Team: Atlanta Falcons
New Play-Caller: Arthur Smith
Scheme: West Coast
The change from former Falcons Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter’s pass first Air Coryell attack to Arthur Smith’s run first play action pass offense is going to be drastic. However, Matt Ryan has a lot of familiarity with this offense Smith is bringing over. Back in 2015 and 2016 former Titans Offensive Coordinator Matt Lafleur was the Quarterbacks coach in Atlanta for two seasons. In those seasons the Falcons ran a similar scheme to what Arthur Smith ran in Tennessee after taking over for Matt Lafleur in 2019. Matt Ryan enjoyed his lone MVP season in 2016 running this system amassing 4,944 pass yards and 38 TDs. That season the Falcons produced a Top 3 quarterback, Top 6 running back and a Top 6 wide receiver.
In this article we will breakdown by position the impact of this coaching change, and how we believe the fantasy relevant players will perform in the new offense.
The number one change for this offense will be the passing volume. In the last two seasons the Falcons have dropped back to pass 720 times per season. In contrast the Titans under Arthur Smith in that same time frame drop-back to throw just 534.5 times. To dive deeper historically former Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter is one of the pass heaviest minds in football dating back to his days in Tampa. Koetter has overseen a league high 686 drop-backs per season since 2013. Meanwhile Arthur Smith has been apart of the Titans coaching staff for many years, and over the past five seasons the Titans play-callers have called the fewest pass plays at 540 drop-backs per season.
Granted volume isn’t everything as Arthur Smith’s passing attacks have been more efficient. This is evident in the net yards gained category as the Titans have seen a 0.7 yards higher per pass attempt. Another way to show the efficiency of the Titans pass game is in their scoring. Even with the limited passing volume the Titans have averaged three more passing TDs per season than the Falcons. All that being said the limited pass volume has led to a huge difference in passing yards. Over the past two seasons the Titans have thrown for 921 yards less per season.
The next change for the Falcons passing game will be the use of play action. In 2020 the Titans used play action a league high 36% of their drop-backs. This was over 10% higher than the Falcons. This emphasis on play action should be welcome news for Matt Ryan who has flourished in play action. Over the past two seasons alone Ryan has seen a 4.8% higher completion percentage and a 1.15 higher yards per attempt when using play action. In his 2016 MVP campaign Ryan led the NFL in passing yards, YPA and third in TDs off play action.
Running Back Impact
Before we start diving into the numbers Derrick Henry is a freak and it will be hard to replicate the impact he has on a team. Henry’s affect is reflected in the complete 180 when it comes to rushing attempts for the Titans vs. the Falcons. The Titans carried the ball 97.5 times more and gained an additional 1,010 yards more per season on the ground vs. Atlanta. Even though Henry has taken the Titans ground game to new heights this wasn’t the first time Smith has been a part of offenses that gave big workloads to running backs. Before Henry, Smith was a part of Titans coaching staffs that gave both Chris Johnson and DeMarco Murray over 275 carries in a season. This could mean the Falcons are one of the few teams in the NFL that could be using a bell-cow in 2021.
With the ground game usage so high for running backs under Smith the pass game usage couldn’t be more opposite. Over the past five seasons no team has thrown fewer times to the running back per season then the Titans. This has a lot to do with the low passing attempts, but their 15% target rate is 30th during that time span. Even though the pass game usage is worrisome for any running back not named Derrick Henry, the Falcons are an interesting destination in this year’s draft for an early round running back.
Wide Receiver Impact
We have yet to see both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley play 16 games, but we caught a glimpse of how good they could be as Ridley finished 2020 as the WR4 and Julio as the WR13 in PPG. After his impressive season Ridley is being drafted at the WR6, and Julio as the WR16 after injuries cut his 2020 season short. The reason why we highlight their ADP is it is hard to imagine both flirting with WR1 value in 2021 with the passing volume most likely coming down. Last year A.J. Brown finished as the WR5 in PPG while his counterpart Corey Davis was the WR29. The major difference between the two duos was targets per game as Ridley and Julio combined for 17.1 and Brown and Davis were only at 14.2. It is important to note that it took Ridley 9.5 targets and a Julio injury in 2020 to finish as the WR4.
On the flip side the upside comparison for Ridley and Julio with the limited pass volume is the 2020 Vikings. Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson were both inside the top 10 in PPG at nine and 10 respectively. Nothing in Julio’s game showed that he is completely done so his impact on Ridley should be bigger than what Davis had on Brown. This makes Ridley’s top six WR price tag iffy for 2021. Overall, with Julio going 2 rounds later in ADP, he is trending towards the value pick in 2021.
Tight End Impact
A hidden gem of this offense is the tight end usage. Arthur Smith is a Tight End coach by trade and was a tight end position coach dating back to 2014 in Tennessee. The Titans offense under the guiding hand of Smith finished inside the top eight in tight end target percentage each season. This includes four seasons from 2014-2017 where Delanie Walker had over 100 targets per year finishing inside the top five at the position three times. Since Walker no Titans tight ends have returned top 5 value, but Jonnu Smith did finish in the top 10 in 2020. This top 10 finish came while splitting targets 55% to 45% with Anthony Firkser.
This split in targets shouldn’t be the case for Hayden Hurst whose backup tight end pre-draft is Lee Smith who has a career high 12 targets in a season. If Hurst were to monopolize Smith and Firkser’s production from 2020 his receiving line would be 80 receptions for 835 yards and nine TDs. Those numbers would have made him the tight end three in 2020.
Are you willing to draft any Falcons player at their current ADP? Leave a comment!
Calvin Ridley (ADP 20th overall)
Julio Jones (ADP 42nd overall)
Matt Ryan (ADP 116 overall)
References: Razzball, Sharp Football Stats, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, FFToday and Bestball10s