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Fantasy Opportunity Breakdown: Atlanta Falcons

2019 Coaching Staff

Dan Quinn returns as head coach, but just by the skin of his teeth. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Falcons took the league by storm en route to a Super Bowl appearance, albeit one with an unfortunate result. Sadly, they just haven’t been able to put it together since. The defense held together the following year, but the offense just couldn’t repeat the magic sans Kyle Shanahan. Last year, Steve Sarkisian finally managed to piece the offense back together, but the defense was absolutely ravaged by injuries.

In a bid to hold his job, Dan Quinn decided to start over fresh by firing all his coordinators. Quinn himself will take over defensive play-calling while Dirk Koetter returns from a stint as the Tampa Bay head coach to resume his old roll as offensive coordinator.

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What to Expect

What we learned during Koetter’s run as Tampa Bay’s head coach is that he might not be the best head coach out there (though his front office didn’t do him any favors with a talent-deficient defense), but he does know his way around an offense. In fact, his tenure in Tampa really just looked like a microcosm of his entire career. Sometimes he has a stud running back with no passing game worth mentioning. Sometimes he has a high-flying passing attack with a patchwork backfield. No matter what he’s working with, however, he finds a way to make his offense work. This time, he faces a mandate to keep the Falcons’ existing blocking scheme while implementing his own playbook. There will be some challenge with that, but Koetter has proven flexible in the past.

What’s particularly interesting in this case is that Koetter already has experience working with his “new” QB. Back in 2012, Matt Ryan was just coming off an impressive 4th year in the league. He was certainly showing promise, but still needed just a bit more to make the leap to elite status. Koetter came in and gave him that push, leading to a prolific stretch for the Falcons’ offense. Unfortunately, the Falcons were weighed down by a complete lack of defense during Koetter’s run, which led to the release of the entire coaching staff after the 2014 season.

This time around, Matt Ryan is already established as one of the premier passers in the league and is surrounded by weapons to throw to. Devonta Freeman’s injury history and the loss of Tevin Coleman aren’t good for the running game, but Ito Smith looked good in limited usage last year. Overall, this should be the most talented backfield Koetter has had to work with since his time with Maurice Jones-Drew. Koetter should be able to hit the ground running, and Atlanta’s offense should continue to chug along without missing a beat. The only concern is the possibility of a defensive resurgence. Keep in mind, the Falcons’ defense looked pretty good in 2016 and 2017 before getting decimated by injuries last year. If the defense returns to form, it may limit the volume of the offense.

The Data

Koetter’s coaching history is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of pass/run ratio. He’s rarely had talent in both the running and passing games at the same time, so his offenses tend to end up heavily focused on one or the other. His first two years with the Buccaneers sported a fairly typical 55/45 pass/run ratio as Koetter leaned heavily on Doug Martin to ease his young QB Jameis Winston into the NFL. Going back further, he actually called¬†more¬†run plays than pass plays a few times while with the Maurice Jones-Drew-led Jaguars. On the flip side, he racked up well over a 60/40 pass/run ratio during his latter two years in Tampa (didn’t have a true lead back) and his original stint in Atlanta (slew of past-their-prime running backs). The 2019 Falcons clearly have a higher concentration of talent in the passing game, but there should be enough talent in the running game to keep the passing game from tilting that ratio even more. We expect right around a 60/40 split.

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For that 60% of the plays going to the air, it seems likely that the vast majority of those will be targeting wide receivers. Koetter’s air attack relied heavily on wideouts in Tampa; the group only dropped below a 60% target share once in four years, and its 67% target share last year actually led the league. It’s fair to say that those numbers might have been influenced by the Bucs’ abundance of wideout talent, but then it’s not like the Falcons are too far off. In fact, there’s a pretty solid argument that Koetter is working with basically the same pieces across the entire starting lineup; Mike Evans to Julio Jones, DeSean Jackson/Chris Godwin to Calvin Ridley, Adam Humphries to Mohamed Sanu, O. J. Howard to Austin Hooper, and Chris Sims to Ito Smith. The point of this being that looking at the Tampa Bay offense from the past few years is probably a better sneak peak at the 2019 Atlanta offense than one would think. Compiling the last 3 years, the Bucs’ wideouts typically own between 60-65% of the targets, the tight ends are usually around 20%, and the running backs take in only around 15%.

Fantasy Impact

While a healthy defense may dampen the volume of the aerial attack, the Falcons will most likely still be a pass-happy team. It’s not unreasonable to think that Matt Ryan may join the 5000-yard season club, but even if he doesn’t this will be a good offense to own some pieces from.

Projected Team Rush Attempts: 410 Attempts
Projected Passing: 385 Completions on 575 Attempts, 40 sacks allowed
Projected WR Catches: 245 Receptions on 380 Targets
Projected RB Catches: 70 Receptions on 95 Targets
Projected TE Catches: 70 Receptions on 100 Targets

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