The Atlanta Falcons are all set up to have a big 2020 season. They’ve reloaded, jettisoning Devonta Freeman and Austin Hooper for Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst. Their 2019 offensive linemen should be rounding into shape. Also, Matt Ryan’s inexplicable interception bad luck should right itself this year. Everything is set up for the Atlanta Falcons offense to have a big year, but who should be the sleeper, breakout, and bust for fantasy football purposes from the Dirty Birds?
Sleeper – Russell Gage, Wide Receiver (WR102, 303 overall)
In doing the Atlanta Falcons projections this season, I found something extremely startling: their target volume is extremely top-heavy. It’s a massive stepdown in talents and projected targets from Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones to the #3 wide receiver. That’s what happens when you lose Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper walk, replace them with Laquon Treadwell (bad!), and Hayden Hurst (good!). The #3 receiver for the Falcons is Mr. Russell Gage. The reason I’m tapping Gage as the sleeper because Julio and Ridley combined to miss four games last season. In the likely event that happens again, their 8-10 targets per game they will both command will distribute out somewhere. Given their top-heaviness, that somewhere is Russell Gage.
In the last six games last year, after the Falcons had traded Mohamed Sanu and settled on Gage as their WR3, he averaged eight targets per game, hauling in 5.3 of these for 48 yards a contest. It’s not the most insane thing, but it’s also a much higher value than WR102. One hundred and two! Of note: he had a higher true catch rate than both Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones last season.
Breakout – Hayden Hurst, Tight End (TE13, 118 overall)
Had I written this in May, this would be Calvin Ridley. But, we are all in on Calvin Ridley to the point that he’s pricing himself out of being a value. There are parts of the fantasy football cognoscenti that see him as a top-ten wide receiver and are angling to draft him as such. No thanks, not at that price. He’s this year’s Chris Godwin: people are stacking the hype higher than cordwood, and are hoping it doesn’t topple over.
So, instead, we turn to Hayden Hurst. The plug-and-play Austin Hooper replacement threatens to get the same treatment that Calvin Ridley received, but at this point, he’s still sticking to a backup slot (TE13), which makes me more than happy to call him a breakout. Last year, Hayden Hurst ranked top-ten in yards per target (8.7), yards per pass route run (2.44), true catch rate (90.9%), and fantasy points per pass route (0.54). That’s a lot of efficiencies wrapped up in a guy who couldn’t beat out Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown for enough targets to matter. This year, he’ll get enough targets to matter. At his price, I’m more than happy waiting on TE and snagging him and another TE to create a timeshare.
Bust – Nobody?
Todd Gurley comes the closest to an Atlanta Falcons bust, the truth of the matter is that we know what Todd Gurley is at this point. He’s going as RB19 off the board, which more-than prices in his downside this season. Gurley has an arthritic knee condition, which isn’t something that can get better and is also something that has moment-to-moment volatility. At this point, his knee is like the coronavirus. People are going to point out the downsides and risks of how dangerous it is, but it’s up to you to measure your own risk tolerance. If you get two slam dunk RBs in rounds one and two, a top-flight receiver in round three, and Gurley is staring you in the face in round four? Why not.
As I said, Todd Gurley comes the closest, but I’m not buying it. He should get the vast bulk of the touches in the Atlanta backfield, given that every other running back there is a wildfire. If drafters took him as RB15 or higher I’d slam the BUST button, but at RB19 (#41 overall), that’s a nice cool value for a properly constructed team.