Arthur Smith has only been coaching in the NFL ranks since 2010, but he now is the top dog in Hotlanta. What does this mean for those of us who have the likes of Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones, and others on our rosters? On the surface one would assume an increase in value for all of the Atlanta Falcons offensive players, but is it? Let’s take a look at what Arthur Smith means regarding the Atlanta Falcons’ fantasy projections.
Let’s start with a little background on Arthur Smith. He was a reserve offensive lineman in college and took on a graduate assistant role in 2006. He got his first college coaching break in 2007, with the Washington Football Team as a defensive quality control coach.
He returned to the college ranks with Ole Miss before being hired on as the defensive quality control coach with the Tennessee Titans in 2011. At this point you may be asking yourself, how did Smith end up being an offensive coach? That’s a good question with an interesting story.
Why Arthur Smith?
Mike Munchak hired Smith as defensive quality control coach and in 2012, moved him to offensive quality control and then to offensive line coach and tight ends assistant coach. It was during this time that Smith caught the attention of Mike Mularkey, former NFL tight end and head coach.
While the Titans went through a few head coaches from 2014, until now, Arthur Smith remained on the staff the entire time. To make this point clear, this is usually not a common occurrence. Typically new head coaches bring in their guys. Part of the reason Smith was retained was due to the request of Mike Mularkey, who was on the Titans staff from 2014, through 2017.
Mike Mularkey even lobbied current head coach Mike Vrabel to keep Smith on the staff, which he did. This led to Arthur Smith being handed the reigns for the entire offense starting in 2019, with the departure of Matt LaFleur. LaFleur took over the head coaching role with the Green Bay Packers at that time.
Now let’s look at what Arthur Smith did as Offensive Coordinator with the Titans. We saw a huge leap forward in Ryan Tannehill’s development after he was largely written off after leaving the Miami Dolphins. We saw Derrick Henry developed into one of the most dominating running backs in the NFL after many had already labeled him a bust.
The question is, will we see an increase in Atlanta Falcons fantasy projections at the running back going forward? I believe running back is the position we will see the biggest increase in value.
Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Projections: Receivers
One area I could see the Falcons being slow to improve on is at the wide receiver position. As I mentioned previously, I see no need in moving Julio Jones, and with Calvin Ridley stepping up throughout the season, the Falcons still have a talented wide receiver group.
Currently signed through at least next year are Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Russel Gage. I understand the jury still may be out on Zaccheaus and Gage, but both of these players had solid fantasy days when they filled in at times. Before landing on injured reserve, Zaccheaus had four catches for 103 yards and one touchdown against the Denver Broncos in week nine. For the year Gage had 72 catches on 109 targets for a total of 786 yards, not exactly numbers you dream about, but Gage was third on the depth chart all year.
Under the leadership of Smith, the Titans became the only team with a 2,000-yard rusher and a 3,500-yard passer, in NFL history. Smith also led all offensive coordinators over the last two seasons in offensive touchdowns with 120. We cannot overstate how efficient this offense has become under the tutelage of Arthur Smith.
There were two coaches this year I expected to be hot candidates for the newly vacant head coaching positions. Brian Daboll of the Buffalo Bills and Arthur Smith. I think it’s reasonable to understand why the Atlanta Falcons went this route, as this may be the best hire of the off-season.
Now the biggest question, what does all of this mean for us fantasy football players, and are the impacts on the Atlanta Falcons fantasy projections? First things first, let’s look at the tools Smith will have to work with.
Julio Jones is under contract through 2022 and is carrying over $38.5 million in dead cap money in 2021. Matt Ryan is signed through 2021 and is carrying $49.9 million in dead cap money this year. The point being, I don’t see the Falcons moving either of these two players, the cost is just too great to trade or cut either player.
Due to playing from behind so much, the increase we saw with the Atlanta Falcons fantasy projections could not be ignored. Betting on the wide receivers for example was a smart and savvy play. Going forward though, I expect a much more balanced approach with Arthur Smith in control. Enough background on why I think the following will be true and time to get to the meat of it all. I expect Ridley to become the true wide receiver one in this offense. Julio is still a monster and will allow this offense to get more creative, but his time in Atlanta is coming to a close.
With the being cost-prohibitive to move either Jones or Ryan, it’s going to make the rebuild process quite interesting. For example, the Falcons have the fourth overall draft selection in the upcoming NFL draft, and what they do with that selection could be any number of scenarios.
Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Projections: Quarterback
The Falcons could take a quarterback as chances are, they won’t have as high of a draft pick next year. Unless the Falcons decide to do a whole fire sale and eat over $97 million dollars in dead cap space.
There are a couple of quarterbacks that could be available at the number four spot and we have seen some of Smith’s magic with his work with Ryan Tannehill. It wouldn’t hurt to bring a young quarterback to work with Matt Ryan for a year. Personally, if I did like one of the quarterbacks available with the fourth draft pack, this is probably the route I would go. I am a fan of letting young quarterbacks learn from well-established veterans.
Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Projections: Running Back
We have also seen that Smith appears to like a balanced attack, see the comment above about being the only team in NFL history with a 2,000-yard rusher and 3,500-yard passer. This Falcons team hasn’t been able to establish a solid run game since Kyle Shanahan left to coach the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons will most likely be in the market for another running back as well.
That said, I could see going with a quarterback in the first round and then potentially grabbing a running back they like in round two or three. I assume, Smith is looking for a similar type of running game he was able to employ at Tennessee. Quite Frankly, Najee Harris fits this mold in my opinion. My question, would Harris be available at the thirty-sixth overall pick? That may not be likely, but it is plausible.
This Falcons team does need a lot of improvement on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I am not convinced I know how they will attack the draft in order to gain as much talent as possible. Currently, they do have the fourth pick in each of the first three rounds.
Let’s at least address the elephant in the room though, the Falcons were behind in many games this year. Especially at the beginning of the year, the Falcons were chasing points and were in some shootouts. The offensive passing numbers were inflated.
Whatever running back the Falcons bring in, don’t sleep on their value for next year. Smith is going to want a running back in that offense he can lean on in the future. Outside of Ridley, I don’t see myself rostering any of the other receivers unless Julio drops far enough in fantasy drafts that he becomes a steal as a WR3.
Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Projections
Overall here are the players I am looking to add or at least keep my eye on as we get to the fantasy draft season. The first being whatever running back the falcons add. If they add a player during free agency and sign that player to more than a 1-year contract, take note.
That running back could be a sneaky value. If the Falcons draft a running back early in the NFL draft, take note, again there could be good value with rostering that player, whoever it ends up being. I firmly believe the biggest impact we will see on Atlanta Falcons fantasy projections is at the running back spot. I expect to find a running back in this offense that you can play weekly.
Watch what Smith and the Falcons do at quarterback. If they take a quarterback with their fourth overall pick, it would be wise to target that player in your fantasy dynasty startup drafts. Do NOT overdraft or overpay for that player, though. We assume Smith will work his magic with any incoming quarterback, but predicting player talent and development with the draft is not an exact science.
The other reason I say don’t overdraft that player, don’t forget that as good as Tannehill has been, he hasn’t been a 4,000-yard passer in Smith’s offense. Whoever starts for the Falcons under Smith is a quarterback that isn’t going to be the gold standard at the position like Patrick Mahomes.
This is a quarterback that in redrafts you could draft late and count on for modest but effective results. While I don’t expect to see a huge upside with any quarterback in this offense, I do see a very efficient quarterback. Just be sure to temper your expectations of any Atlanta Falcons fantasy projections regarding the quarterback. Again, think balance, this offense is going to be a balanced attack.
These are the players I would target and the value I think they will give you. Calvin Ridley as a low-end WR1. Whoever the starting running back is, I expect to produce mid to low RB1 numbers. I say low RB1 because I expect this defense to still struggle this year. Long term, invest in the running back that Smith trusts, whoever that is.
The quarterback, presumably Matt Ryan in 2021, will be a low QB1 to high upside QB2. I think a fair expectation would a slight downgrade from Tannehill as Matt Ryan doesn’t use his legs as Tannehill does. A better Kirk Cousins is how I am viewing Ryan next year.
I don’t think you can count on the volume or Julio being on the field enough to warrant a high draft selection in fantasy drafts. Big wide receivers tend to have shorter careers, the wear and tear of the game usually catch up to them as they approach 30 years old. Julio is currently 31 years old.
Also, I don’t believe Zaccheaus is more than just a role player. I am convinced the Falcons will be adding more wide receiver talent in the future. Both Corey Davis and AJ Brown are much bigger than either Gage, Zaccheaus, and Ridley, so I expect Smith to look to add a bigger receiver in the next two drafts. Maybe a player like Rashad Bateman would fall to them in this year’s draft, as an example.
The biggest thing to watch is going to be the draft. We will have a much better idea of Smith’s plan once we see how he starts the rebuild process. I am just not expecting a sort of offensive juggernaut, I don’t believe that’s how Smith wants to build or operate this team. Please keep in mind, that it is a new coach and system, and what we have seen from Ridley and Julio, specifically, in the past is not what we will see in the future.
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