QB Matt Ryan
Matty Ice has been regular season nice for the Falcons. Just not so much for his fantasy owners. He is the perfect example of a player whose value to his NFL team far exceeds his value as a fantasy player. Or should we say has been the perfect example? With former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey having been hired to lead the Jaguars, Dirt Koetter assumes the coordinator position this season and he will bring a vertical passing attack to the franchise and enhanced fantasy expectations for Ryan. Let’s face it, the weapons were already in the fold and what Ryan really needed to unleash an upper tier fantasy season was an offensive philosophy that emphasized the pass. Let’s dig deeper. Will head coach Mike Smith allow Koetter to unleash Ryan and stud wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones as well as tight end Tony Gonzalez on the rest of the league? Does it matter that starting running back Michael Turner has reached the ripe old age of 30? Would you be surprised to know the Falcons, despite adding Jones to the roster, actually scored 12 fewer points in 2011 than they did in 2010? Can speedsters Jacquizz Rodgers and Harry Douglas put together solid seasons? With Ryan coming off his first 4,000-yard season (4,177) and having thrown for a career-high 29 touchdown passes in 2011, it looks like Ryan may reach elite fantasy status in 2012 for the first time in his five year career. Ryan rates a notch below the big five at quarterback this year.
RB Michael Turner
Let’s go on record and say the stories of Turner’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. There hasn’t been any demise. Of course, you’re reading this because you want to know if we’re projecting his demise, right? Let’s frame the arguments. Cons first. Turner had the second most carries in the league last season and he turned 30 years of age in the off-season. He has chalked up 300 or more carries in three of the last four years (he missed five games in 2009) while averaging 298 carries per year. A groin injury caused him to stumble down the stretch last season, accumulating just 280 yards and a single touchdown on 84 carries between weeks 12 and 16 before rolling over a Bucs team in Week 17 (172 yards, 2 TDs) that had clearly quit. Heading into 2012, the Falcons have said they want to emphasize the passing game more and reduce Turner’s workload with head coach Mike Smith recently stating that Turner won’t get 300 carries this season. And we all know he isn’t much of a receiver with 51 receptions during his eight-year career. Pros are up. He was the 6th ranked fantasy running back last season with 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns. During his four years with the Falcons, he has topped 1,300 rushing yards every year other than the aforementioned 2009 season while also reaching double-digit touchdowns every year. While he is now 30, does that mean as much given that he carried the ball just 228 times over the first four years of his career with the Chargers? While Jacquizz Rodgers may emerge as a solid pass catching back, the jury is out on whether he is big enough to handle many carries out of the backfield and Jason Snelling is no threat to eat into Turner’s workload in a major way. Turner also set career highs in receptions and receiving yards last season (17 for 168) while also setting a career single game high in receptions with four during Week 16, proving that he might be ready to assume a larger role in the Falcons passing attack. Okay, those points, while true, are a reach but it did give me a chance to show you how much I research this stuff. The bottom line: Turner rates as a mid to upper tier fantasy backup in standard scoring leagues and a lower tier backup in PPR formats. And a tremendous value given the bad pub he’s been getting in the fantasy football world.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
After a moderately successful rookie season in which he ran for 205 yards and caught 21 passes for 188 yards, Rodgers is slated for an expanded role in the Falcons offense in 2012. The question is how expanded will his role become? The Falcons 5th round pick in the 2011 draft, Rodgers lacks ideal size (5’6”, 196 pounds) to assume a heavy workload in the team’s offense and with Michael Turner doing the heavy lifting, Rodgers will likely get 6-8 touches per game. That’s not enough to make him a useful fantasy option. Even if Turner were to be lost to injury, Rodgers would almost certainly split the workload with Jason Snelling with Snelling assuming the short yardage role. While some are predicting a Darren Sproles type role for Rodgers, he lacks the speed that Sproles possesses. Do you get the feeling I’m not excited at the prospect of Rodgers having an expanded role? He’s a lower tier RB4 with more appeal in larger PPR leagues that employ the flex position.
RB Jason Snelling
The equation for success is ability, motivation and opportunity and after five years in the league, Snelling always seems to come up short on the opportunity part of that equation. When Michael Turner was injured during the 2009 season, Snelling proved he could handle a large workload by having a career year. He rushed for 613 yards, averaged 4.3 yards per carry and caught 30 passes for 259 yards while scoring five total touchdowns. It looked like he had carved out a role for himself in the Falcons backfield. Since then he has seen his touches drop in two consecutive years down to just 70 last season. In 2012, Snelling will once again split the backup role with Jacquizz Rodgers. While Snelling would likely assume the early down and goal line work in the event of a Turner injury, Rodgers would also see an expanded role, making Snelling only a moderately attractive handcuff.
WR Roddy White
The world likes its shiny new toys and there is no better example of that than witnessing Roddy White’s perceived fantasy value slide heading into the 2012 season. With the Falcons having unloaded a pile of picks in order to move up in the 2011 draft in order to draft Julio Jones and having seen his strong performance as a rookie, a large portion of the fantasy world seems set on him surpassing White to become the Falcons leading receiver in 2012. Not so fast, folks. Let’s check White’s resume over the past five seasons. Five consecutive seasons with at least 83 receptions and at least 1,153 yards. Two seasons with at least 100 receptions. Two seasons with double-digit touchdowns. Two seasons with at least 1,382 receiving yards. Twenty-nine touchdowns over the past three years. Two consecutive seasons with a league-leading 179 targets. Maybe it’s the age? Nah, he’s 30. While Jones is likely to warrant more looks in 2012 (he averaged less than six targets per game in 2011), the Falcons have said they planned on passing more this season and tight end Tony Gonzalez could end up with fewer looks given his decline over the past few years. In 2012, expect White’s production to approach his 100-reception, 1,296-yard, eight-touchdown performance from 2011. That would be good enough to make him a top three fantasy wide receiver.
WR Julio Jones
Having parted ways with a boatload of draft picks in order to draft Jones with the 6th overall pick, the Falcons were expecting big things from the former Alabama product. And Jones didn’t disappoint, hauling in 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns despite a hamstring injury that caused him to miss three full games and resulted in him not being targeted in another contest. He possesses elite size and speed and his rookie performance suggests that Jones will become an elite receiver in the league. Will it happen in 2012? His explosive performance as a rookie (17.8 yards per reception and nearly 1,000 receiving yards on just 94 targets) suggests that it is possible. However, the smart money is on Jones improving on his production as a rookie but not receiving elite status just yet. Roddy White soaks up a pile of targets (leading the league in each of the last two seasons with 179) and while the Falcons plan on throwing the ball more in 2012, no one is predicting they will be amongst the league leaders in passing attempts. Jones shapes up as one of the top three dynasty league wide receivers along with Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green and as a lower tier WR1 in 2012.
WR Harry Douglas
After a largely disappointing 2010 season in which he caught just 22 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown, Douglas bounced back last season to post career highs in all receiving categories with 39 receptions for 498 yards and a pair of scores. Perhaps most importantly, he developed more chemistry with quarterback Matt Ryan, catching 62.9% of his targets after hauling in just 41.5% in 2010. While Douglas has displayed some decent playmaking ability at times (witness his eight reception, 133 yard performance against the Saints in Week 10), he is primarily a slot receiver playing in an offense that features perhaps two of the league’s top 10 wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones as well as a future Hall of Famer in tight end Tony Gonzalez. Consistent opportunity just isn’t what is in store for Douglas in 2012. He is only worth owning if White or Jones are out for a significant period of time.
TE Tony Gonzalez
After appearing to be in serious decline in 2010, producing his lowest reception (70) and yardage (656) totals since the 1998 season, last year Gonzalez put together the most productive season of his three year stint in Atlanta, finishing as the 4th ranked fantasy tight end. With Roddy White and Julio Jones taking the focus off, Gonzalez finished the year with 80 receptions for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. He figures to be plenty motivated in 2012 having stated that this will be the last season of his illustrious Hall of Fame career. While Gonzalez might be motivated, the Falcons aren’t likely to be as motivated to get him the ball. If White and Jones remain healthy, look for a slightly reduced role for Gonzalez. He simply isn’t worth forcing the ball to anymore given his lack of ability after the catch. Consider Gonzalez a low end fantasy starter in 2012.