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2010 Team Report: Atlanta Falcons

Quarterbacks

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

Starting QB: Matt Ryan missed week 13 and 14 last season due to a turf toe injury and struggled with the injury to close the season (weeks 15-17), but he was declared fully recovered by head coach Mike Smith in March of this year. He is expected to fully participate in all team activities this off- and preseason. Ryan added six TDs to his season total in 2009 over 2008 (22 TDs vs. 16 his rookie campaign) and threw for almost as many completions (263 last year vs. 265 during 2008), despite playing in two fewer games (and leaving week 12 after just three pass attempts). He finished 2009 with 263/451 yielding 2916 yards, 22 TDs and 14 interceptions to land at 19th among all fantasy QBs for the season. Ryan should continue to improve his numbers during 2010, now that he is simpatico with TE Tony Gonzalez (135 targets for 83/867/6 last season) and continues to have a good chemistry with Roddy White (165 targets for 85/1153/11). In late May, D. Orlando Ledbetter, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reported that Ryan said the team has been working on their deep passing game during offseason workouts and expects to be improved in that area this season. Ryan completed 31 passes of over 20 yards last season, which ranked 23rd in the league. In mid June, CBSSports.com reported that head coach Mike Smith is happy with the progress Ryan has made this offseason. Not only has Ryan been a regular participant at the Falcons' facilities and studied his own film from last season, but he's also studied the film of other top quarterbacks around the league, something Smith thinks will benefit him. Ryan's also doing what it takes to improve areas of his game. "I think the offseason emphasis for Matt has been improving his accuracy and improving his decision making," Smith said. "I think that's what all the elite QBs in this league do."

Backup QB: Chris Redman is the primary backup to Matt Ryan and has played capably when asked to step into the lineup (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 vs. New Orleans, posting 23/34 for 303 yards, one TD and one interception during the contest. He 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.

Running Backs

Starter: Michael Turner
Backup(s): Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling, Dmitri Nance
Fullback(s): Ovie Mughelli

Starting RB: Michael Turner struggled with an ankle injury late during the 2009 season. The team reported him as recovered from the injury on March 24, 2010, but the team is planning to monitor his touches during the 2010 season, in order to help Turner stay healthy. On the field last year, Turner again posted double-digit TDs (178/871/10 rushing with 5/35/0 receiving over 11 games). He is the team's work-horse back, routinely rushing the ball between 18 and 22 times per game (with a season-high of 28 carries for 105 yards and one TD (adding one reception for five yards) vs. Carolina in week 2 last year). Two years ago, Turner was the second-ranked fantasy RB in the land with 377/1699/17 rushing and 6/41/0 receiving (he finished 23rd among all fantasy backs last year in his abbreviated 11 game season - he was 17th among all fantasy backs in fantasy points generated per game). In early June, CBSSports.com reported that Turner said he didn't feel better until two months ago. "When I first came back in March I still wasn't feeling the same," Turner said. "I kept working on it and got all the soreness and feel fine right now." Turner was asked if he felt he had something to prove after an injury-stricken 2009 campaign. "I have high expectations of myself already so I don't think anyone can add any more pressure than I already have of myself," he said. In late June, head coach Mike Smith said Turner might be in the best shape of his Falcons career, according to Jim Trotter, of SI.com. Smith admitted he probably rushed Turner back to action last season after suffering an ankle injury. As a result, Smith realized that he doesn't want to run Turner into the ground, and added there will be "parameters" on how often Turner carries the ball this season. The Falcons won't go into a game saying he'll be restricted, but they do want to be more conscious of the physical pounding Turner takes.

Backup RBs: Jerious Norwood is the complementary back to Michael Turner; Norwood is an accomplished reciever out of the backfield (76/252/0 rushing with 22 targets for 19/186/1 last season over 10 games played). A sore hip flexor plaugued Norwood during the closing weeks of the 2009 season, cutting his campaign short - he should be fine for training camp this year, though. Jason Snelling did a workman-like job subbing for Norwood and Turner when called to do so last year (142/613/4 rushing with 39 targets for 30/259/1 receiving), after only rushing the ball 28 times in his first two seasons with the club. The Falcons have quality depth at this position, and added undrafted free agent Dmitri Nance on April 26th, 2010. Nance played for Arizona State in college. He totaled 1,934 rushing yards on 482 carries (4.0 avg.) and 19 touchdowns, and became a bigger factor in the passing game over the course of his career. He finished with 63 career receptions for 463 yards (7.3 avg.) and one touchdown receiving.

Fullback: Mughelli is an outstanding lead blocker for Michael Turner/Jerious Norwood/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, Michael Jenkins
Backups: Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran, Eric Weems

Starting WRs: Roddy White is the star receiver on the Falcons, accounting for 11 of the 15 TDs that Falcons' wideouts scored during 2009. He finished the season with 165 targets for 85/1153/11 and was the seventh-ranked fantasy wide receiver in the land last year. He snagged 88/1382/7 during Matt Ryan's rookie season - White is Ryan's primary target since the young quarterback joined the Falcons. Michael Jenkins saw 90 passes for 50/635/1 during a 15-game season last year (68th-ranked fantasy WR). Jenkins has caught 50 balls in each of Ryan's first two seasons at QB. The fantasy wide receiver from Atlanta to roster is definitely White, as you can see. In early June, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter reported that White has worked this offseason on making more yards after a catch. White averaged just 4.6 yards after a catch last season. White said, "We can do a lot more of that. We are going to have to do a lot more of that. We have to break some more tackles, pick up some third downs and move the chains." More great news for White: In mid June, Ledbetter reported that Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey singled out Roddy White for having "maybe one of the best [offseasons] as a receiver since I've been in the league." Said Mularkey of White, "It's been great for our passing game with timing and everything since he's been here and worked as hard as he has."

Backup WRs: Harry Douglas' second season with the Falcons was wrecked due to a knee injury in training camp - he was placed on IR before the season began. During his rookie year, Douglas handled 39 targets for 23/320/1 - he is a promising young prospect if he can bounce back from the knee injury that cut his 2009 campaign short. As of March 24th, he is believed to be on track to join training camp on time. Brian Finneran suffered another knee injury that landed him on IR during December, 2009, although this time the injury did not require surgical repair. He's mostly a role player know, with 16 targets for 11/111/0 receiving over 10 games last year. Eric Weems is the team's kick and punt returner, providing an emergency option if the guys in front of him were to go down due to injury.

Tight Ends

Starters: Tony Gonzalez
Backups: Justin Peelle, Keith Zinger

Tony Gonzalez was a solid player for the Falcons last year, though he didn't manage to go over 1,000 yards receiving in his first season with Atlanta (135 targets for 83/867/6). Now that he has a year in the system under his belt, it would be no surprise to see Gonzalez go back over the 1,000 yards receiving benchmark. He teams with WR Roddy White to form the primary targets for QB Matt Ryan from the tight end/wide receiver positions. During his final two seasons in Kansas City (on offenses inferior to the 2010 Falcons') he handled 96+ receptions and went over 1,000 yards receiving in each season. Gonzalez is firmly entrenched as the starter at TE in Atlanta - his backups aren't going to challenge for many looks over the course of the season, making Gonzalez one of the most valuable fantasy tight ends in the fantasy realm. Justin Peelle suffered from a concussion late in the NFL season, but was probable to play shortly after the injury was inflicted - he didn't appear to suffer from a serious head injury, though once a player is concussed he is more likely to suffer a future problem in that area. Peelle is little-utilized in the offense (he has a high of 15/159/2 receiving over 16 games since arriving in Atlanta during 2008). Keith Zinger hails from LSU, and spent the entire 2008 season on the practice squad. He was active for 15 games during 2009, and enjoyed one target for zero receptions during the year.

Place Kicker

Matt Bryant : After a strong 2008 debut with the Falcons, Jason Elam struggled with age-related health issues last year and was eventually released eleven games into the season. He has since officially retired. After being dismissed by the Buccaneers and a stint in the brief inaugural UFL season, Matt Bryant was signed by Atlanta for the final five games last year. Steve Hauschka was signed by Atlanta late last year when Bryant was questionable to play due to an injury. Both remained on the roster entering camp, however Hauschka was released after the first preseason game. The Falcons have ranked between 14th and 16th in attempted kicking points each of the last four years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Eric Weems, Dominique Franks, Jerious Norwood, Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran, Troy Bergeron, Michael Turner

After injuries to RB Jerious Norwood and WR Harry Douglas last year, WR Eric Weems stepped in to fill both return roles. He did well enough (25.3 yard average on 48 kickoff returns) to be the frontrunner for the jobs again this year. His primary challenger will likely be fifth round draft pick CB Dominique Franks, who averaged 21.5 yards on eight kickoffs during his three years at Oklahoma. Norwood could possibly be a factor, although he'll more likely revert to a backup role. After showing hints of success as a rookie in 2006, he handled most of the kickoff returns in 2007 and 2008. Four others are potential backups. Douglas averaged 19.7 yards on returns during his college career at Louisville, but only 11.5 yards on four returns during his rookie year. RB Michael Turner proved to be a capable backup kickoff returner for the Chargers in 2006 (36 returns, 26.5 avg.). WR Brian Finneran fielded three kickoffs the past two years. WR Troy Bergeron handled kickoffs during his three years in the AFL.

Punt Returners: Eric Weems; Dominique Franks, Harry Douglas, Jerious Norwood, Brian Finneran, Dunta Robinson

Weems handled all 27 of the Falcons punt returns last year, averaging 10.0 yards, along with 14 fair catches. The rookie Franks is probably a stronger challenger to start on punt returns than on kickoffs. He averaged 11.9 yards on 29 career punt returns with the Sooners. The question mark is WR Harry Douglas who is coming off a torn ACL. As a rookie in 2008 he took over the punt returner role and paid dividends, averaging 11.9 yards on 19 returns and scoring once. Jerious Norwood occasionally returned punts during his career at Mississippi State. Brian Finneran field several punts in 2008, and had a two yard return and three fair catches. CB Dunta Robinson hasn't returned punts since his senior year at South Carolina, but practiced in that role periodically for the Texans. The last time the Falcons ranked in the top ten in fantasy return points was 2003. Last year they finished in 25th place.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Todd McClure, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Tyson Clabo
Key Backups: T Quinn Ojinnaka, T Will Svitek, G Mike Johnson (R), G Joe Hawley (R)

The Falcons have a good offensive line which performed well last season, but perhaps not at the level that was expected heading into the season. Sam Baker, now heading into his third season needs to make the next step in his development. He has loads of potential but the former 21st overall pick has yet to really live up to that hype yet. Tyson Clabo is a good right tackle who hasn't missed a start over the past two seasons. Blalock has started 46 of 48 games as a pro, has great size and is a good road-grader. Harvey Dahl has started 27 games over the past couple of seasons and become a dependable presence at guard. At center, Todd McClure hasn't missed a game over the past eight seasons and is the leader of the group. Mike Johnson of Alabama and Joe Hawley are two guards that were drafted this season that will add to the overall depth of the group. In late June, Quinn Ojinnaka was suspended for one game by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Team Defense

Defensive Line

Starters: DE John Abraham, DT Johnathan Babineaux, DT Peria Jerry, DE Jamaal Anderson
Backups: DE Chauncey Davis, DE Kroy Biermann, DE Lawrence Sidbury, DT Thomas Johnson, DT Trey Lewis, DT Corey Peters

Starting DL: The Atlanta defensive line didn't have a single dominant pass rusher in 2009, but collectively they rushed the passer well. John Abraham will be back as the line's veteran leader and edge rushing threat. He struggled with inconsistency last season, managing only six sacks after double digit efforts in his two previous seasons. The team expects him to rebound this season, but he'll turn 32 and should still be considered a durability risk despite three consecutive relatively healthy seasons. Jamaal Anderson will start at LDE in the base defense and kick inside again when the Falcons play nickel. Anderson was better against the run last year, but he's still yet to provide the pass rush the Falcons expected of him after drafting him in the first round three years ago. Jonathan Babineaux continues to be one of the league's best three-technique tackles. He'll again be expected to be disruptive in the offensive backfield on running downs and should be a threat to match his career high six sacks this season. Babineaux may be suspended this season for an off-field incident last December, which would force Thomas Johnson or rookie Corey Peters into more snaps. Second year defensive tackle and last year's first round pick Peria Jerry is healthy after missing 14 games last year with a torn knee ligament. Jerry's presence should improve the Falcons' run defense and potentially free up Abraham from double teams on early downs.

Backup DL: Kroy Biermann fulfilled his promise as a situational pass rusher last year, providing five sacks in a rotational role. He earned time in the base defense at the end of 2009 and may continue to eat into the playing time of both John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson on early downs this year. Chauncey Davis will continue in a rotational role behind Anderson. The team has high hopes that Lawrence Sidbury will continue to progress after earning only limited playing time last year. The small school prospect still needs to prove he can be consistently competitive against the league's better offensive tackles before getting more than a handful of snaps a game. Thomas Johnson and Trey Lewis will spell starters Jerry and Babineaux on early downs and possibly see extended playing time early in the year if Babineaux is suspended. Johnson brings some pass rush upside, but the Atlanta run defense will suffer if either have to be counted upon for a longer duration. The team drafted penetrating tackle prospect Corey Peters. He's a promising three-technique tackle in the mold of Babineaux that could see lots of snaps this year.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Mike Peterson, MLB Curtis Lofton, OLB Sean Weatherspoon
Backups: OLB Stephen Nicholas, OLB Coy Wire, LB Tony Gilbert, LB Robert James, LB Spencer Adkins

Starting LBs: Curtis Lofton flourished in an every-down role last season, anchoring a run defense that improved steadily as the season progressed. Lofton should continue to improve as he gets more comfortable in coverage. Mike Peterson replaced Keith Brooking at WLB last season and was a steadying every-down influence for a young back seven. Peterson set aside the off-field and durability issues that plagued him during his last seasons in Jacksonville and had his best tackle season in four years while adding value in both coverage and pass rush on nickel downs. He'll be expected to provide the same all-around play this year. Last season, Stephen Nicholas took over at SLB and played well. The Falcons couldn't pass up all-around OLB prospect Sean Weatherspoon in the draft this year, however. Weatherspoon will probably bump Nicholas from the lineup this year and should eventually assume Peterson's every-down WLB job, perhaps as early as this year. In early June, Falcons linebackers coach Glenn Pires said LB Sean Weatherspoon is coming along well, reported D. Orlando Ledbetter, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Pires said, "He's in the learning curve right now as all first round draft picks are, all of the rookies are right now. He's doing well in terms of learning. He's doing well with the veterans and using all of his resources to do well. He's off to a good start."

Backup LBs: Stephen Nicholas will soon be pushed aside by Sean Weatherspoon. Nicholas played well last season, showing he could handle the point of attack on the strong side and adding some pass rush skill to the front seven. He'll be the primary backup at all three positions if Weatherspoon wins a job in camp.The strong play of Peterson and Nicholas kept Coy Wire from taking many snaps in the base defense in 2009. Wire will backup both OLB spots again this season and has proven himself a capable defender in Mike Smith's defensive scheme. Tony Gilbert, Robert James and Spencer Adkins have drawn the praise of their coaches at times, but all three represent significant downgrades from the current starting group. The addition of Weatherspoon has all three competing for one roster spot. Robert James has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performing-enhancing substances, reported ESPN's Adam Schefter in early July.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Dunta Robinson, SS Erik Coleman, FS Thomas DeCoud, CB Brent Grimes
Backups: S William Moore, CB Christopher Owens, DB Brian Williams, CB Chevis Jackson, CB Dominique Franks

Starting DBs: The Falcons continued their efforts to make over their secondary this offseason, signing Dunta Robinson in free agency, then trading former starter and first round draft pick Chris Houston to Detroit. Robinson recovered nicely from a devastating 2007 knee injury that cost him part of the 2008 season and was signed to bring consistent man coverage and run support. With Houston traded, the other corner spot will be an open competition between Brent Grimes, Christopher Owens and Brian Williams. Grimes and Owens saw extended playing time late in 2009 and impressed the coaches enough to make Houston expendable. Thomas DeCoud showed enough in coverage last season to put a firm hold on the free safety job. Erik Coleman will enter the preseason as the favorite to start at strong safety. Coleman has quietly been a steadying presence in run support, but could be better in coverage. In late May, Dan Parr, from ProFootballWeekly.com, reported that Dunta Robinson said the transition to a new team has been smooth thus far. He admitted to PFW that he still is getting used to playing off the line of scrimmage after playing at the line in Houston. "I come from a man-press defense where we're always up in the receiver's face," he said. "Here it's a little more off (the line of scrimmage). There's a little bit more backpedaling. Those are the different things. Sometimes my backpedal, since I'm so used to shuffling, will turn into a shuffle instead of staying in my backpedal, but every day I'm coming out and working on that and I'm feeling a lot better." In early July, D. Orlando Ledbetter, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reported that Brian Williams could be the leading candidate for the starting cornerback job opposite Robinson if Williams is able to stay healthy during training camp. Also in early July, Dan Parr, from ProFootballWeekly.com, reported that Dunta Robinson, shared his thoughts on what it will take for the unit to succeed. "It's all about confidence," he told PFW earlier this offseason. "When you step out on the field, you have to think that no one on the other side of the ball can beat you. You have to feel like you're the best player on the field. That's the kind of confidence you have to play with. That's what I come to practice with, and that's what I line up on Sundays with. It's not something that I'm trying to bring (to the Falcons). I think it's just in me. (And) I think the players are buying into it."

Backup DBs: Owens and Williams will compete for the second corner and nickel jobs throughout the preseason. Williams could also backup at free safety if needed. Dominique Franks, a fifth round pick in this year's draft, will also get a look in camp. The addition of Franks probably leaves Chevis Jackson as the odd man out. Jackson has disappointed in coverage and would have been the team's dime corner at best. Moore, last year's second round pick, got a late start due to multiple injuries and never saw the field in 2009. He'll need a strong preseason effort to unseat Coleman. More likely, he'll work his way into more playing time in rotation in the hopes of starting in 2011.

Last modified: 2010-08-15 18:06:53