Atlanta Falcons
What kind of impact does Julio Jones really have with the Atlanta Falcons? (Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

The only thing that I think about with the Atlanta Falcons is coaching. Two years ago when the god Kyle Shanahan was running the show, this team was in the Super Bowl. This past year with Steve Sarkisian in charge, the offense took a step back in a big way. The offense ranked first in the league in 2016 but fell to 15th in 2017. That drop was significant and Sarkisian was virtually using Shanahan’s playbook and philosophies. The further away we get from the Shanahan era, will this offense only continue to decline? Atlanta does have a talented roster but how high is their ceiling with the ghost of Shanahan looming? What should we keep an eye on with Atlanta Falcons heading into the 2018 season?

3 Position Battles To Watch:

1. Running Back: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith

When you have a roster this good, it’s hard to find a true position battle. I’m going to talk about the running back spot to try to project how Atlanta will divide their timeshare of running backs. Before I begin, this is where Shanahan’s departure has the most impact but that’s obvious if you just simply watch the games. Devonta Freeman’s carries reduced drastically from 227 in 2016 to 196 in 2017. He failed to run for 900 yards and saw his yard per carry average also take a dip. On the flip side, Tevin Coleman saw an increase in his touches going from 118 to 156 rushes. Predictably, Coleman’s yard per rush also dropped as well, however. Will Atlanta use Ito Smith in a receiving role to take away, even more, touches from those two guys? Regardless, this is not a group you probably want in fantasy. Get out ahead of the curve. #ghostofshanahan.

2. Wide Receiver: Mohammed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy

Again, all of these guys above will all play but the question is how much? Calvin Ridley probably gets the nod as the other outside weapon for the fact that he’s the perfect fit next to Julio Jones. With Julio garnering so much attention, I think there’s a good chance that Ridley snags a handful of long touchdowns over the top. Ridley has great speed and he has an ability to set up receivers to get open that most simply don’t have that ability. Ridley is a fantastic route runner so it’s hard to see him failing, especially with Jones on the other side. I would expect Sanu to get the slot work. Also, I do still believe in Justin Hardy!

3. Cornerback: Robert Alford, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Isaiah Oliver, Brian Poole, Justin Bethel

Desmond Trufant is locked in as the number one so that’s good news. The dilemma here is rest of these guys are no sure thing. Atlanta deploys that Seattle philosophy of having long press corners on the roster and most of these corners fit that description. Robert Alford is probably best described as average. His 76.7 PFF grade would support that theory. Justin Bethel does his best work on special teams. Brian Poole has developed as a really nice slot guy as a former undrafted Florida prospect. Isaiah Oliver could be the X-Factor as a second round pick. Don’t sleep on him. Colorado has produced some good corners in recent years.

Ready To Breakout: Jake Matthews

This was a hard one to pick because Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett are among my favorites on this roster but they’re pretty established. Jake Matthews would qualify as established as well but I don’t think he gets the love from the media he deserves. After landing a $75 million contract this offseason, I think people will start to recognize how good Atlanta’s left tackle really is. Jake comes from the esteemed Matthews family tree which predictably helps his NFL success when you have Bruce Matthews in your corner. Matthews, 26, is now entering his prime and ranked as the 9th best tackle this past year in the league analytically. I would expect Matthews to continue to improve heading into 2018 to become one of the best in the NFL.

Rookie To Watch: Calvin Ridley

I mentioned Ridley earlier but I want to double down on his fantasy impact. There’s a growing myth around the league that Julio Jones is this word beating number one wide receiver but that frankly isn’t the case. This franchise has not figured out a way to get Julio in the end zone which opens the door for others to score. 3 touchdowns are flat out unacceptable for Julio. I don’t trust Steve Sarkisian to figure it out. Remember, the only year Alabama hasn’t won the National Title recently is when Sark was calling plays. If Ridley somehow gets to 8 touchdowns on the year, he becomes a pretty attractive fantasy option.

NFC South 2018 NFL Draft Grades: Panthers Fail, Saints Risk It All

Fantasy Sleeper: Austin Hooper

I covered pretty much everyone on offense so here’s Austin Hooper. It’s hard to find a dependable fantasy tight end outside of maybe 4 or 5 players. Maybe Hooper is someone you can pick up on the waiver wire to fill in depending on the matchup.

SHOP V HERE!