2018 Summer Sleeper: Atlanta Falcons

Travis May

In our annual 32-part Summer Sleeper series, DLF scribes identify a lightly-touted player on each NFL roster who may be worthy of your consideration. Our subjects all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but each merits a bit of in-depth discussion here in the Premium Content section.

To help everybody along, we are going to be categorizing our sleepers under one of three headings:

Super Deep Sleepers – Players who aren’t roster-worthy in 12-team leagues, but are still worth keeping an eye on.
Deep Sleepers – An end of the roster player who is more often than not on the waiver wire in 12-team leagues.
Sleeper – A likely rostered player who makes for a good trade target. Their startup ADP puts them out of the top-175 or so.

Because we aren’t going to give you the likes of mainstream sleepers, most of these players will undoubtedly fizzle. All we are asking is for you to keep an open mind and perhaps be willing to make room for one of these players on your bench. You never know when the next Adam Thielen is going to spring up. Feel free to add your own thoughts about our choice for the designated sleeper, or nominate one of your own in the comments below.

When digging through the Falcons roster to find a sleeper, it isn’t all that easy. The offense seems to have a pretty defined core at every position without much room for sneaky values.

At wide receiver, Julio Jones is one of the best in the league. Calvin Ridley is a rookie, but he just capped off his fantastic collegiate career in front of millions of eyes in the national championship game for Alabama. Then he was selected in the first round. No one’s really “sleeping” on him (outside of underrating him versus other top rookies). Even Mohamed Sanu isn’t a new name to anyone.

At tight end, Austin Hooper is still developing, but he still holds a decent Dynasty start-up ADP at pick 166 according to June mock draft data.

And it’s probably safe to say that most dynasty owners are familiar with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Falcons running back duo has been nearly exhausted as a topic of fantasy football articles spanning over the past few seasons now. But now that duo may be splitting up sooner than later. The Falcons may need a new face to step up in the backfield by (or before) 2019. But who will that be?

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Ito Smith, RB

Category: Sleeper

Ito Smith isn’t exactly a sleeper for those that pay attention to college football, or perhaps have ever watched him carry a football. It’s true he did fail to receive an invite to the NFL Combine this spring, so that definitely helped him stay under the radar for many throughout the draft process. And when the Falcons chose to select him in round four of the NFL Draft, it most likely left a few fans befuddled. However, no one should be surprised the Falcons were high on him.

Smith has been one of the most productive college running backs over the past three seasons and not many seemed to take notice. In that span, Smith averaged 1,334 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns, 44 receptions, 456 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns per season.

For those of you who like to dig further into stats, those numbers put his three-year per game average at 100 yards rushing, a rushing touchdown, 3.5 receptions, 34 yards receiving, 0.18 receiving touchdowns. There are exactly zero running backs in the 2018 class with more yards from scrimmage over the past three seasons. Yes, Ito Smith played against lesser competition in Conference USA, but his consistency and versatility cannot be denied.

But regardless of what Smith (or any running back) did in college, real NFL opportunity is the key for any player to find success. And that’s why the Falcons may have been the perfect landing spot for him to find production and relevance fairly soon, but still keep his “sleeper” status. As mentioned earlier, the Falcons may struggle to keep their deadly duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman together. You may have heard this elsewhere already. But why is that?

Coleman is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 (as has been reported to exhaustion), and the Falcons already owe Freeman $6.275 million for 2019. That’s good for sixth among all running backs in 2019 as of now. If the Falcons want to re-sign Coleman (in a market that just paid Jerick McKinnon $7 million) they’ll have way too much money tied up at the running back position.

The average NFL roster allocates less than eight million dollars to their entire running back corps. Even if the Falcons resigned Coleman to a cheap deal around five million cap hit in year one they would immediately owe $11.275 million just between their top two running backs. That would be good for fifth most cap space allocated to running backs in the entire league between just two players. And with each year that number would grow! Coleman is gone.

Enter Ito Smith in 2019. He is immediately the Coleman replacement. Even if he isn’t as talented as Coleman, there’s an instant sell window for dynasty owners the moment Coleman leaves via free agency. But beyond that, if either Freeman or Coleman are injured at any point throughout 2018, Smith instantly sees work and there is another sell window. There are several opportunities for Smith to show his talents and either produce as a flex or immediately present himself as a valuable trade piece.

It’s clear, just looking at the opportunity in Atlanta, that dynasty owners may have a potential steal on their hands. And we haven’t even really covered Ito Smith’s skill set (as outlined by Kevin O’Brien, @the_ff_engineer: here) outside of his obvious dual-threat ability as demonstrated via his statistics. Ito Smith may be a tad undersized to feature in the NFL at 5’9”, 200 pounds, but don’t let that fool you. He boasts adequate athleticism, receiving ability, burst on outside runs, can block when called upon, and makes people miss in space. There really isn’t much to dislike with Smith.

But best part about Ito Smith is that – like many sleepers – he costs next to nothing. He’s going around pick 188 via June 2018 DLF ADP in start-up drafts. And dynasty owners won’t even always have to draft him in standard four-round rookie drafts as he’s been going around pick 47 there. Go grab as many Ito Smith shares as you can!

As always, you can find me on Twitter @FF_TravisM. I love interacting with and learning from you guys! Feel free to chat with me on Ito Smith, the Falcons, Titans, or anything else for that matter. Good luck in all of your leagues this year!