Bijan Robinson joins Drake London and Kyle Pitts as the third-straight, top-8 draft pick the Atlanta Falcons used on a key offensive playmaker. Seven of their 10 losses last season were one-score games. The Atlanta Falcons were 15th in points per game but should take a large step forward with the threat of Bijan in the backfield. Aside from draft picks, the Falcons also had the most cap space to spend ahead of the 2023 offseason. They wasted no time going on a spree, adding pieces to both sides of the ball. We’ll see if it’s enough to give them a winning record in 2023 and produce league winners for fantasy football.
Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Football Preview
Key Subtractions and Additions
Subtractions: Marcus Mariota (QB), Isaiah Oliver (CB)
Additions: Bijan Robinson (rookie RB), Taylor Heinicke (QB), Jessie Bates (S), Jeff Okudah (CB), Calais Campbell (DE), David Onyemata (DT), Kaden Ellis (LB), Bud Dupree (DE), Matthew Bergeron (rookie OT), Jonnu Smith (TE)
In the 2022 starting role, Marcus Mariota’s season is one to forget for the Atlanta Falcons. He threw for just 2,219 yards, a career-low in a season with 12 or more starts. He did, however, set a new career-high of 85 rushing attempts. His 438 rushing yards and five touchdowns accounted for one-third of his 2022 fantasy points total, landing him at QB20 on a points-per-game basis for the season. The Atlanta Falcons passed at the second-lowest rate with just 24.4 attempts per game. Mariota, in 13 starts, passed just 23.07 times per game, most of which were inaccurate.
Second-year player, Desmond Ridder, should get every opportunity to seize the starting quarterback role. Signing 30-year-old Taylor Heinicke is a good depth addition who will challenge Ridder for the job. In the event Ridder is unbearable to watch or unavailable to play, Heinicke has a proven track record of running an offense and winning games. With three major assets in Bijan, London, and Pitts, the Falcons cannot afford poor play, win or lose. Heinicke’s contract makes sense to keep him for just one season with the potential for more if he plays his way into it.
For fantasy football purposes, Ridder is bench depth at quarterback in Superflex leagues. That means he’s not worth considering at all, for now, in 1QB leagues. I expect a run-heavy approach from head coach, Arthur Smith, especially with Bijan Robinson in the backfield. Ridder hasn’t shown enough yet that fantasy managers can trust. He’s more of a touchdown-dependent player that’s better suited for best ball leagues, if anything.
Bijan Robinson enters the league with back-t0-back seasons of at least 221 touches and 1,422 all-purpose yards for the University of Texas. Last season, he rushed 258 times for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns, adding 19 receptions for 314 yards and an additional two scores.
Head coach, Arthur Smith, is the former offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans where he called plays for Derrick Henry. Henry, of course, won back-to-back rushing titles in 2019 and 2020. Bijan is unlikely to average the 359 touches Henry did in those two seasons, but his pass-catching upside provides an opportunity for more versatility in the way he racks up big points with the touches he does get on the ground and through the air.
Bijan is already on record saying he is involved in all different formations with the Atlanta Falcons offense. Additionally, Atlanta made it a point to beef up their offensive line this off-season. Bringing back Kaleb McGary and drafting Matthew Bergeron only builds the case more for Bijan Robinson to finish inside the top five at his position. He will be drafted with the expectation of doing so.
Tyler Allgeier is one of two rookie running backs from the 2022 class to rush for over 1,000 yards last season. While last year’s fifth-round pick, Allgeier, will not fade completely, it’s hard to imagine a world in which he’s taking significant snaps and touches from Bijan, the eighth overall pick from the 2023 Draft. Allgeier gets downgraded for fantasy football but is one of, if not the, top handcuff running back in the entire league. Managers with Bijan Robinson on their roster should target Allgeier a bit higher than his Average Draft Position.
As a rookie, the 2022 eight-overall pick, Drake London, caught 72 passes for 866 yards and four scores. More impressively, he drew 117 targets which is a 29.3% target share among all Falcons from last season. He averaged 6.9 targets per game, but 9.0 per after Atlanta’s Week 14 Bye. As a reminder, the Falcons threw the ball at the second-lowest rate in the league. Imagine Drake London’s numbers if they were even just middle of the pack. He should remain the top target, especially with teams keyed in on Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson. I just don’t know if being the top target on this offense translates to steady WR1 production in 2023. Just on volume alone, London could be in for a breakout. However, depending on his ADP, it could be a big gamble with Desmond Ridder under center.
Even on a low-volume passing offense, there are a ton of vacated wide receiver targets from 2022 to the 2023 season. With the departure of Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd, and Bryan Edwards, 37% of the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver targets from last year are available. The new faces in town are Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller. Neither of these two will see any sort of meaningful attention in the passing game behind London, Kyle Pitts, and Bijan Robinson.
Cordarelle Patterson is now 32 years old. In the final year of his contract, there’s a chance, however slight, that he isn’t on the roster by Week 1. Assuming he is, the Atlanta Falcons will likely use him more as a wide receiver than a running back this season. Either way, but especially with little to no carries, Patterson’s days of putting up big fantasy numbers are likely over, especially in Atlanta.
I still believe in Kyle Pitts. Yes, after logging over 1,000 yards as a rookie, I’m very well aware of the letdown of his 356-yard follow-up last season. He’s still only 22 years old and entering his third NFL season. In just 10 games, Pitts saw the second-highest number of targets (59) in the 2022 Atlanta Falcons passing game. His 5.9 targets per game ranked seventh amongst all tight ends last year who played 10 or more games.
Pitts may see a slight dip with Bijan Robinson commanding a chunk of his own share out of the backfield, but he should still sit inside the top-10 most targeted tight ends in 2023. That alone is enough reason to draft him. Then consider a probable quarterback upgrade as well as the discount in ADP following last season’s struggles. I’m willing to draft Pitts as my starting tight end knowing I can stream another option, as many fantasy managers do anyway, if he flops. Perhaps we all overvalued him last season and this is the year we get it just right.
The Atlanta Falcons defense has nowhere to go but up as far as performance goes in fantasy football. Their 5.2 points per game ranks 30th on the season last year. Just three times did the Falcons defense score double-digit fantasy points in 2022. You likely weren’t starting them either, especially in Weeks 2 and 6 when they played at the Los Angeles Rams and hosted the San Francisco 49ers. What’s more glaring are the four weeks of one point or less Atlanta’s defense put up last year.
Forcing turnovers and sacking the quarterback are the best ways to rack up points. Atlanta ranks bottom-six and bottom-two in each respective category from last season. This off-season, they’ve added some extremely notable pieces to this side of the ball. Jeff Okudah, Calais Campbell, Bud Depree, and others are all major upgrades to the Falcons defense as a whole. They won’t make Atlanta a set and forget defense for fantasy football but should give managers more confidence to stream them week-to-week.
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