Fantasy Football Offensive Evaluation: Atlanta Falcons

It seems as though the Falcons have been on the right path for awhile, but perhaps Matt Ryan is finally the answer to take them to their goal.  Since taking over as starter after being drafted in 2008, Ryan is 33-13 as the Falcons quarterback.  

They finished 5th in scoring last season with one of the best QB-RB-WR-TE cores in the league.  However, the Falcons again fell short of the Super Bowl and a disappointing loss in the playoffs convinced them to pay a big price in this years draft to add to that core of offensive players.

Will the move pay off?  Will Matt Ryan jump into the elite level of NFL QB's?  How many fantasy stars do the Falcons have this season and who could be their sleepers?  Let's take a look...

Quarterback

Matt Ryan

I seem to remember that it wasn't long ago that rookie quarterbacks weren't expected to contribute.  And if they were forced into the starting lineup, it would be ugly.  Then Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led their teams to the playoffs as rookies without much problem.  They weren't exciting, but they were rookies who didn't suck, so that was exciting.  Then after that it hasn't been much "Sit for a year like Carson Palmer" talk for rookie QBs.  Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, and Sam Bradford were thrown into the flames early... and actually haven't sucked.  

Ryan had a career best 28 TDs and 9 INTs in 2010 with an All-Pro WR and a future Hall of Fame tight end.  This season he gets another big weapon in the form of a rookie WR who has shown the ability to catch the ball with the best of them, so Ryan is expected to improve upon last years career year.  I buy that and Ryan could top 4,000 yards and 30 TDs and the Falcons could become like New Orleans-lite.  I'd rate him solidly at the top of the 2nd tier of QB's.  Grab him in the 5th or 6th round if you're lucky.

Running Back

Michael Turner

Turner was one of the most important fantasy players in 2008 as he went from the backup in San Diego to the starter in Atlanta, and the owners who took him as a sleeper they loved were well-rewarded: 1,699 yards and 17 TDs.  However if you drafted him as a top pick after his career year (which is why I don't recommend that strategy) then you were saddened to see him play in only 11 games in 2009 with less than 900 yards but still 10 TDs.  A lot has been made about Turner leading the league in carries in 2 of the last 3 years, but he also went the first 4 years of his career backing up LT in San Diego with only 228 carries total.  

Turner is a huge downgrade in PPR leagues, his 34 career catches is a half-season for LeSean McCoy.  In non-PPR leagues, he becomes a slight upgrade.  Turner probably has 1-2 more years left as a number one running back.  I'd feel safe taking him as a RB1 in non-PPR and a RB2 in PPR.  Expect 1,200 yards and 12 TDs at a minimum.  

Jason Snelling

Last season in a blowout against Arizona, Snelling rushed for 129 yards, 2 TDs, and caught another TD.  He's entering his 5th season in the NFL.  If given an opportunity in Atlanta, he could be a good option.  When Turner went down in 2009 with injury, Snelling did admirably.  But he's not a really important handcuff option to me.  He's not quite as interesting as...

Jacquizz Rodgers

If you're unfamiliar with Pac-10 (now Pac-12, I know) football, then you might be unfamiliar with the Rodgers brothers.  He may seem to small to be a premiere NFL back, and maybe that's why he was drafted in the 5th round this year, but Rodgers is one of the most exciting skill players in the history of Oregon State football.  He's not the most highly-touted rookie on Atlanta, but at the end of the day, fans should fall in love with this guy.  I could see him getting a few carries each game and making the most out of each one with a high YPC average.  He rushed 7 times for 38 yards against the Steelers in the last preseason game.  One of the few Falcons highlights.

Wide Receiver

Roddy White

He's seen as one of the NFL's best wide receivers, but is Roddy White still underrated?  He sort of quietly averaged 85 catches, 1,246 yards and 8 TDs between 2007-2009 and he'd be the guy that you'd say to your friends "That Roddy White is really good" and they'd reply "Oh yeah, I know" as if you two were telling each other a secret.  You don't say those things about Larry Fitzgerald or Megatron, you just say "Jesus, Megatron is amazing' and you're friend would say "No S@#$!"  When White exploded for 115 catches last season with a monster first half, he started to gain some MVP talk... almost unheard of for a wide receiver.  He slowed down in the second half, and the talk died, and maybe now we still under-appreciate White.  

White has said that the addition of the rookie will affect his "fantasy numbers" because he'll go back to being an 80-catch guy, but have no worries.  It should never hurt for a player to be in a better offense than what he was before.  White should be open more often and hopefully be able to do more with each catch and score plenty of touchdowns.  He's an elite WR1.

Julio Jones

Finally, we can talk about the rookie.  In his time at Alabama, Jones was the player I tuned in to see.  He falls into that category of my "favorite college players" that I refuse to believe won't succeed in the NFL.  Even though defenses knew that the Tide were going to Jones on any given drive, and I believe that Alabama could tell the other coaches exactly what route Jones was going to run and that they were going to throw it to him, they still couldn't stop Julio.  He's an absolute beast and can catch any pass thrown to him.  Him and White could form a WR duo not unlike Marvin Harrison/Reggie Wayne or Isaac Bruce/Torry Holt.  Set your expectation levels on "reasonable" for his rookie year however.  60 catches for 800 yards would be a huge success for the Falcons this year, but is a back-end WR3 for your fantasy team.  

Eric Weems

He was a Pro Bowl kick returner last year, so if your league counts return yards, then there's that.  He's yet to really integrate into the offense.

Tight End

Tony Gonzalez

He's the greatest tight end of all-time.  He also just posted his worst numbers since 1998.  He's not a bad fantasy option, because in this offense he might have enough left in the tank to be a back-end TE1 at worst, and a 60 catch, 700 yards, 10 TD TE at best.  I got him as the 15th TE off the board in one of my drafts and that's amazing value to get Gonzalez.  I'd rate him about the same as Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez.  

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