INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Fantasy owners keep waiting for the aging Tony Gonzalez to start a drastic decline, but the veteran continues to produce. Gonzo caught 80 balls for 875 yards and seven TD’s a year ago, his best season as a Falcon, and remained a top-five fantasy option. The 36-year old has missed just two games 15 NFL seasons and has averaged 83.5 receptions for 921.3 yards and 6.5 TD’s since turning thirty. While the age factor remains a risk, the future Hall of Famer should provide great value for owners that don’t go after the young, big-name tight ends in the early rounds.
The Falcons strength of schedule is very favorable as their opponents finished 125-131 a year ago, putting them in a tie with the 49ers for the seventh easiest schedule in the league. Interestingly, the Falcons don’t play consecutive games at home or on the road the entire season. For the second straight year the Falcons were given four national TV appearances, giving owners plenty of chance to watch their players. Going against weak NFC South defenses help the Falcons. They rank as the No. 1 schedule for fantasy QB’s and RB’s and eight for WR’s based off last year’s points allowed.
It was back-to-back 100-catch campaigns for Roddy White, who led the NFL in targets for the second time in as many years. The veteran was huge down the stretch of the 2011 season, finishing with 53 receptions for 733 yards and five touchdowns over his final seven games. Julio Jones led all rookies with eight TD catches last season, including six in the final four games. Entering his sophomore campaign, Jones will need to prove he can stay healthy, but there’s no questioning his talent. Both Falcons’ wideouts have top 10 potential. White is safe bet and Jones is a high-end fantasy WR2.
The decline in age is raising concern around Michael Turner. He carried the rock for over 300 times for the third time in four year and produced double-digit touchdowns for the fourth straight season. However, Turner has now hit the dreadful age of 30 for running backs. The Falcons have already stated they will look to cut down on his carries this year in order to keep him healthy. He should still see enough goal line carries to keep up his scoring pace, but the yardage numbers will drop enough to make him a weak RB1 option for fantasy owners.
For the fourth straight season Matt Ryan enjoyed statistical growth under center for the Falcons, including posting career-high marks in 2011 for passing yards (4,177) and passing touchdowns (29). With the friendly schedule and the team transitioning to a more pass-oriented offense, expect even better numbers in 2012 for Ryan. His durability and penchant for not turning the ball over (55 turnovers in 62 career starts) make him a safe QB1 option. He may not approach top 5 numbers this season, but with his 66.34 ADP (10th overall quarterback) Ryan will come at a great price for owners looking to get a player on the upswing.
The team dealt many of their top picks in the 2012 draft last year in a move to nab Julio Jones and made very few significant free agent moves. They did acquire veteran cornerback Asante Samuel from the Eagles in an exchange for a seventh-round draft pick. At 31, Samuel is on the decline and was limited in a crowded Philadelphia secondary a year ago. His 39 interceptions over the past six years is the best mark in the NFL during that span and playing time won’t be a problem in Atlanta. He should provide nice late IDP value and makes the Falcons DEF/ST immediately better as well.
With the team planning on decreasing Turner’s touches, the battle for No. 2 on the depth chart at running back becomes one of great fantasy interest. Jason Snelling will compete with Jacquizz Rodgers for playing time. After averaging 114.5 carries over the previous two seasons, Snelling only had 44 rushes in 2011 though he was still involved as a receiver out of the backfield. Rodgers is younger and more explosive though and is expected to be the favorite to be the change-of-pace back and the top handcuff option as he braces for his second season.
The Falcons have so many weapons that it is easy to overlook the talent of wide receiver Harry Douglas. He made the most of his opportunities last season, tallying 498 yards and a touchdown on 39 receptions. He could become a factor if Atlanta suffers some injury within its passing attack. Even if everyone remains healthy, Douglas’ explosiveness makes his a worthy option in the team’s passing game. Entering his fifth season, the best may still be ahead for Douglas. He’s worth stashing in deeper PPR formats as a WR5 or WR6.
Fantasy Football, NFL