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2012 Team Report: Atlanta Falcons
QuarterbacksStarter: Matt Ryan
Backup(s): Dominique Davis, Luke McCown Starting QB: Expectations were high for Matt Ryan last year, especially after the Falcons made a bold move and traded up to select upstart rookie wide receiver Julio Jones to pair with Roddy White. Add future Hall of Famer, tight end Tony Gonzalez, into the equation and the Falcons passing game had all of the characteristics of making a dramatic improvement. Ryan improved his fantasy production from 319 points in 2010 to 350 points in 2011, despite having fewer completions and attempts than the year prior. What he didn't do was make up any ground on the rest of his competition around the league. For the second year in a row, Ryan finished as the eighth-best fantasy quarterback. In his defense, he was a more productive quarterback in the second half of the season, which partly coincided with the health of Julio Jones. Ryan is a consistently good quarterback who has the ability and opportunity to take another step forward this year. Backup QB: Undrafted rookie free agent Dominique Davis has earned a spot on the Falcons roster. He and Luke McCown will back up Matt Ryan in 2012. McCown was added after roster cuts and likely will be the first man off the bench, if Matt Ryan gets hurt. McCown knows OC Dirk Koetter's offense well from his days in Jacksonville.
Running BacksStarter: Michael Turner
Backup(s): Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith, Dimitri Nance, Robbie Frey
Fullback(s): Lousaka Polite, Mike Cox, Lee Meisner Starting RB: Michael Turner has surpassed 300 carries in three of the last four years, never dropping below 1,340 yards when he does so. He has scored double-digit touchdowns in each of the last four years. He has been an important factor in the Falcons offense, however, his role and his production could change in 2012. The Falcons coaching staff has indicated that they will limit Turner's carries this season. He is still expected to be the primary running back, but look for second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers to see an increase in playing time, which will keep Turner's numbers tempered. Turner has the ability to be a top-12 running back once again, but don't be surprised if he takes a slight dip from those expectations. Backup RBs: Jason Snelling may be listed as the backup running back on the depth chart, but Jacquizz Rodgers figures to have more of a role in the offense in 2012 and likely will be second behind Michael Turner in fantasy production. Rodgers, who has a similar body makeup and skill set to Darren Sproles, could see his carries and receptions spike this season as the Falcons love getting their playmaker into open spaces. Fullback: The Falcons released veteran fullback Ovie Mughelli in the off season and also suffered a blow by losing rookie FB Bradie Ewing to a torn ACL in the preseason. This opens the door for newly signed Lousaka Polite to handle FB duties provided he can beat out Mike Cox for the role.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Roddy White, Julio Jones
Backups: Harry Douglas, Kevin Cone, Michael Calvin, Tim Toone Starting WRs: The Falcons boast one of the strongest wide receiver tandems in the league in Roddy White and Julio Jones. Both are capable of taking over a game and making a direct impact to the success of the offense. Veteran Roddy White is coming off four consecutive top-10 finishes while Julio Jones is entering his second year in the league. Jones was the 17th-ranked fantasy wide receiver last year despite missing three games and feeling the effects of his nagging hamstring injury in at least two others. Both of these wide receivers are highly involved in the offense (293 targets combined in 2011) and are very capable fantasy producers. The two also combined for 16 of Matt Ryan's 29 touchdown passes last season. In June, Roddy White came out and said that his role in the offense may decrease some, in order for the rest of the offense to fully function, according to new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's plans. It remains to be seen how much of White's workload will decrease, if any, but it's still worth noting that Atlanta's offensive play calling could be more diverse this season. White is still a very good receiver, if what he says rings true, he may finish as a high end WR2 than an elite WR1. Backup WRs: After Roddy White and Julio Jones, the talent level on the Falcons wide receiver corps drops down significantly, however the new Falcons offense is expected to get more players involved, which is good news for players like Harry Douglas. Douglas operates mostly out of the slot and will likely see between 65-75 targets. Outside of a torn ACL in the preseason of his second year, Douglas has played in 16 games each season he has been healthy. He has scored one touchdown in each of those years and had a career high 39 receptions last season. The rest of the targets will be distributed in small fashion to Kevin Cone, Michael Calvin, and Tim Toone.
Tight EndsStarters: Tony Gonzalez
Backups: Michael Palmer, Tommy Gallarda Tony Gonzalez is entering his 16th year in the league and amazingly has finished as a top-10 tight end 14 consecutive times with 11 top-five finishes and seven top-two finishes. Without question, he is a Hall of Famer in waiting. Perhaps even more inspiring, after 15 years, he still plays at a high level and is capable of producing solid fantasy numbers on weekly basis. He quietly finished fourth last year in a huge year for top-end tight end talent. Many believe his talent could fade away as he gets older, however, last year Gonzalez had 80 receptions for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. Gonzalez has missed only two games since 1999. He takes pride in keeping himself well conditioned, and it shows in his ability to stay healthy. This past year, Michael Palmer contributed 10 receptions on 16 targets for 72 yards and one touchdown. If Gonzalez misses any time, Palmer figures to be his replacement on the field with Tommy Gallarda occupying the third string.
Place KickerMatt Bryant : Matt Bryant enters his third full season with the Falcons. He comes off two strong years, including a 2011 outing that was statistically one of the best of his career. His 93.1% (27 of 29) field goal percentage was his highest and the 45 of 45 extra points were his most. At long snapper Joe Zelenka lost ouit to rookie Josh Harris and holder/punter/kickoff-specialist Matt Bosher is back. After four straight years in the middle of the pack, the Falcons were up to 10th place in kicker scoring opportunities in 2010, but then dropped right back to 16th last year.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Harry Douglas The departure of WR Eric Weems to Chicago has opened up both the punt and kick return positions for the Falcons. WR Harry Douglas figures to handle both roles. Punt Returners: Harry Douglas As mentioned above, Harry Douglas should occupy the role of kick returner and punt returner.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Todd McClure, RG Garrett Reynolds, RT Tyson Clabo
Key Backups: RG/C Peter Konz [R], T Lamar Holmes [R], G Mike Johnson, C Joe Hawley, T Will Svitek (inj) UPDATE: Experienced swing tackle Will Svitek is out for the year (right arm). This is slight downgrade to the Falcons line, as Svitek did a good job substituting for Baker last year. Rookie Lamar Holmes or vet Mike Johnson will likely be the next man off the bench. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Right tackle Tyson Clabo is a former Pro Bowl selection and is a highly efficient blocker. Clabo excels in both run and pass blocking. Left guard Justin Blalock is an ascending player who has legitimate Pro Bowl potential. Left tackle Sam Baker is a former first round selection who has had an up and down career. Last season Baker was benched and moved to guard briefly. However this offseason, the coaching staff reiterated their faith in Baker and blamed his struggles on a back injury. Baker will have to hold off swing tackle Will Svitek, who actually did a great job in Baker's place. Center Todd McClure is a tough guy that actually is among the better players in the league at his position. McClure overcomes physical shortcomings and easy to root for, but he's entering his 14th season in the league. The Falcons know this and drafted Peter Konz in the second round out of Wisconsin to be his eventual replacement. This year, Konz will compete for the right guard position with Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson. Third-round pick Lamar Holmes is a swing tackle (and possible future left tackle). New offensive line coach Pat Hill is a gritty former college head coach who built himself quite a kingdom out in Fresno State. As an offensive line coach he is well regarded and should improve this offensive line. To improve in the rankings, the Falcons need to improve at the left tackle position especially. Whether it's Baker or Holmes, the play at that position needs to get better.
Team DefenseThe Falcons Def/ST are a considered a middle of the road Fantasy Def/ST that could easily improve just as they could decline in 2012. Atlanta may have lost FA MLB Curtis Lofton to the Saints and only replaced him with Lofa Tatupu, but they re-signed CB Brent Grimes and traded for unwanted Asante Samuels. DE John Abraham is the primary pass rushing presence on this team that managed a respectable, but not outstanding 33 sacks last year. Abraham is a good talent to have on the DL, however he is not getting any younger and could be replaced more often than in years past. The Falcons did not have a strong draft presence, due to the Julio Jones trade last year and took their first defensive player in the fifth round, DE Jonathan Massaquoi. The defensive standout from Troy is a good pass rusher with potential, who could pan out eventually, but it may not happen this year. The Falcons can improve as a fantasy Def/ST, but several things must happen to solidify that notion. Can John Abraham stay healthy and not lose steam as the season wears on? Will Asante Samuel return to form as one of the league's best cover corners? Can Lofa Tatupu fill the void left by Curtis Lofton? Will someone emerge as a go-to return threat after Eric Weems was lost to free agency? There are a lot of questions surrounding the success of this Def/ST unit, but at worst, they are an average fantasy team.
Defensive LineStarters: DE John Abraham, DE Ray Edwards, DT Jonathan Babineaux, DT Corey Peters
Backups: DE Kroy Biermann, DE Lawrence Sidbury, DT Peria Jerry, DT Vance Walker Starting DL: John Abraham may be getting older, but he still possesses the kind of edge rushing ability that strikes fear into the hearts of offensive tackles everywhere. Abraham's 11 sacks and excellent 40 QB pressures in 2011 are exactly the kind of numbers we should expect from him this season. He is a relentless force from the DE position and a borderline top 20 defensive lineman. Ray Edwards has not met the production standards than Atlanta expected when they signed him to a multi-year contract. Edwards is nowhere near the pass rusher that Abraham is, but his talent says he can do better than the paltry four sacks he registered last year. Edwards is a top 40 DL option. Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters are a stout tandem on the interior of the defensive front, but neither is worth much consideration in DT-required leagues. Backup DL: Kroy Biermann, as well as having a great last name, is decent as a rotational DE. He holds little value, however. Vance Walker and Peria Jerry are nothing more than backups.
LinebackersStarters: MLB Akeem Dent, WOLB Sean Weatherspoon, SOLB Stephen Nicholas
Backups: MLB Mike Peterson, Max Gruder, Pat Schiller, OLB Spencer Adkins, OLB Robert James Starting LBs: A training camp battle is to ensue between newly signed Lofa Tatupu, who has missed a full year of football, and Akeem Dent. A former third round pick, Dent is the younger, faster option for the team. Tatupu is a question mark entering the season and Atlanta will need to take a close look at him to see if he can be the man in the middle on base downs. Regardless, the value in the Atlanta LB corps lies in Sean Weatherspoon. A player who many overlook, Weatherspoon is a dynamic LB with excellent movement skills and decent ability in coverage. Curtis Lofton's departure will provide even more opportunity for Weatherspoon to shine. A 100+ solo tackle season is well within his reach; he is a top ten LB in all formats. Stephen Nicholas should join Weatherspoon in the nickel packages and that could give his value a nice boost. A 65+ solo tackle season is achievable. Backup LBs: The loser of the Akeem Dent vs. Lofa Tatupu battle for the starting middle linebacker position will be the primary backup. One injury to Weatherspoon could see the value of one of these players elevate immediately to LB2 status. Spencer Adkins, the former Miami linebacker, was drafted by the team in the fifth round in 2009. Adkins has primarily been a special teams contributor and would likely be a two-down player if injury offered him a chance to play. Robert James was signed to a new three-year contract worth a little over one million dollars last December; he will be a core special teams player.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Brent Grimes, CB Dunta Robinson, FS Thomas DeCoud, SS William Moore
Backups: CB Asante Samuel, CB Christopher Owens Starting DBs: The cornerback duo of Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson are likely to be challenged by recently acquired ball hawk Asante Samuel. Robinson was poor in pass coverage last season and will need to improve his performances to retain his job. Feisty CB Brent Grimes received the franchise tag from Atlanta and is clearly the team's best CB. Both players should reach the 40 solo tackle thresholds, but Grimes is the one to own in fantasy leagues. At safety, Thomas DeCoud was a very consistent player in the tackle column last season, totalling an 83-solo season. However, DeCoud's overall game has holes and he can be replaced. SS William Moore is competent and should return to be a DB3 after missing some time last season. Backup DBs: Asante Samuel, as alluded to above, could figure into a starting CB role or, at the very least, a nickel role. Samuel is a good flier in the late rounds in leagues that reward additional points for interceptions and pass breakups. Christopher Owens is not worth consideration in fantasy leagues. Last modified: 2012-09-02 15:19:54