QB: Matt Ryan
To say 2017 was a disappointment for Matt Ryan would probably be an understatement, especially after coming off of a year where he finished as the QB2 in pretty decisive fashion. I think everyone sort of had the hunch that Ryan’s efficiency and TD numbers were going to drop, but I don’t think that anyone could have predicted him going from 4,944 yards, 38 TDs and 7 INTs in 2016 to 4,094 yards with 20 TDS and 12 INTs finishing as the QB15 on the year. I think that Ryan will fair a little better this year and will probably improve upon his disastrous year, but at the same time, he’s only eclipsed 30 TDs with single-digit INTs twice in his career, so expect somewhere in the low 20 TD range with 10+ picks. I’m avoiding him as my starting QB, but if you need a backup and want to hedge a bet on an upside QB, Ryan could be a nice pick. In dynasty, you have better options for starters (and maybe even backups).
RB: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith
There’s really not much that needs to be said about Devonta Freeman – he provides solid RB1 value every week, and to be perfectly honest, he’s getting lost in the shuffle with the second-year RBs and incoming rookie class. That’s fine – I’m still seeing if I can buy Freeman shares on the cheap because he’s insanely efficient, especially in PPR formats (I say that even though he only had 36 REC last year because I don’t see that happening again this year). Lock him up for 1,200+ yards and flirt with double-digit TDs.
Tevin Coleman is probably the most intriguing of the backfield here because, even though he’s never been THE dude in ATL, he still puts up solid numbers and provides a viable RB2 option on a week-to-week basis. As a guy who plays, he’s flirted with 1,000 yards each year he’s been healthy, and his 4.3 YPC and 12.2 YPR is nothing to scoff at. He’s literally the definition of a handcuff because should Freeman go down, expect Coleman to be what ATL originally drafted him to be – their #1 RB for at least that year.
Which is a good segue into Ito Smith. I’m pretty sure everyone and their mother knows that Coleman is going to be a free agent next year and could be the next Jerick McKinnon now that Duke Johnson signed his extension with Cleveland. Should Coleman bolt, which seems likely, Smith becomes a good dynasty stash to have, playing in a system that has been known to consistently use two RBs and use them well. You can probably snag Smith in the third round of rookie drafts, which, and let’s all be honest, are all crapshoots anyway.
WR: Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu, Calvin Ridley
Much has been said about Julio Jones’ “disappointing” season last year. If finishing the year as the WR7 with the second most receiving yards in the NFL while only scoring three TDs is disappointing, I don’t know what to tell you. Yes, he should get more looks in the red zone, and yes, he’s probably falling out of that first-round pick status, but I think that has more to do with the new infusion of talent in that area and the resurgence of the RB than it does with Jones. He still has finished in the top-three of the NFL in total receiving yards every. single. season since 2014. He had 19 RZ targets last year (ranking him 7th in the league) but only five receptions on those targets. That could probably explain the lack of TDs. Jones has a career RZ Catch% of 50%. If you add in five more red zone receptions into that mix, you could be looking into more TDs.
You can chalk Mohamed Sanu up as one of those not sexy picks who always scores a TD against you when your opponent has to start him as a bye week filler. Or at least I feel like that’s happened to me a bunch. I don’t know. I like Sanu. I feel like as someone who is currently being drafted as the WR78, he should be getting more love, especially considering who surrounds him in ADP (it goes Moncrief, Ginn, Sanu, Enunwa, ESB, Cole). That’s dirt cheap considering he finished last year as the WR26 who finished the year with more points than T.Y. Hilton and Amari Cooper. In dynasty leagues, see if you can get him as a throw-in for a deal. I don’t see too many owners being in love with him, and you could be worse off for a depth play.
Speaking of ADP, Calvin Ridley is currently being drafted as the WR35 ahead of Michael Crabtree, Jamison Crowder, Nelson Agholor, and Sterling Shepard. Call me crazy, but that’s a steep price to pay for a rookie WR who might be the fourth passing option behind Jones, Freeman, and Sanu. The fact of the matter is that the Falcons liked him enough to spend a first rounder on him when they probably had other needs that they could have addressed. I’m iffy on rookie WRs in general because they tend to disappoint more than they impress, but his ADP in rookie drafts seems spot on the money at 9th overall, and you can make the argument that he could be the best rookie WR in the class.
TE: Austin Hooper
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times – the TE position is Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, maybe Evan Engram, and everyone else, and Hooper classifies in that “everyone else” pool. If Ridley is fighting to be the fourth passing option on this team, where does that rank Hooper? He’s worth a pick in dynasty leagues, probably not so much in redraft leagues, and if you have to start him in either, you’re probably in trouble.
Be sure to check out the latest episodes of the Loaded Box Podcast as the guys are joined by Andrew Erickson of Gridiron Experts (Running Backs) and Mitchell Renz of Chat Sports (Wide Receivers) to play the fantasy football version of “Would You Rather”