Saturday, July 2, 2022

2022 Falcons Fantasy Football Preview: Kyle Pitts, Drake London ready to shoulder the load?

With Matt Ryan traded away to the Colts and Calvin Ridley suspended, the Falcons are finally pivoting to a rebuild. Marcus Mariota is the bridge at QB, but we’ll probably see Desmond Ridder at some point this season. There’s an opportunity for someone besides Kyle Pitts and Drake London to make an impact here, but there isn’t an overabundance of accompanying talent, so those two will carry a lot of weight.  

2021 Review

Record: 7 – 10 (22)

PPG: 18.4 (26)

YPG: 303.8 (29)

Pass YPG: 218.4 (16)

Rush YPG: 85.4 (31)

PAPG: 33.7 (19)

RAPG: 23.1 (29)

2020 Fantasy finishes

QB: Matt Ryan* QB17

RB: Cordarrelle Patterson RB10, Mike Davis* RB34

WR: Russell Gage WR37, Olamide Zaccheaus WR78, Calvin Ridley** WR102 

TE: Kyle Pitts TE6

*No longer with team

**Suspended for the season

Number to know: 22.2%

Over the past two seasons, Matt Ryan has just a 22.2% touchdown rate on red zone passes, which ranks 19th out of 21 passers with at least 100 attempts in that time frame. It wasn’t just a Julio Jones thing – or a Kyle Pitts thing last season; Ryan really was just less effective at turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns than most quarterbacks.

Which isn’t to say Marcus Mariota will be better for this offense as a whole or Pitts in particular. However, Pitts was a somewhat underwhelming Fantasy option as a rookie almost entirely due to the fact that he had just one touchdown on 110 targets. Ryan historically never forced the ball into his No. 1 options hands near the end zone, but if Mariota is a bit more aggressive in that regard, Pitts’ breakout could come even if the overall offense isn’t much more effective.

2021 Offseason

Draft Picks 

1. (8) Drake London, WR

2. (38) Arnold Ebiketie, DE

2. (58) Troy Andersen, LB

3. (74) Desmond Ridder, QB

3. (82) DeAngelo Malone, DE

5. (151) Tyler Allgeier, RB

6. (190) Justin Shaffer, OL

6. (213) John FitzPatrick, TE

Additions

RB Damien Williams, QB Marcus Mariota, WR KhaDarel Hodge, WR Auden Tate, WR Damiere Byrd, TE Anthony Firkser, CB Casey Heyward, LB Lorenzo Carter, OL Elijah Wilkinson, OL Germain Ifedi

Key Departures

QB Matt Ryan, WR Russell Gage, TE Hayden Hurst

Available Opportunity 

28 carries, 3 RB targets, 184 WR targets, 42 TE targets 

2022 Preview

Chris Towers’ projections

Marcus Mariota PA: 549, YD: 3840, TD: 25, INT: 13; RUSH — ATT: 59, YD: 323, TD: 2
Cordarrelle Patterson CAR: 118, YD: 506, TD: 5, TAR: 55, REC: 41, YD: 436, TD: 2
Damien Williams CAR: 98, YD: 392, TD: 4, TAR: 33, REC: 24, YD: 154, TD: 1
Drake London TAR: 123, REC: 80, YD: 876, TD: 6
Olamide Zaccheaus TAR: 78, REC: 47, YD: 561, TD: 4
Bryan Edwards TAR: 78, REC: 43, YD: 514, TD: 3
Kyle Pitts TAR: 126, REC: 82, YD: 1025, TD: 6

Biggest Question

Is Kyle Pitts ready to take over the TE position in Fantasy?  

Pitts was mostly as good as expected as a rookie, catching 68 passes for 1,026 yards, though you may not have noticed his impact for Fantasy because he found the end zone just once. You’re paying a premium in drafts for the right to find out if Pitts can make the leap into the Travis Kelce/Mark Andrews tier, but it’s a bet worth making even if Mariota is a downgrade from Ryan. Pitts is one of the few players with the potential to be a legitimate difference maker at tight end, and this might be your last chance to draft him outside of the first round for the next half-decade.

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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust

Patterson was RB10 last season in PPR formats but is just RB34 in ADP right now, which seems like pretty good value. However, his production was pretty front-loaded, as the Falcons mostly stopped using him as a pass-catcher after he missed Week 11 with an ankle injury – he had just 13 catches in his final seven games as he averaged a pretty meager 10.9 PPR points per game. However, that ankle injury was originally expected to cost him multiple weeks, so it’s possible that the diminished role was just a result of the injury limiting him more than the team let on. I don’t expect Patterson to be a top-10 RB again, or anything, but he’s so cheap in drafts that I’m looking for him as either a zero-RB starter or bench piece unless we get some sign that his role is going to be diminished in 2022.

Combined with Pitts, London gives the Falcons one of the most physically imposing receiving duos in the league. What will be really interesting to see is if the Falcons opt to use London as a big slot receiver, a luxury Pitts’ size and athleticism gives them given his ability to dominate on the outside. That could make London a very dangerous option in the red zone and a matchup nightmare all over the field. The Falcons really only have Pitts as an established pass catcher, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for London to develop into a 1a option, getting 24% of the targets or something similar. There’s WR2 upside here.

I don’t actually think Pitts is going to bust, but seeing as how he’s the only player on the Falcons with an ADP inside of the top-90 as of mid-June, he’s clearly the biggest risk here. Mariota is likely a downgrade from Ryan, and his rushing ability could mean there’s less pass volume here as well. London figures to be a clear No. 2, but he could still be a bigger threat for targets than Russell Gage was. If Pitts continues to be stifled in the red zone and the overall offense is less effective, he could be a viable starting Fantasy option and still a disappointment – a lot like he was as a rookie. 

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