by Ray Kuhn
We cannot understate how big of a blow it is to the Falcons that Julio Jones will be out of the lineup this week. Of course, it is clearly the correct call though. Atlanta should have no problem defeating the 49ers at home this week without their star receiver, and his health heading into the playoffs is more important.
But, that doesn’t take into account the issues you, as a fantasy owner, must overcome this week without Jones (your likely first round pick) at your disposal.
In most leagues, the waiver wire is pretty thin, and Taylor Gabriel has already been snatched up. But replacing Jones is not merely one mans job. Over 12 games, Jones has 72 catches for 1,253 yards, five touchdowns, and seven games with more than 100 yards.
Gabriel, who is in his third year in the NFL (first with Atlanta) has become a breakout player over the past few weeks as a big play threat. In his last six games, Gabriel has five touchdowns and he is averaging 17.4 yards per catch on 29 receptions this season. Matt Ryan has clearly developed a chemistry with Gabriel, but his value is dependent upon him making a big play. Against San Francisco this week, that is very possible, and he is at the very least a WR3 option, but game flow will play a part in determining Gabriel’s value.
This week, Atlanta is getting Mohamed Sanu back, but his role will likely remain the same as it was with a healthy Jones. With 49 catches for 521 yards, Ryan will look to Sanu as a possession receiver and the upside he brings to the table is limited.
That then brings us to Justin Hardy. It is Hardy who will likely see the biggest bump from Jones’ absence.
A trip to the Falcons’ official website reveals Hardy behind Jones in one wide receiver slot with Sanu ahead of Gabriel in the other.
Hardy, who is in his second year in the NFL, has had a quiet start to his professional career. After being selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft, Hardy caught 21 passes for 194 yards in his debut. So far this season, he has 16 receptions for 144 yards, but he has scored three touchdowns.
Last week, Hardy caught just two passes for nine yards, but one of those receptions was for a touchdown. Thanks to Tevin Coleman and the success of their defense, the Falcons didn’t have to do much else on offense, so the passing game wasn’t too big of a factor. This week, I would expect to see Hardy a little more active.
Now, there is also risk associated with Hardy for this week. He doesn’t have much, if any, of a track record, and he has yet to catch more than three passes in a game this season. But he does offer upside.
Gabriel is the best option, but his price is on the rise and he has already been snatched up. Sanu doesn’t bring much excitement, and his ceiling is very limited. If you are replacing Jones in a season long league, then there are likely better options than Hardy available to you, but he also offers a degree of upside considering Ryan’s success this season and San Francisco’s struggles. After all, Robby Anderson caught six passes for 99 yards last week against the 49ers, and he had Bryce Petty throwing him the ball.
The best place to target Hardy though, is in DFS where he can offer a salary relief to help you fit David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, and/or LeSean McCoy into your lineup.