll be no big deal.
We’ve seen what Olamide Zaccheaus is over the last couple of seasons, and a viable fantasy asset he is not. We’re at WR106 for him, which is apparently way too high because his ADP is WR159. So it doesn’t matter. Pass.
He’s another interesting big body for Arthur Smith, but Auden Tate will open the season as a backup, which is why he’s only the WR122 being drafted at 250 overall.
The Falcons would like a speed receiver to work into the mix, and veteran Damiere Byrd is in the mix with Olamide Zaccheaus. I wish my fellow South Jersey resident luck in his battle for a roster spot, but he is undraftable.
When I first saw Kyle Pitts’ early 2022 ADP, I thought it was a little too high. But then I did season projections and put together our top-200 lists and saw that the market’s had priced Pitts well compared to the rest of the field. His ADP is in the 30-35 range, which is notable because it’s possible that you can get him in the fourth round of a 12-team draft. If that’s the case, Pitts is a lot more palatable. But otherwise, it’s always possible that Pitts stands out as the BPA (best player available) during my summer drafts, and I’m certainly willing to take this stud.
He knows the offense, but even if Kyle Pitts missed time, I don’t think Anthony Firkser will be worth picking up this year, so he’s certainly not draftable.