Review of ESPN’s Mike Clay’s 2021 projections for the Falcons


ESPN’s Mike Clay is a highly touted analytical spotlight in league circles, as his projections are generally quite close to reality, even though his background is rooted in fantasy football. Clay’s projections for Matt Ryan in 2020 were 389 goals on 599 attempts for 4,515 yards, throwing 28 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and 42 sacks; his actual numbers were strangely close too. Ryan completed 407 passes on 626 attempts for 4,581 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He’s also been sacked 41 times, meaning he missed Ryan’s final stat line by just 70 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one sack.

Clay was a lot higher on Todd Gurley in 2020 than most people (me) because all of his projections outside of touchdowns weren’t met, but I’m sure he was optimistic Gurley’s knees would hold better than ‘them. He projected the former Bulldog would carry the rock 214 times for 871 yards and seven touchdowns, but his last stat line was 195 carries for 678 yards and nine touchdowns.

His projections for Calvin Ridley were 114 targets, 76 receptions for 1,010 yards and seven touchdowns, which was closer than expected, even though Julio Jones missed much of the season. Ridley’s actual stat line was 143 targets, 90 receptions, 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. Essentially, if the player stays healthy, Clay is usually pretty close to predicting the stat lines.

His 2021 projections for Matt Ryan are 383 goals on 587 attempts, totaling 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Clay sees the Falcons’ offense relying much less on Ryan’s arm and more on the team’s running backs. Ryan’s showing is still an impressive year for most quarterbacks, but would be another average year for Ryan. The first year in a new offensive system could certainly be worse.

Clay’s projections for the runners hall are the main difference in 2021 from 2020. He thinks Mike Davis will carry the load 205 times for 804 yards and six touchdowns, which I think is an understatement of what he can do in Arthur Smith’s offensive. Cordarrelle Patterson is scheduled to get 64 rushing attempts for 292 yards and two touchdowns, but the surprising projection is Qadree Ollison’s stat line – 94 carries, 389 yards and four touchdowns.

Clay’s predicted 7.7 win tally for 2020, technically eight, was a bit behind considering Atlanta’s downfall as a team, but his points tally on offense and defense were only of 10 and 20 points, respectively. The 2021 projection for the offense is to score 402 points and for the defense to drop 417 points, winning eight games, which is above most of Vegas’ win totals set at seven or 7.5. This means the offense would only score six points more than last year, which would be a disappointing year for Smith’s offense, but again, this is only the first year in a new system.

Clay projects that the offense is just average (14th) and the defense appalling (30th), which isn’t entirely inspiring. I would say both units will be slightly better in total points scored and awarded, but the defense will be better situationally than overall, which I think is reflected in the total of eight wins.

A final detail of Clay’s projections is the number of cornerback snaps. AJ Terrell, unsurprisingly, leads the group and the entire defense with 1,034 snaps. Behind him, however, is where things get interesting. Clay believes Isaiah Oliver will take 870 defensive shots, which is well over 80% of them. Then, Kendall Sheffield is at 740 shots and Fabian Moreau is at a meager 218 shots. I think Moreau will be the border corner in front of Terrell, with Oliver taking the majority of the nickel slams and Sheffield serving as the fourth corner.

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