Last night you saw the 2011 NFL season kick off with a prime time matchup between the Packers and Saints. The game was obviously interesting for a number of reasons: we get to see the defending Superbowl champs take the field, both are elite teams in the NFC, and a Saints loss only helps the Falcons. However, if you were like me and had someone on your fantasy team in that game, it created an even deeper level of intrigue. Welcome back NFL, and welcome back fantasy football!
The Atlanta Falcons enter 2011 as possibly one of the most interesting teams as far as fantasy possibilities are concerned. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez highlight a fantastic lineup that contains big-time fantasy implications galore. Add in the addition Julio Jones and the prospect of a shiny new passing attack on offense, and you have quite the intriguing team fantasy-wise.
For each week going forward, we will be previewing Falcons players in terms of their fantasy value per weekly matchup. We'll be discussing who to start, who to bench, possible waiver wire additions and oodles of other good stuff to satisfy your fantasy needs. And trust me, you need fantasy football. You're all sick, sick people, and I have your cure.
Now then, let's examine the Falcons skill position, defensive and special teams players while considering their fantasy value going forward.
QB: Matt Ryan
For those people who were patient and waited to draft Ryan last season, they were rewarded in a big way. No, Matty Ice did not put up "elite" Tom Brady numbers, but he was a quality top-10 QB you could start every week without hesitation. In 2011 however, you can expect even more improvement. The addition of Julio Jones, the return of a healthy Harry Douglas, and a shift towards an air-based offense will all augment Ryan's fantasy value this year.
In fact, I'd say that, given the talent around him, he could easily post elite fantasy numbers this season. What's more, you won't necessarily have to spend a first, second, or even third-round draft pick in order to land him. You could get a potential top-5 quarterback at a relatively cheap price. That said, all signs point to Ryan becoming an even more reliable fantasy option in 2011.
RB: Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, Jacquizz Rodgers
Now, we look at the opposite. Turner burst onto the fantasy (and real life) scene in 2008, racking up over 1600 yards and 17 rushing TD's. However, two 300+ carry seasons in the past three likely spell a decline for Turner. Now, is he going to completely fall apart? I hope not. I certainly don't believe that to be the case. But the Falcons will likely use him less than last year.
That is mainly due to the presence of Snelling and rookie Jacquizz Rodgers. Both will likely get a decent number of carries this season, likely ranging anywhere from 50 to 100 each. That's also assuming Turner is completely healthy. He's been overused, and as a result his body is wearing down. Is he worth a first-round draft pick? Probably. But I would look at drafting other top-tier options such as Ray Rice or Rashard Mendenhall over Turner.
As for Snelling/Rodgers, both will be either very late-round picks or go undrafted. While I expect both to be big contributors on the Falcons offense, I obviously wouldn't count on them having much impact fantasy-wise.
WR: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas
Roddy White is the definition of a sure thing. Four consecutive seasons of 1000+ yards receiving, and he's coming off a year in which he caught a career high 115 passes for 1389 yards. Sure, he's no longer the only real receiving threat on the roster. Matt Ryan can spread the ball around more. But other receiving threats also negate the double team, with which Roddy faced an awful lot last season. If he's not one of the top three wideouts drafted, there's something wrong.
Julio Jones, on the other hand, is still an unknown. He's a risk, to be sure. But a smart risk? He is that as well. Julio came into the season with a lot of hype surrounding him, and so far he's shown every indication that he'll not only contribute as a rookie, he'll excel. That big 6'3 frame is always a nice bonus in the red zone as well. He should see TD targets and his fair share of catches this season, so having him as your third receiver wouldn't be a bad idea.
Douglas is the deep-sleeper of the group. So far, the fourth-year wideout also had quite a nice preseason performance. His speed makes him a deep threat, a "home-run" type of receiver. That means he'll likely be very hit and miss from week to week. Some weeks he could be fantastic, and others he may only reel in a couple catches. But if he is targeted enough, HD83 will surprise people this season. He's definitely worth a late-round flier if you're looking for a sleeper WR.
TE: Tony Gonzalez
The All-World, Hall of Fame shoe-in Tony Gonzalez is back for another year with the Falcons. In all likelihood, this will also be his last. While Gonzalez is still good, he's not quite what he used to be. Age tends to do that. Even the great succumb to age eventually.
While he's a very safe bet to see a steady stream of targets throughout the season, along with his share of red zone looks, he is no longer a top tier tight end. He'll be an average, reliable fantasy option at tight end this season at best, considering the number of other weapons Ryan has to choose from. While he may not be exciting nowadays, Gonzalez is still a very safe pick at tight end.
K: Matt Bryant
Bryant, AKA Mr. Automatic, is coming off a year in which he went 28-for-31 on field goal attempts. When drafting a kicker, you'll want to look for a team that has a strong offense. Of that, the Falcons have plenty. Thus, Bryant is a very safe bet to have another good season in Atlanta.
Finally, we come to defense and special teams. As a whole, I think the Falcons defense will be above average this season in real life. In fantasy, however, there are probably more reliable options out there. The Falcons racked up a decent number of takeaways last season, and Ray Edwards will obviously boost the team's sack total.
One other thing to consider is that Brian Van Gorder will finally have "his" players healthy. Peria Jerry, Sean Weatherspoon, and budding stars such as Curtis Lofton and Brent Grimes all make up a very talented defense on paper. While I don't expect them to be a top-5 defense, I do think they could surprise a few teams this season. Late-round fliers are acceptable.
For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.