The Atlanta Falcons, as a franchise, are going to hit a massive reset in 2021. They cleaned house, firing General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and Head Coach Dan Quinn. Unfortunately, they can’t hit as big of a reset button as they wish. Both Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, aging superstars, are under big contract hits for 2021, and big dead caps if the Falcons move on. They might have no choice but to use 2021 as a gap year for the new head coach and GM so they can get their feet under them. No matter what Atlanta chooses to do between week seventeen of 2020 and week one of 2021, there is a lot to remember about the 2020 iteration of the Atlanta Falcons for fantasy football purposes.
What to Remember from the 2020 Atlanta Falcons Season
- Todd Gurley III. Alright… Todd Gurley, let’s just get this out of the way. He was bad, and I said he was going to be bad. But I also said he would probably score a lot of touchdowns through sheer volume alone. Through the first nine games of the season, Gurley played on a 1,178 yards, 16 touchdowns pace, on a whopping 310 touches. Then, the knee arthritis kicked in and Gurley’s availability started to come into question, and his production tanked through the floor. From weeks eleven through sixteen, Gurley had 7.6 opportunities per game, averaged 29 yards per game, and failed to score. His time as a top-flight running back might be over, and he is a free agent so he is likely elsewhere in 2021. But that doesn’t mean good things are on the horizon in Atlanta’s run game…
- Don’t let anyone sell you on the Ito Smith/Brian Hill double stack. They’ll point to Todd Gurley’s amazing opportunity. Gurley ranked twelfth on carries inside the five, despite getting just one such carry after Halloween. Unfortunately for Smith/Hill backers in 2021, it wasn’t all Gurley. The Falcons ranked 29th in yards before contact per carry, and they were just 0.2 yards above last place, with 2.1 yards before contact per carry. That doesn’t bode well for the duo. Both Brian Hill and Ito Smith ranked outside the top-forty in yards created per touch, with less than a yard created each. If the line is getting you 2.1 yards, and the back is getting less than a yard… I’m sure you can do the math here. Smith & Hill also didn’t pick up stray goal line carries in Gurley’s absence, combining for just one this season.
- We’ve beat the Atlanta Falcons’ run game into the ground, so let’s take a look at their passing game, shall we? First, let’s take a look at Julio Jones. The once-oft-injured-and-once-again-oft-injured wide receiver (nailed it) just couldn’t shake lower-body injuries. In the fifteen-game fantasy football season, Julio played in just nine games and topped 35% of snaps in just seven games. Surprisingly, I feel good about Julio Jones next season. Julio had the highest yards per target of his career and will come at a steep discount in what will be his age 32 season. In his games where he didn’t leave early, he averaged 6.4 catches for 100 yards per game.
- Let’s squeeze the free space in here: Matt Ryan with and without Julio Jones. That’s one of the biggest on-off field splits in the history of the universe. Matt Ryan had Julio Jones for more than 35% of his snaps just seven times in 2020. With Julio in the lineup, Matt Ryan paced out for 5,189 yards, 34 touchdowns, and seven picks. 5.4% of his passes turned into touchdowns, and 1.09% of his passes turned into interceptions. 2019 Patrick Mahomes had a 5.4%/1.03% split, and he won the Super Bowl and got a half-a-billion dollar contract. Without Julio Jones on the field, Matt Ryan paced out for 4,092 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. His touchdown and interception rates were 2.94% and 2.61%, respectively. 2019 Andy Dalton had a 3%/2.65% split, and Joe Burrow replaced him before he got a one-year deal as a backup in Dallas.
- One thing we can reasonably worry about from the Matt Ryan statistic is the presence (or lack thereof) of Julio Jones on Calvin Ridley. He isn’t immune to the Julio Jones contraction, but mostly through a touchdown reduction. He averaged a touchdown a game in the games where Julio Jones played over 35% of snaps. That makes sense, the offense as a whole was better. In these games, he paced out for 93 catches, 1,384 yards, and 16 touchdowns. He paced out to be the WR1 in all formats. Without Julio, he scored just three touchdowns in eight games, but he averaged over 100 yards per game, pacing out to a 94-catch, 1,606-yard campaign, on 10.1 targets per game. With Julio, he was a WR3 in all formats. Without Julio, he was, at worst, WR6. That’s the life of a young stud: he’s situation proof.