Five Questions Heading into Falcons Training Camp
The NFL season is upon us, finally. Teams have added impact free agents as well as rookies from the draft, yet only speculative conjecture can be made from samples of prior years. Not until training camp can we finally get a sense of how 53-man rosters and depth charts will shake out. What that means for fantasy football depends by situation and team. Here, I’ll be discussing the upcoming Atlanta Falcons Training Camp and five things to watch for.
What will the Falcons offense look like without Kyle Shanahan calling the plays?
This question may be the most important one of all heading into the 2017 season for all things Falcons fantasy football. It was clear in 2015 that the offense was slow in adjusting to the Shanahan way of running an offense. Matt Ryan put up the lowest touchdown total since his rookie season. He threw more interceptions in 2015 than any other year in his career besides 2013. The offense really just took some time adapting to a new system.
The Falcons coaching staff claims that they aren’t abandoning the offense that Shanahan ran in 2016, but will it really look the same? If it does, that’s great for predictability in fantasy football for 2017. If it does change, or gets off to a slow start with a new play-caller in place, what does that mean for fantasy football goodness? The answer to that question could completely shape all four of the other questions that we’re about to get into.
What will the split between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman look like in 2016?
For all of the hype surrounding Tevin Coleman you would think that he was on the field quite a bit last year. That’s just not true. Out of more than 1000 offensive snaps that the Falcons registered last year, Tevin Coleman only saw the field 353 times. He was just insanely efficient with his touches. Is he just that amazing? Or would it be more logical to assume that Coleman might just be in for a down year given the borderline-ridiculous expectations for a backup running back?
“Wait. Did you say backup running back? Tevin is as good as or possibly better than —”
Stop it. Even if that were true, Devonta Freeman still had 251 more offensive snaps than Tevin Coleman last year. Tevin Coleman is an incredibly fast and muscular backup running back whose efficiency in 2016 will most likely never be repeated.
Aaaannnddd I lost some of you right there. That’s okay. We all love to read things that confirm what we already believe. For those of you who stayed, let’s talk about what the split might look like this year.
It is possible that Tevin Coleman’s role does increase slightly given his success. However, there really isn’t any evidence suggesting that will happen. In fact, Coleman’s highest percentage of snaps played on offense (49%) came in Week 1 last year. He only eclipsed 44% of the offensive snaps in four more games for the rest of the year. That sounds to me like Freeman’s going to be leading a 60/40 split again (at the least).
It’s something to watch in camp, but now would be a great time to sell or fade Tevin Coleman coming off a season he won’t repeat.
With the emergence of Taylor Gabriel, do the Falcons run more three-receiver sets?
That’s a fair question. The answer to that question should be “anyone who owns just about any other offensive weapon on the Falcons.”
Many don’t realize how strange the Falcons offense was in 2015 and 2016. They come off like some high-flying offense given that they threw the ball around 600 times again last year. But here’s the weird part. They don’t run with three or more wide receivers nearly as often as the majority of the NFL.
The average NFL team in 2016 had at least three wide receivers on the field for around 67% of the offensive snaps. The Falcons only sport three wide receivers on 47% of their offensive snaps. Given Taylor Gabriel’s late run of huge game-changing plays, the Falcons could increase his workload. They were already trending in that direction down the stretch last year too. Gabriel played at least half the team snaps in four of his last eight games, and played as much as 77% of the offensive snaps in a single game.
But why does that matter to every other offensive asset in the offense? That’s one more legitimate mouth to feed in an offense that just lost its offensive coordinator. Definitely pay attention to news out of Falcons camp on the depth of Gabriel’s involvement in the offense.
Does Austin Hooper take the lion’s share of snaps at tight end this year with Jacob Tamme gone?
This question is easy money. Yes. It can get confusing if you just look at the raw snap counts from last season. Levine Toilolo was actually the offensive snaps leader for the Falcons (with 570). How in the world did that happen? Again, the Falcons are weird. They ran 8% of their snaps with at least three tight ends on the field (league average is 3%). There was also that Jacob Tamme guy. He kicked off the season as the starter but didn’t play a snap after October 30th (and he’s off the team now). From there Austin Hooper took over as the primary tight end in the passing game. Don’t overthink this one. If Austin Hooper absorbs all of Jacob Tamme’s work he’ll see over 700 snaps, around 60 targets, 500 yards, and six touchdowns. A huge opportunity looms for a healthy Hooper.
If Matt Ryan’s unreal efficiency from 2016 comes down to earth, how will that affect the offense as a whole?
This could be strongly tied to Kyle Shanahan’s departure. Or it could just be statistical regression rearing its ugly face. Somehow Matt Ryan went from the worst touchdown percentage of his career (3.4% of his passes went for touchdowns in 2015) to leading the league with 7.1% of his pass attempts going for touchdowns last year. Yes, in just one year his TD/INT ratio went from 21/16 to 38/7 — and his ridiculous efficiency doesn’t stop there. Even though Matty Ice threw the ball 80 fewer times in 2016, his total passing yardage was nearly 500 yards greater. His accuracy reached nearly 70% on the season and his passer rating was 18 full points higher than it had ever been (117.1). So ladies and gents, prepare to be disappointed if you’re banking on 38 touchdowns and nearly 5000 yards again.
For more updated news, notes and analysis on the Falcons training camp, check out AtlantaFalcons.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others.
As always, you can find me on the Twitters @FF_TravisM. I’m always down to chat football, ultimate frisbee, or how bad of a dancer I am. Thanks for reading, and good luck this year in all of your fantasy football endeavors!