Russell Gage is the Perfect Late Round Target (Fantasy Football)

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Finding value late can be a huge help in putting your team over the top and winning a championship. When searching for affordable players worth targeting near the end of drafts, it’s important to evaluate the depth charts of good offenses, especially ones that have to carry the load due to an average at best defense. One of the teams fitting these criteria: The Atlanta Falcons.

Let’s examine their team outlook for 2020 and discuss why Russell Gage is a fantastic affordable investment.

The Falcons’ 2020 Fantasy Environment

Atlanta was an average team in 2019, finishing with a 7-9 record. Their defense was the major downfall as they ranked 20th in yards allowed per game, 23rd in points allowed per game, 25th in Pass DVOA, 14th in Run DVOA, and 20th in Overall Defensive DVOA.

That meant Matt Ryan and the offense had to put the team on their back, and they did a decent job doing so. Their offense ranked fifth in yards per game, 13th in points per game, and 15th in Overall Offensive DVOA. Even more impressive, Ryan ranked fourth in the league in passing yards per game and as a team, the Falcons ranked second in passing yards per game.

While plenty can change from year to year in the NFL, it appears to be a pretty safe bet the Falcons will be a similar team in 2020. Their offseason was extremely underwhelming, with the majority of their significant additions looking like replacements rather than upgrades. Todd Gurley, Hayden Hurst, Dante Fowler, and first-round pick A.J. Terrell were brought in but let’s remember Devonta Freeman, Austin Hooper, Vic Beasley, and Desmond Trufant are all now gone.

Once again, it looks like Atlanta’s offense, and especially their passing game, will have to carry the Falcons in 2020 if they hope to be competitive. That’s fantastic news for Atlanta’s’ passing game assets from a fantasy perspective.

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Russell Gage: Affordability

Of course, almost everyone knows this and exciting players on the Falcons are being drafted early and often. Let’s take a look at FFPC Best Ball ADP over the past two weeks: Matt Ryan 92.4 and QB8 (eighth round), Todd Gurley 25.5 and RB15 (third round), Julio Jones 20.7 and WR5 (second round), Calvin Ridley 50.3 and WR17 (fifth round), and Hayden Hurst 82.7 and TE11 (seventh round).

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Yes, you read that correctly. The entire Falcons’ offense is being drafted within the first eight rounds…and then there’s their #3 WR, Russell Gage. Gage’s ADP is currently 291.3 and WR89 (25th round). It’s time to buy Gage stock while low so we can watch it increase in value during the season.

Behind the Numbers

Gage ranked fourth on the team in targets (74) and receiving yards (446) last year and has room to grow in his third NFL season in 2020. The major reason for this is the Mohamed Sanu trade of 2019, as the table below shows:

Games Snaps per game Targets per game Receptions per game Receiving Yards per game Receiving TDs per game
Russell Gage with Mohamed Sanu 7 12.1 1.1 0.6 6.3 0
Russell Gage without Mohamed Sanu 9 47.9 7.3 5.0 44.7 0.1

Gage hardly played at all while Sanu was on the team but that changed in a significant way after Sanu was dealt to the New England Patriots. Gage’s snaps per game increased by 35.8 per game and with it came relevant production.

In addition, Gage played in six games down the stretch without at least one of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Austin Hooper in the lineup due to injury. Julio missed Week 13, Ridley missed Weeks 15, 16, and 17, and Hooper missed Weeks 11, 12, and 13. Here are Gage’s game logs:

Week Targets Receptions Receiving Yards TDs
11 4 2 32 0
12 10 8 76 0
13 9 5 52 1
15 6 5 27 0
16 6 5 49 0
17 13 7 68 0

Gage saw at least six targets and caught at least five passes in five of the six games and showed the ability to receive exciting guaranteed volume by seeing target totals of nine, 10, and 13 in half of these contests.

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Conclusion

Admittedly, Gage is a replacement-level player, which means playing time can be affected from year to year. However, I don’t see him losing his #3 WR role this season. Atlanta didn’t draft a single WR, TE, or RB this year and their only relevant WR signing in free agency was first-round bust, Laquon Treadwell. Whereas Treadwell has historically been an outside WR, Gage lined up in the slot on 66.9% of his snaps in 2019.

Gage appears primed to benefit once again by playing the role of Atlanta’s slot-WR on a team that has to lean on the passing game to compete and in an offense that has proven they can get it done through the air. Gage’s environment alone will allow him to produce multiple relevant weeks and if something were to happen to Julio Jones or Calvin Ridley, we could really be in business.

The best part is, he’s practically free.

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