QB Matt Ryan
(2012 QB Rank – #5, 24.0 FPts/G)
The Falcons took the leash off Ryan in 2012 and he put together the finest season of his five-year career, leading Atlanta to the NFC Championship Game. Ryan reached career highs in pass attempts (615), completions (422), passing yards (4,719) and passing touchdowns (32). For good measure, he also chipped in 141 rushing yards and completed 68.6 percent of his passes, both career highs, as he finished the season averaging 24.0 PPG. Looking forward to 2013, the Falcons have retained all of the team’s key weapons with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez all returning. In addition, the team signed veteran free agent running back Steven Jackson to replace Michael Turner. Although Jackson represents a clear upgrade over Turner, the Falcons figure to remain a high-flying passing offense once again this season, with Jackson a solid pass catcher out of the backfield. Add it all up and Ryan figures to be a top five fantasy QB once again in 2013.
RB Steven Jackson
(2012 RB Rank – #17, 10.0 FPts/G; #17 PPR, 12.4 FPts/G)
Buyer beware, we’re a tad biased on Steven Jackson. Toiling in relative obscurity for his entire career on a Rams team that has been a disappointment ever since he entered the league as a first-round pick in 2004, Jackson was a workhorse back in St. Louis. After playing behind Marshall Faulk as a rookie, Jackson began a run of eight consecutive 1000- yard rushing seasons despite being the focal point of the team’s offense and having to run behind a string of subpar offensive lines. He brings his talents to Atlanta in 2013, at 30 years of age and coming off a 1,042-yard season with in which the Rams curtailed his use for the first half of the year. Beginning in Week 10, SJax resumed his normal workhorse role, piling up 862 total yards and three touchdowns over the final eight games of the season, averaging 13.0 PPG over that stretch. That should put to rest any concerns that his production is about to fall off a cliff. With so much talent in Atlanta at the skill positions, Jackson won’t get as much attention as he has in past seasons. Another 1,300–1,400-yard season with double-digit touchdowns seems to be in order, and that would make Jackson a high-end RB2 for 2013.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
(2012 RB Rank – #37, 5.5 FPts/G; #29 PPR, 8.8 FPts/G)
With Michael Turner in serious decline in 2012, Rodgers appeared to have some long-term fantasy potential. Unfortunately for Rodgers, once Steven Jackson lingered on the free agent market for too long, the Falcons pounced, acquiring the former Ram on a modest three-year deal. That put the fork in Rodgers’ hopes of establishing himself as a full-time starter, a notion that was always a bit dubious given his 5’6”, 196-pound frame. After a moderately successful rookie season in which he ran for 205 yards and caught 21 passes for 188 yards, Rodgers totaled 362 rushing yards, 402 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 2012. While his totals were up, it was largely based on volume, as he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and saw his yards per reception drop from 9.0 to 7.6. Barring a collapse by Jackson, Rodgers just hasn’t been productive enough to warrant a bigger role than he had in 2012 when he totaled 153 touches. Consider him a potential flex option in 12- and 14-team leagues and a mid- to lower-tier handcuff since he would likely split the role with Jason Snelling if Jackson were lost to injury.
RB Jason Snelling
(2012 RB Rank – #80, 2.0 FPts/G; #62 PPR, 4.0 FPts/G)
It has been four years since Snelling reached the pinnacle of his career, rushing for 613 yards, adding another 259 through the air, and scoring five touchdowns while backing up Michael Turner and starting a pair of games. Since then, his touches have declined every year with Snelling getting just 18 rushes and 31 receptions last season. Of course, three straight years of failing to run for 4.0 yards per carry can cause a player to get his workload reduced, and that has been the case with Snelling. With Steven Jackson having replaced Turner, look for more of the same. Snelling could be a useful fantasy option if Jackson were lost to injury since Jacquizz Rodgers doesn’t have the size necessary to handle a workhorse role.
WR Roddy White
(2012 WR Rank – #10, 11.1 FPts/G; #10 PPR, 16.8 FPts/G)
White has been a regular as a WR1 over the past five years and we don’t expect that to change in 2013. With the more explosive Julio Jones attracting plenty of attention from opposing defenses, White was the most targeted Falcons receiver last season with 143 looks. He hauled in 92 passes for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 11.1 PPG for the second consecutive season. That marked the sixth consecutive season that White has topped 1,000 receiving yards, and in five of those seasons he topped 1,200 yards. At 31 years of age, White still provided plenty of big plays, and that shouldn’t change in 2013. The Falcons have clearly morphed into a pass-based offense, and the presence of free agent running back Steven Jackson shouldn’t change that. With the fantasy world tantalized by the potential that Jones possesses, there is a solid chance that White will represent solid value on draft day. Consider him a mid- to lower-tier WR1, and one that comes with little risk, especially in PPR formats.
WR Julio Jones
(2012 WR Rank – #9, 11.1 FPts/G; #11 PPR, 16.4 FPts/G)
Since the Falcons traded away a pile of draft picks in order to draft Jones with the sixth overall pick in 2011, he has displayed tantalizing potential. Despite missing three games as a rookie, he caught 54 passes for 979 yards and scored eight touchdowns. Last season he was even better, catching 79 of his 128 targets for 1,198 yards and ten touchdowns. While Jones has the potential to be the league’s second most productive receiver behind Calvin Johnson, the truth is that he is unlikely to reach those heights playing alongside the equally productive Roddy White, and that limits his upside. With defenses more focused on Jones due to his blazing speed, White led the Falcons in targets and receptions in 2012. In another year or two Jones figures to emerge as an elite fantasy option, but we don’t see that happening just yet. Consider him a mid-tier WR1 with upside.
WR Harry Douglas
(2012 WR Rank – #87, 3.1 FPts/G; #78 PPR, 5.6 FPts/G)
While you might expect an unchallenged slot receiver on one of the league’s top offenses to provide some fantasy value, that just hasn’t been the case with Douglas. Playing alongside three potential Hall of Famers in Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones, Douglas was targeted just 59 times last season, catching 38 passes for 396 yards and a touchdown. That marked the fourth consecutive season that Douglas has hauled in just one touchdown pass. In 2013, another potential Hall of Famer joins the Falcons in the form of running back Steven Jackson, and he is a solid pass-receiving threat out of the backfield. With so many mouths to feed, Douglas just doesn’t get enough attention to warrant your fantasy consideration. Barring an injury to White or Jones, keep Douglas off your roster.
TE Tony Gonzalez
(2012 TE Rank – #3, 8.8 FPts/G; #2 PPR, 14.6 FPts/G)
Expecting it to be his final season, Gonzalez left it all on the field in 2012, having the finest season of his four-year run as a Falcon. With the running game struggling, Gonzalez hauled in 93 receptions for 930 yards and eight touchdowns and then promptly reversed his decision to retire. The question is whether he can repeat that performance in 2013 at 37 years of age. With his speed in serious decline, Gonzalez creates space with his route running, but his usage is likely to be reduced with Steven Jackson now patrolling in the Falcons backfield. While another 93-catch season is unlikely, Gonzalez has the potential to finish just behind Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski as a top fantasy TE.