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2011 Team Report: Atlanta Falcons

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup(s): Chris Redman, John Parker Wilson, Adam Froman

Starting QB: Matt Ryan's fantasy production took a quantum leap during 2010, as he attempted 120 more passes last year than during 2009 (Ryan set career bests in most of his passing statistics with 357/571 for 3,705 yards, 28 TDs and just nine interceptions). He hit Roddy White for 115 completions last year (yielding 1,389 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs), which was 27 more receptions than White's previous career high of 88 receptions. The two players have developed a strong rapport. During the NFL Draft, the Falcons added Julio Jones to the team's mix at WR (and they have since released Michael Jenkins to make room for Jones in the starting lineup) - and also a nifty pass-catching back in Jacquizz Rodgers. In short, the Falcons have upgraded the offense around Ryan significantly, and he still has a future hall-of-famer in Tony Gonzalez at tight end. Given how much Ryan improved during 2010, 2011 looks very exciting for his fantasy owners. He is among the top, young prospects in the NFL who may make the move into the elite tier of NFL (and fantasy) quarterbacks this year.

Backup QB: Chris Redman is the primary backup to Matt Ryan and has played capably when asked to step into the lineup. During 2009 (he threw 69/119 for 781 yards, four TDs and three interceptions over three games played last season, from week 12 through week 14). Redman crossed 300 yards passing in week 14, 2009 vs. New Orleans, posting 23/34 for 303 yards, one TD and one interception during the contest. During 2010, Redman saw just a few snaps closing out two games, with 4/6 for 20 yards passing. Redman provides quality injury insurance to the Falcons and is a veteran mentor for Ryan. John Parker Wilson is a developmental prospect who played his college ball at Alabama, and was signed as an undrafted free agent on April 27th, 2009. Wilson didn't attempt a pass during regular season as a rookie or as a second-year player. Adam Froman is a rookie from Louisville that was ranked among the top-five draft prospects at QB by Footballguy Matt Waldman prior to the NFL Draft this year - he will try to beat out Parker Wilson for the #3 slot on the team.

Running Backs

Starter: Michael Turner
Backup(s): Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Gartrell Johnson, Antone Smith
Fullback(s): Ovie Mughelli

Starting RB: Michael Turner bounced back from an injury-shortened 2009 campaign to post 334 carries for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and he also saw 20 targets for 12/85/0, setting new career highs in targets and catches last year. He underwent a groin surgery during the offseason, but we've been assured that he is completely recovered from the procedure as of the start of training camp: Head coach Mike Smith said on 7/30 that 'We feel very confident with the procedure that was done and with his rehab. He's been back to full speed for a number of weeks. It was not a very complicated procedure.' The Falcons have re-signed most of their offensive line, although RG Harvey Dahl left for St. Louis, so the guys upfront will be mostly the same as 2010 - Turner should be positioned for another 300+ carry season this year (he's had 377, 178, and 334 carries in the three seasons that he's played for the Falcons - he only played in 11 games during 2009, the 178-carries year).

Backup RBs: The Falcons have turned over the majority of their backup RB corps entering 2011, saying goodbye to Jerious Norwood and Dmitri Nance since last training camp, and they still haven't re-signed Jason Snelling as of 8/1/11. Snelling put up 87/324/2 rushing and 44/303/3 receiving last season in the backup/change-of-pace role with Atlanta and is a reliable stand-in for Turner if he should be hurt or suspended during 2011. The team is very high on rookie Jacquizz Rodgers, and SI's Peter King tweeted from their training camp that Rodgers will be a top-20 NFL rookie (high praise coming from King). Rodgers will fill the third-down/change-of-pace role for Atlanta during 2011 - he is an accomplished receiver from the backfield.

Fullback: Mughelli is an outstanding lead blocker for Michael Turner/Jacquizz Rodgers/Jason Snelling, and he usually snags a few passes here and there during the course of a season. However, Mughelli doesn't handle the ball enough to be a fantasy factor - he has averaged 11 carries and 10 pass targets for seven receptions per year since arriving in Atlanta back in 2007.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Roddy White, Julio Jones
Backups: Harry Douglas, Kerry Meier, Eric Weems

Starting WRs: Roddy White had a career-best season during 2010, with 177 targets for 115/1.389/10 receiving. It was his second-straight year with 10 or more TDs (he had 11 during 2009), and White has seen his targets increase each year since Matt Ryan arrived in Atlanta. In short, White is the most trusted target on the team, and he has delivered outstanding results - he scored 10 of the 16 touchdowns that the Atlanta wide receivers posted last season. Julio Jones is a rookie that the team gave up five draft picks in order to select - he's already at #2 on the wide receiver depth chart as of 8/1/11, as the team elected to let Michael Jenkins go during free agency to clear room for Jones on the roster. SI's Peter King tweeted from Falcons' training camp that Jones 'looks like a five-year vet' and it is apparent that the team means to start the regular season with Jones as a starter in the lineup. He is considered a big upgrade over Michael Jenkins and should help make the passing game more explosive - and Jones was considered the best run-blocking wide receiver in the draft, so he should help make Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers more impactful in the running game as well.

Backup WRs: Harry Douglas returned from a season-ending injury suffered during the 2009 season to post 52 targets for 22/294/1 receiving last season. He's likely the #3 wide receiver on the depth chart this year. Kerry Meier is returning from a season-ending injury suffered during 2010. Eric Weems is mostly a special-teams ace who handles a few passes (six targets for 6/61/0 receiving during 2010). Unless something happens on the depth chart in front of Douglas and company, none of these guys are likely to be making a big splash in fantasy circles.

Tight Ends

Starters: Tony Gonzalez
Backups: Justin Peelle, Michael Palmer, Marquez Branson

Tony Gonzalez was a solid player for the Falcons during the last two years, though he didn't manage to go over 1,000 yards receiving in either his first season with Atlanta (135 targets for 83/867/6 receiving during 2009), or in his second season (109 targets for 70/656/6 receiving last year). The emergence of Roddy White as the key, go-to receiver last year put Gonzalez into the second receiver role, and with the arrival of Julio Jones he may move further down the pecking order on game day. Gonzalez is a sure-fire future hall-of-famer, but the decline in his production since arriving in Atlanta is clear - he's on the downside of a storied career. Backup TE Justin Peelle is more noted for his blocking than catching the football, though he usually manages one or two TDs a year (last year he caught one, 10/96/1). As long as Gonzalez is in town and healthy, Peelle won't be fantasy relevant.

Place Kicker

Matt Bryant : With the departure of Michael Koenen to the Bucs via free agency, kicker Matt Bryant and long snapper Joe Zelenka will be working with a new holder this year. Competing to replace him are rookie Matt Bosher, whom the Falcons drafted out of Miami FL, and Ken Parrish, who has impressed in NFL camps in recent years plus has UFL experience. Bryant also became a fee agent, but the team re-signed him. After four straight years in the middle of the pack, last year the Falcons were up to 10th place in kicker scoring opportunities. Bryant played well during 2010, with 28 field goals out of 31 attempts (90.3%), and he was perfect on 44 extra points. The 90.3% conversion rate was Bryant's career best.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Eric Weems, Harry Douglas, Jacquizz Rodgers

Punt Returners: Eric Weems, Harry Douglas, Dominique Franks

Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said of the return game, “We have some options there. We have [Eric] Weems. We get Harry [Douglas] back. We have some options in terms of what we are doing on the back end. Eric did a helluva job last year, but you never know. Every year is different. Every year you have to go back out and compete again. We are starting to get deep, so I have some weapons.” The new options are primarily two rookies " RB Jacquizz Rodgers and CB Dominique Franks.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Sam Baker, LG Mike Johnson, C Joe Hawley, RG Justin Blalock, RT Tyson Clabo
Key Backups: Jose Valdez, Will Svitek , Todd McClure, Andrew Jackson [R]

Team Defense

Atlanta finished the 2010 season ranked 16th in total yardage allowed per game, (332.5), landing at 22nd in pass D (averaging 226.6 pass yards allowed per game), and finishing 10th in rush D (averaging 105.9 rushing yards allowed per game). The team generated 22 interceptions last year (fourth-most in the NFL) and had 31 sacks (tied for 20th in the NFL). The team has brought in free agent DE Ray Edwards to help improve their sack numbers during 2011. The D had eight forced fumbles and nine defensive TDs during 2010. They were a solid-but-not-elite unit during the 2010 season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE John Abraham, DE Ray Edwards, DT Jonathan Babineaux, DT Corey Peters
Backups: DE Peria Jerry, DE Trey Lewis, DT/DE Kroy Biermann, DT Lawrence Sidbury

Starting DL: John Abraham had a strong season during 2010, delivering 35 tackles, five assists, 13 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception, and four passes defensed - he wound up 13th among fantasy DEs after placing seventh in 2008 and 40th in 2009. Now, the Falcons have added Ray Edwards of Minnesota fame to be their bookend at the other DE position - Edwards was the seventh-ranked fantasy DE in 2009 but finished 30th during 2010 with 28 tackles nine assists, eight sacks, and two passes defensed. Edwards has had 17 sacks in the last two seasons, and should help turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks. Jonathan Babineaux was 54th among all fantasy defensive linemen last year and Peters was 109th - they probably aren't worth drafting in leagues that lump all the defensive linemen together. However, Babineaux is the consensus 7th-best DT for leagues that split out that position according to our expert rankings on 8/1/11.

Backup DL: Kroy Biermann is the most exciting of the backup defensive linemen in Atlanta from the fantasy perspective - he posted 23 tackles and six assists, three sacks and two passes defensed last year with one interception taken in for a TD. He's entering his fourth year with the team and would be the guy most likely to step in if one of the starters go down. Jerry, Lewis, and Sidbury have seen limited action so far in their (mostly short) careers and don't have much of a track record as far as fantasy production goes.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Curtis Lofton, OLB Sean Weatherspoon (W), OLB Stephen Nicholas (S)
Backups: MLB Mike Peterson (M/W), MLB Akeem Dent, OLB Spencer Adkins, OLB Bear Woods

Starting LBs: MLB Curtis Lofton was a top-20 fantasy LB during 2009 and 2010 with 92 solo tackles, 25 assists, 2.0 sacks and 1 interception to his credit last year. He's one of the top-ten fantasy linebackers on our experts' boards as of 8/1/11. OLB Sean Weatherspoon shows up at 36th as of 8/1/11 on our boards, while Stephen Nicholas doesn't appear. Weatherspoon appeared in 11 games last year notching 34 solo tackles, eight assists and one sack. Nicholas managed 58 solo tackles, 14 assists, 0.0 sacks and 1 interception over 16 games played during 2010.

Backup LBs: Mike Peterson put up 39 solo tackles, 19 assists, 1.0 sack, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries during 2010 in his second season with the Falcons, and he was re-signed by the team once free agency opened. He's the most valuable of the Falcons' backup linebackers, having been a top-ten fantasy linebacker early in his career and also during 2009 while with Atlanta. Akeem Dent is a rookie drafted back in April who the team will hope to groom as a starter, someday.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Dunta Robinson, CB Brent Grimes, S Thomas DeCoud (FS), S William Moore (SS)
Backups: CB Christopher Owens, CB Dominique Franks, S Shann Schillinger

Starting DBs: Brent Grimes is the pick of the Atlanta DBs from the fantasy perspective - he finished 12th among all DBs last year with 70 solo tackles, 10 assists and five interceptions. William Moore finished 49th among DBs with 59 solo tackles, 13 assists, five interceptions and one fumble recovery, while the other starters (DeCoud and Robinson) were well outside of fantasy relevance as far as year-end statistics go.

Backup DBs: Christopher Owens saw some action last year with 21 tackles, nine assists and one interception, and would likely be the guy to step into the lineup if one of the starting DBs went down. Keep him in mind for a possible waiver-wire pickup in-season. Dominique Franks and Shann Schillinger were on the field only occasionally and are guys who'll need to earn more playing time before they become fantasy relevant.

Last modified: 2011-08-18 14:02:55

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