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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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Player News
QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


Rueben Randle not overshadowed for once
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:08 am ET) Since the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham in Week 9, and especially since his even bigger emergence in Week 12, wide receiver Rueben Randle has been an afterthought in the Giants passing game, averaging 2.3 catches for 31.8 yards in the four games leading up to Week 16 at St. Louis. But quarterback Eli Manning finally had enough yards to go around in that one, delivering Beckham his usual eight grabs for 148 yards and still finding Randle on six passes for 132 yards.

Randle even caught a touchdown pass, his first since Week 5. Of course, Beckham caught two and is now up to eight in his last five games, averaging 9.6 catches for 131.4 yards during that stretch.

You see the problem here, don't you? Manning was able to sustain both Beckham and Randle in this one, but that's only because he threw for a season-high 391 yards. If he regresses to a more modest total Week 17 against Philadelphia, we all know Randle is the one taking a back seat. Beckham has other-worldly talent, and Manning is smart enough to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

Of course, the Giants will probably have to throw a lot to keep pace with the Eagles, which bodes well for Randle, but you should still treat him as no more than a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy.


Odell Beckham making Eli Manning a stud
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 am ET) Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham had another eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns Week 16 at St. Louis, which has become par for the course for him. It was his second straight game and third game in five with more than 140 receiving yards and multiple scores.

What you may not have noticed, though, is that quarterback Eli Manning has taken off during that same stretch. He had a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes. Over his last five games, he has averaged 297.2 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

It stands to reason, of course. Beckham couldn't be putting up all those numbers without someone throwing him the ball. This may be one of those rare cases of the wide receiver making the quarterback as opposed to the other way around. Beckham is clearly a special talent, and Manning has made a point to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

It's reason enough to give Manning another chance Week 17 against Philadelphia if you've been suffering with Matthew Stafford or Colin Kaepernick and are somehow still alive in spite of it.


 
 
 
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