Falcons pressing fantasy questions: Julio Jones may give owners heartburn

It’s no guarantee Julio Jones’ touchdown total finally takes off in 2017. (AP)
3-Point Stance: Matt Ryan to take post-Super Bowl step back

As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Friday’s topic: The Atlanta Falcons

On the Scoville Scale, a measurement that ranks chili pepper heat, how hot are you for Julio Jones in Round 1 (8.9 ADP, WR4)?

Liz – PERUVIAN WHITE HABANERO (also, my new nickname?). My WR4, Jones has been a top-ten fantasy producer four of the last five years. While he’s topped 1,400 yards for three consecutive seasons, the 6-foot-3 and 220 pound stud remains an enigma in the end zone, having reached double-digit scores just once in his six-year career.

New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has voiced plans to change that, stating he wants to “maximize” Jones’ opportunities in the red area of the field. Interestingly, Julio’s high-value targets dropped by more than 50 percent last year, going from 22 red zone looks in 2015 to just 10 in 2016. Clearly, there’s room for improvement. Still, recording just six scores last season, Jones managed to close out the year as the sixth best fantasy producer at the position. An up-tick in TDs would certainly keep his numbers amongst the most elite.

As for the foot issues? Don’t sweat ‘em. Dude had a bunion shaved down in March. That’s nothing… especially for a tough-as-nails athlete like Jones who has gutted through foot fractures and still posted eye-popping stats. Owners perseverating over the status of Julio’s foot are stuck in 2013, missing out on bananas production while instead continuing to play Candy Crush and doing the Harlem Shake. FF: 96-1,419-8

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Brad – SERRANO HOT. There is no disputing Julio’s talents. When it comes to size, athleticism and pure skill he’s virtually flawless, the Halle Berry of wide receivers. Just look at his advanced profile. Yearly, he commands a mammoth targets share (27.0% in ’16, WR8), gashes defenses in tight spaces (WR4 in contested catch rate last year) and burns opponents deep down field (10.9 YPT in ’16). This is why he finished top-10 among wide receivers in four of the past five seasons.

Though Julio is muy caliente on first consumption, his spice deadens over time. Why? Red-zone presence. Last year, he experienced a cataclysmic dip in looks near the goal line. In 2015, he attracted 28.9 percent of the team’s red-zone targets. Last year, that number plummeted to 11.8 percent, ranking No. 94 at the position. Julio’s drop-off was inexplicable and newly hired offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian wants to “maximize opportunities” for his star receiver inside the 20, but he only reached double-digit TDs ONCE in his illustrious six-year career. Dumbfounding.

Without a doubt, he’s worth considering after Antonio Brown is off the board, but I’m chasing Mike Evans or a workhorse rusher like Melvin Gordon or LeSean McCoy instead.

At their current ADPs, would you describe Devonta Freeman (11.1 ADP, RB6) and Tevin Coleman (59.4, RB20) as OVERVALUED, UNDERVALUED or PROPERLY VALUED?

Brad – PROPERLY VALUED. Freeman is living in a dream scenario. He’s the primary option in an aggressive and balanced offense with an All-Pro quarterback who checks down often to his RBs. The offensive line, which ranked No. 10 in run blocking last year according to Football Outsiders and returns everyone but underwhelming right guard Chris Chester, should again open exploitable holes. During the Falcons’ Super Bowl run, Freeman benefited from light fronts 25.6 percent of the time averaging a whopping 5.9 yards per carry in those situations. Additionally, per Sharp Football, he was THE studliest second-level rusher in the game a season ago notching a 59 Yards Above Successful percentage. Mix in his outstanding efforts in YAC (RB8), evaded tackles (RB10) and catch percentage (RB7), and Freeman is one of the virtual game’s most complete weapons.

It’s highly unlikely his role will change under Sarkisian. On 60 percent of the opportunity share, look for him to post 1350-1450 combined yards with double-digit scores. Draft him in the latter half of Round 1 and your ego should match Connor McGregor’s.

OVERVALUED. People are completely off their rockers drafting Coleman as a top-20 RB. Yes, he’s an explosive talent in the open field. His 6.3 yards per touch (RB7) in 2016 is supportive evidence. He also ranked No. 2 among RBs in fantasy points per snap. But he’s a complimentary rusher whose role is expected to remain the same in an offense under new leadership.

Sarkisian’s football ideology presents a problem. At previous stops the offensive coordinator leaned on power/counter run plays, a major departure from the zone-blocking scheme Kyle Shanahan followed. If the ground system becomes more downhill, it could greatly curtail Coleman’s effectiveness. Stretching back to his days at Indiana, the rusher is most comfortable in a one-cut-and-go offense.

Bottom line, he’ll again receive 35-40 percent of the opportunity share, but you’re breaking an arm to acquire his services inside the top-60 overall, especially with Ty Montgomery, Mike Gillislee and Bilal Powell going around the same time.

Liz – PROPERLY VALUED. This time last year the naysayers were out in full force, dubbing Freeman a flash in the pan. But guess what? They were wrong. Devonta Freeman is an EXCELLENT football player (note the time stamp in the link). Posting over 1,500 combined yards and 13 total TDs in 2016, Freeman averaged the seventh most fantasy points per game (14.4) and closed out the year with high-end RB1 numbers.

Notching 404 yards after contact (#8) and 14 breakaway runs (#6), Freeman continued to produce on the ground and via the air. His do-it-all skill set makes him a desirable asset, especially in an offense with a coordinator who has displayed an aptitude for getting the most out of his RBs (Chris Polk, Bishop Sankey). He’s my RB7 for drafting purposes.

OVERVALUED. Hand picked by Kyle Shanahan, Coleman’s 4.4 speed was exploited last year, as he matched up against lumbering linebackers. That particular usage is how he managed an impressive 6.3 Yards Per Touch, which placed him among the top-seven RBs for that statistical category.

However, without Shanahan holding the clipboard, and given that defenses have had an entire offseason to prepare, it’s unlikely that Coleman will receive the same opportunities in 2017… or at least have the same level of success. Furthermore, fellow-speedster Taylor Gabriel (who was deployed similarly when Coleman was sidelined with a hamstring injury) is still on the team and possesses an overlapping skill set. These situational changes will have a negative impact on Coleman’s production, which is why he’s ranked just outside of my top-twenty-five players at the position.

“Brilliant” best summarizes Matt Ryan’s 2016 efforts. After a down 2015, he posted career bests yards (4,944), touchdowns (38) and interceptions (7) for the NFC champs. OVER/UNDER passing touchdowns this fall 34.5? 

Liz – UNDER. In his second year with Kyle Shanahan, things clicked for Ryan and he posted a career-high 38TDs. But the year prior, when the offense was new to him, he struggled woefully. While Sarkisian is a QB specialist this is a transitional season for Ryan. Save 2016 he has never – over eight separate campaigns – passed for the projected line. In fact, his best effort was 32 passing scores all the way back in 2012. If you didn’t invest in Ryan last year then you lost out. He’s all floor and no ceiling in 2017. FF: 369 of 558 for 4,648 yards and 31 TDs

Brad – UNDER. Kudos to Ryan on the Year 9 breakout. It marked the first time in the QB’s solid, but far from spectacular, career he crossed the 35-TD mark and into top-six territory. Not only did he amass benchmarks in the above stated superficial categories, but also completion percentage (69.8), TD percentage (7.1), yards per attempt (9.1) and air yards per attempt (10.1). For a passer with a career 4.7 TD percentage average, betting on a repeat performance in the category solicits this kind of reaction (H/T, Russell Westbrook).

Sarkisian admits he wants to throw more in the red zone, but ask any Vegas whale and they’ll say a Ryan regression is likely. Believe otherwise and you’re buying a Rolls Royce from a vacuum salesman. The defense, which made many moves to rectify its issues versus the run and gets top cover man Desmond Trufant back, should be improved. Throw in the Falcons’ dynamic 1-2 punch of Freeman and Coleman and I suspect Ryan chucks it at a similar clip as last year (33.8 attempts/game). A TD reduction is a foregone conclusion unless his torrid efficiency is duplicated. Mark me down for a final tally around 4,500 passing yards, 30 TDs and 14 interceptions. He won’t budge off my QB9 line.

Chuck passes at Brad and Liz follow them on Twitter @YahooNoise and @LizLoza_FF