Fantasy Team Preview: Julio Jones trade opens door for young Falcons to shine

·5-min read

We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 19th-ranked Atlanta Falcons.

1. How much did your rank on Calvin Ridley change in the aftermath of the Julio Jones trade, and what's his ceiling as the most-trusted option in the passing game?

Dalton: I bumped him up a few spots to my WR4 – part of tier one. Ridley is in a terrific situation playing indoors on an Atlanta team with only rookie Kyle Pitts competing for targets, so he could easily finish as the No. 1 fantasy wideout this season.

Scott: I already saw Ridley as an early-third round pick at worst, now he slides into the second round. Volume is essential in our game, so long as we assume a certain level of talent and upside. Ridley checks all the boxes. 

Matt: Calvin Ridley should now be firmly, unarguably at top-five wide receiver in fantasy football. He’s part of a tier of players that have the WR1 overall in their range of outcomes. As I laid out in my piece on Davante Adams last summer, it takes a unique confluence of events for a wideout to be the WR1 overall. They need an elite-level target share in their offense, play alongside an efficient quarterback and be verifiably good at the game. Ridley checks all those boxes and we’ve already seen him continue to get open at a star-level without Jones in the lineup last year. There are no holes in this evaluation.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 18: Calvin Ridley #18 and Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Calvin Ridley is now clearly Matt Ryan's top target, which should mean a huge fantasy football season for the receiver. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

2. The Falcons are showing surprising faith in journeyman Mike Davis as their lead back. Is this a case where you're interested because volume is king or are you prioritizing more upside at your RB2 spot?

Matt: I think Davis has plenty of “upside.” He’s a possible lead back on an offense we expect to get an efficiency boost with Arthur Smith now pulling the controls. The fact that Davis proved himself as a pass-catcher last year in Christian McCaffrey’s absence is even more crucial. At his current ADP (68.4 on Yahoo), he’s a solid add as an RB2 on a team that snagged a couple of high-end receivers or a tight end early.

Scott: I wish Davis hadn't run out of gas last year, but the Falcons depth chart is wafer-thin behind him. I'm not thrilled with his upside, but if you want a boring, reliable floor back in the fifth or sixth round, Davis is worth considering. 

Dalton: I’ll likely be avoiding Davis in the "RB dead zone” but can certainly see the case for him. He performed well at times while replacing Christian McCaffrey last year, finishing with nice broken tackle numbers. Davis is also a capable receiver and showed up to camp with impressive thighs. Moreover, there’s little to no competition in Atlanta’s backfield, so a true three-down role may actually be in store. As a result, I have him ranked as my RB21 right now, but realize there’s also plenty of risk. Davis is a 28-year-old back who wore down last season while reaching a career-high 165 carries.

3. Kyle Pitts is an elite talent, but historically rookie tight ends struggle to make an impact. Will Pitts buck the trend or be someone we'll disappointed about drafting this season?

Scott: I hate betting on historical outliers, especially when it comes to rookie tight ends, but the Falcons just traded a Hall of Fame-bound wideout and they're probably not going to treat Pitts as a traditional tight end anyway. Forget a foot on the ground, forget doing the dirty work; Pitts will probably be treated as a hybrid wide receiver. I wasn't especially open to drafting him a month ago — generally I'm allergic to buzz and the ADP upgrades that come with it — but I'm opening my mind. 

Dalton: It’s hard not to get excited about Pitts, who’s best described as Calvin Johnson at tight end. With Julio Jones gone, Pitts also projects to immediately be among the league leaders in targets at his position, so the rookie is rightfully being hyped. Given the current NFL environment, his favorable setup in Atlanta and him being a “generational talent,” Pitts’ floor is a top-five fantasy tight end right away. There’s certainly an argument to rank him No. 2 behind only Travis Kelce.

Matt: The receiver depth chart went from a strength to absolutely barren after Ridley the moment Julio Jones left town. Pitts should easily be the favorite to come in as the second-highest target man on the team. That should easily equal out to 100-plus looks. The situation is almost ideal for Pitts heading into Year 1 and of course, he’s universally regarded as a talent outlier on top of all that. I’ll be comfortably ranking him as my TE5, at worst, this fantasy draft season and he might have more touchdown upside than whoever ends up as TE4. Arthur Smith’s offenses in Tennessee were absolute money in the red zone.

Atlanta Falcons projected 2021 fantasy contributors

QB: Matt Ryan

RB: Mike Davis

WR: Calvin Ridley / Russell Gage

TE: Kyle Pitts / Hayden Hurst

Atlanta Falcons O/U

Dalton: The Falcons’ line is currently off the board after the Julio Jones trade, but with a huge offseason coaching upgrade to go along with a likely pessimistic public outlook given the loss of a star wide receiver, I’m interested in Atlanta’s (presumably long-shot) odds to make the playoffs (the Saints and Bucs should both regress some).

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

More on the Julio Jones trade from the latest podcast

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