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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Atlanta Falcons

Senior Fantasy Writer
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I recently took part in a 12-team PPR draft and had a tough decision to make in Round 5. I needed a No. 2 running back after drafting Ray Rice, Roddy White, Greg Jennings and Demaryius Thomas, and there were several quality choices on the board.

The decision came down to Michael Turner, Frank Gore, Reggie Bush, Beanie Wells and Doug Martin. I went with Martin based on his upside, and I took a lot of flack on Twitter for passing on Turner.

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I just don't want Turner on my Fantasy team this year. Even in a standard league.

There are plenty of reasons to like Turner. He has the potential to be a No. 1 Fantasy running back because if he's healthy you can pencil him in for 300 carries, 1,300 rush yards and double digits in touchdowns. He's reached those totals three of the past four years.

But Turner could be headed for a down season. He's 30 and has 1,189 carries the past four years, which is a ton of work. The Falcons want to limit his reps this season, which should open the door for more touches for second-year rusher Jacquizz Rodgers. Also consider the Falcons are trending toward a passing team.

When Matt Ryan, White and Julio Jones turned things up a notch in the second half of 2011, Turner disappeared. He had two games with over 100 rushing yards and four touchdowns after Week 7, including rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 against a terrible Tampa Bay defense. And he did that while still averaging 18 carries a game over that nine-game span.

We still expect Turner to gain 1,000 rushing yards and score close to 10 touchdowns, but he should only be drafted in Round 2 of standard leagues and closer to Round 5 in PPR formats since he doesn't catch the ball (40 receptions in four years in Atlanta). Many people will still gladly take Turner as a starting option, which is fine. Just don't expect to see him on my team this year unless he falls to me in a favorable spot.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Matt Ryan 6
Running Backs
Michael Turner 2
Jacquizz Rodgers ND
Jason Snelling ND
Wide Receivers
Roddy White 2
Julio Jones 3
Harry Douglas ND
Kevin Cone ND
Tight Ends
Tony Gonzalez 11
Kickers/Defense
Matt Bryant 14
Falcons DST ND
ND - not expected to get drafted

Sleeper ... Jacquizz Rodgers, running back
The Falcons are desperate to get Rodgers more involved this year, and we hope it happens. He has plenty of potential to play at a Darren Sproles-like level. The Falcons want to reduce the workload for Turner, and using Rodgers is a great alternative, especially if they want to open up the passing game. He's fast and can make plays out of the backfield, and he could be Atlanta's third-best receiving option behind White and Jones. He had a down rookie year with only 205 rushing yards and one touchdown and 21 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown, but he has the chance for 1,000 total yards if given enough touches. He's never going to score a lot of touchdowns, especially with Turner healthy and Jason Snelling still in the mix, but he could be useful in PPR formats with a late-round pick. We don't expect him to get drafted in the majority of leagues, but he could be someone to add off the waiver wire.

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Breakout ... Julio Jones, wide receiver
Jones was so good to close the season last year that if he continues on that pace he would be the best receiver in the NFL, including Calvin Johnson. In his last four games against Carolina, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, Jones had 20 catches for 393 yards and six touchdowns. He had 71 Fantasy points over that span and 34 targets. Roddy White remains the No. 1 option in the passing game for the Falcons (he led the NFL in targets the past two seasons), but Jones isn't far behind. Overall, Jones had seven games with double digits in Fantasy points, but he missed three games due to hamstring problems. If he can play 16 games he's going to post outstanding stats, and we like him as a low-end No. 1 Fantasy receiver. Look for Jones to be drafted in Round 3 at the latest, and he will likely come off the board just after White is selected toward the end of Round 2.

Bust ... Tony Gonzalez, tight end
Gonzalez was impressive yet again in 2011 as he finished as the No. 5 tight end in standard leagues. He had at least 80 catches for the sixth time in his career, at least 875 yards for the eighth time and at least seven touchdowns for the seventh time. But Gonzalez is headed for a decline in production, and the main reason why is the development of Jones. Gonzalez had five games with double digits in Fantasy points last year, but only three of them came when Jones was completely healthy. When Jones went on his tear to close the season, Gonzalez had 14 catches for 145 yards and no touchdowns on just 23 targets. Now, Gonzalez is going to remain a No. 1 Fantasy option, but he's not Top 5 or even Top 10 material. We would draft Gonzalez with only a late-round pick, and he's in the conversation with younger options like Brent Celek, Fred Davis, Jermaine Gresham, Brandon Pettigrew, Jacob Tamme and Coby Fleener. Those other tight ends might have more upside.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@KC DEN @SD CAR @WAS OAK bye @PHI DAL @NO ARI @TB NO @CAR NYG @DET TB
The Falcons have the best schedule in the league for Fantasy. The Falcons play one divisional foe and all four AFC West teams before their Week 7 bye. That should translate into an unbelievable start for their entire offense. And it's not like they'll be expected to slow down after the bye, but it does get a little bit tougher with games against the Eagles, Giants and two showdowns with the Saints. Still, that's not bad. The Falcons have a dome-friendly offense and seven of their final nine games are indoors. Their Week 17 home game vs. Tampa Bay could be a wasted matchup for those owners who are done with their leagues by then.

Training camp topics

All we've been doing here is raving about the weapons in the passing game and the decline headed for Turner. So where does that leave Ryan? Fantasy owners should consider him a solid Fantasy option and great value on Draft Day.

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Michael Turner 301 carries, 17 catches
Roddy White 100 catches
Tony Gonzalez 80 catches
Jacquizz Rodgers 57 carries, 21 catches
Julio Jones 54 catches, 6 carries

While other owners reach for guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford in the first two rounds or wait a few rounds later to draft Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers or Peyton Manning, you can sit back and wait for Ryan around Round 6 or 7. He will post similar stats to the latter group, especially with his receiving corps (he passed for a career-high 4,177 yards with 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last year).

In the 13 games he played with White, Jones and Gonzalez last season he averaged 267 passing yards and two touchdowns per game. His offensive line should be improved this year, and the addition of Dirk Koetter as his offensive coordinator should bring some new wrinkles. They also have a nice schedule that includes 10 indoor games.

So go into Draft Day with the idea of selecting at least two good running backs and receivers and maybe a tight end before landing Ryan in Round 6. You'll end up with a standout Fantasy quarterback, and he might be the best value pick at his position.

Injury update

No significant injuries

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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