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Offseason Primers: Atlanta Falcons

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Falcons entered 2012 with designs of making the Super Bowl.

They almost accomplished their mission, falling just short in the NFC title game at their place against the 49ers. But the lofty expectations they had for themselves were equaled to the high Fantasy Football projections nearly every member of their offense had back before the season began.

The good news is that most of the Falcons' standout players hit their expectations.

Matt Ryan led the way, improving his passing yardage and touchdowns for the fourth straight season. He also attempted 615 passes -- a career high -- while completing an awesome 68.6 percent of them. That's an outstanding sign that he's not only in an offense unafraid to throw the ball but also a passer who is capable of racking up numbers efficiently. He was one of four quarterbacks to total 20-plus Fantasy points in 10 or more games.

With his success came big stats for his top receivers -- Julio Jones and Roddy White -- as well as future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. The wideouts each went for well over 1,100 yards and at least seven touchdowns each and Gonzo especially posted surprising totals as his eight touchdowns, 93 catches and 930 yards were the most for him since he became a Falcon.

2012 Touches Leaders
800 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Michael Turner 241 (222 car., 19 rec.) 30.1%
Jacquizz Rodgers 147 (94 car., 53 rec.) 18.4%
Tony Gonzalez 93 rec. 11.6%
Roddy White 92 rec. 11.5%
Julio Jones 85 (79 rec., 6 car.) 10.6%
Harry Douglas 40 (38 rec., 2 car.) 5.0%
All Others 102 12.8%

Where the passing offense shined, the run game faltered. Michael Turner, fresh off of consecutive 1,300-yard rushing seasons, struggled to run well on a consistent basis and needed every bit of 10 rushing touchdowns to buoy his stats. He had 10 or more Fantasy points in half of his games in 2012 -- including four straight from Weeks 2 through 5 -- but managed to hit that mark four times in his final 11 games. With a 3.6 rushing average and his game clearly taking a step back, the team cut him in early March. Unfortunately, the guy who could have unseated Turner as the primary back in Atlanta -- Jacquizz Rodgers -- didn't make the most of his opportunities. The team addressed the position this offseason by signing veteran Steven Jackson to serve as their primary rusher. It's the perfect signing for a team in win-now mode.

The Falcons' defense will also undergo some tinkering after they failed to record even 35 sacks for the sixth straight season. Despite a lack of a consistent pass rush the secondary played very well. Atlanta's defense totaled 20 interceptions and allowed a league-low 14 touchdowns through the air -- only three times did it allow a quarterback to throw multiple scores in a game. Losing cornerbacks Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens could sting, and adding pass rusher Osi Umenyiora could go either way. If Atlanta adds more the defense could be a monster in 2013.

Jacquizz Rodgers -- Bust

2012 Target Leaders
615 pass attempts
Roddy White 143 23.3%
Julio Jones 129 20.9%
Tony Gonzalez 124 20.1%
Jacquizz Rodgers 59 9.6%
Harry Douglas 59 9.6%
Michael Turner 30 4.9%%
All Others 71 11.6%%

Rodgers had ample opportunities to make plays this season and couldn't get it done. There were weeks he played as much as Turner but wasn't as productive. Really, he proved he can be a capable third-down back, not an every-down back. Plus for a guy who's supposed to have incredible speed, his 3.9 rushing average and four plays of 20-plus yards (Turner had six!) left a lot to be desired. Rodgers is signed through the 2014 season at a cheap rate, so he's going to stay involved in the Falcons offense, but he'll only be "the guy" if he's pressed into action because of injuries. The Falcons thought so much of Rodgers that they signed veteran Steven Jackson to come in and lead the rushing attack and work as a receiver, a role Rodgers had a monopoly on. Expect 'Quizz' to go in the middle-to-late rounds as the handcuff for S-Jax.

Matt Ryan -- Draft Day target

Ryan set personal bests in yardage (4,719), yards per attempt (7.67) and touchdowns (32) in 2012, all while setting career highs in pass attempts and completions. Like we said, he's improved statistically each of his last four years and he'll enter this season in a contract year, much like Joe Flacco did for the Ravens in 2012. The Falcons aren't about to change gears and become a more run-oriented team, and even though the expected departure of Tony Gonzalez will leave a hole in the offense, the team should be able to replace him effectively (they do have two great receivers after all) and that means no major drop-off for Ryan's numbers. Fantasy owners won't be fixated on taking quarterbacks early in drafts this season, pushing the talent down to incredible values. Last year Ryan was picked at 32nd overall on average. We think he could fall even lower this season only because he's at such a deep position. That makes him a guy to target on Draft Day as a value selection starting early in Round 4.

Tony Gonzalez -- Still worth it

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Matt Ryan 35-45 overall
Steven Jackson 15-25 overall
Jacquizz Rodgers 115-125 overall
Julio Jones 25-35 overall
Roddy White 30-40 overall
Tony Gonzalez 60-70 overall
Matt Bryant Late-round pick
Falcons DST Undrafted
Tony Gonzalez announced in mid-March he was coming back for his 17th season, and outside of Matt Ryan and die-hard Falcons fans, no one should be happier than Fantasy owners. Gonzalez floruished in 2012 because Roddy White and Julio Jones forced safeties to play back, opening up the middle for him (he often did well in single coverage against those safeties anyway). Per ProFootballFocus.com, Gonzalez played on 91.5 percent of snaps over the course of the year, including the playoffs. He lined up in-line nearly half of the time (48 pct.), in the slot 44 pct. of the time and split out wide 8 pct. of the time. Expecting that same amount of playing time from Gonzalez, who by all accounts isn't slowing down whatsoever, is fine. But expecting him to post all-world numbers is another story. The touchdowns could be there but the yardage and receptions might take a small tumble. Still, his ability and opportunity to help this awesome Falcons offense can't be ignored, which is why he might be the first non-quarterback over the age of 36 since Jerry Rice to warrant a Top-75 pick. Don't fear the age, embrace the consistency of what Gonzalez can do for your Fantasy team.

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

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Player News
Andre Williams could surprise again
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:58 pm ET) Though I don't know that he's ready for a platoon role, believing his strong showing Week 4 at Washington happened mainly because the Giants saw fit to rest their starting running back in a blowout, rookie Andre Williams has the perfect matchup to make the most of whatever opportunities he gets Week 5 against Atlanta. The Falcons rank 28th against the run, allowing 153.5 yards per game, and have given up nine touchdowns on the ground, four more than any other team.

Even better, they've been sort of the magic elixir for running back tandems this season. Not only did the Vikings' Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon both have big games against them last week, the former rushing for 78 yards and three touchdowns and the latter rushing for 135 yards, but the Bengals' Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill both had big games against them in Week 2, the former rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown and the latter rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Of the two lead CBSSports.com Fantasy Football analysts, Jamey Eisenberg ranks Williams the highest for this week, placing him 28th among running backs, so we're talking little more than an emergency flex option in standard 12-team leagues. Still, you wouldn't be completely out of your mind to play him coming off last week's performance.


Rashad Jennings should come roaring back
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:39 pm ET) After being limited to just three touches in the second half of a blowout victory Week 4 at Washington, Giants running back Rashad Jennings has a chance to get back in his Fantasy owners' good graces in Week 5. He'll be facing a Falcons defense that just gave up 241 rushing yards to the Vikings, making them 28th against the run. They've also allowed nine touchdowns on the ground, four more than any other team.

Because rookie Andre Williams performed so well in relief of Jennings last week, rushing for 66 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, you may be worried the two will split carries in some form or fashion going forward. While I don't think that's much of a concern -- Williams was already getting 5-10 carries a game and not doing much with them -- I'm not sure it really matters with this matchup. The Falcons have been the magic elixir for running back tandems this season. Not only did the Vikings' Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon both have big games against them last week, the former rushing for 78 yards and three touchdowns and the latter rushing for 135 yards, but the Bengals' Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill both had big games against them in Week 2, the former rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown and the latter rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Jennings among their top six running backs for Week 5, and I agree wholeheartedly. He remains a must-start despite the disappointment of last week.


Alfred Morris running into tough matchup
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(5:57 pm ET) For as good as Alfred Morris is, owning him in Fantasy can leave you disappointed at times, given the Redskins' sometimes-inconsistent usage of him. You might want to skip the headache in Week 5, with the Seahawks on the way Monday night.

Morris has been productive in each game so far, and currently ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yardage through four games. Unfortunately, he faces one of the toughest tests in the league this week. The Seahawks have yet to allow an opposing running back to score even six points this season, and their lone touchdown allowed came from little-used Packers fullback John Kuhn in Week 1. Morris has yet to face Seattle in his career, and they are unlikely to give him a very warm welcome.

Morris is nearly a must-start Fantasy option on a weekly basis, but this is one time you might want to avoid relying on him. The workload should be there, but Morris ranks outside of the top-30 for running backs in both Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard's Week 5 rankings.   


Jets add LeQuan Lewis, subtract Brandon Smith
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:55 pm ET) The Jets signed cornerback LeQuan Lewis to their practice squad and released corner Brandon Smith from the squad, reports the New York Daily News.

Panthers add Tauren Poole, Horace Miller to practice squad
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:50 pm ET) The Panthers signed running back Tauren Poole and linebacker Horace Miller to their practice squad.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins an interesting long-term prospect
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(5:48 pm ET) Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins returned from a foot injury and immediately served as a key part of the offense in Week 4. Does the rookie second-rounder have sleeper Fantasy potential moving forward?

Seferian-Jenkins was targeted on seven of quarterback Mike Glennon's 42 throws in Sunday's game, a number that left him third on the team. He brought in three of those passes, a decent number considering Glennon struggled with his accuracy all game. The fact that Glennon looked his way so often might be a good sign, since it was the pair's first game together.

After a collegiate career that saw him total 1,840 yards in three seasons, Seferian-Jenkins has a chance to become a big part of this Tampa Bay offense. However, he obviously has a lot to prove before you want to rely on him. Keep an eye on Seferian-Jenkins' play in Week 5 against the Saints, and consider adding him if he and Glennon show a good rapport. 


Lions put Montell Owens on IR
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:47 pm ET) The Lions put running back Montell Owens on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, ending his season.

LaMichael James signs with Dolphins
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:42 pm ET) Former 49ers running back LaMichael James signed with the Dolphins, reports Fox Sports. San Francisco released the oft-injured back following the season opener.

Luke Willson has a lot to prove with increased role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(5:35 pm ET) The Seahawks will turn to Luke Willson to start at tight end in the coming weeks, with Zach Miller sidelined by ankle surgery. Should Fantasy owners take notice?

Miller had logged 83.5 percent of the team's snaps through three games, so Willson should be in line for a much larger role as the starter. Of course, Miller was nearly a nonfactor in the passing game so far, having been targeted just seven times. Between he and Willson, quarterback Russell Wilson has targeted tight ends just eight times on 87 attempts, after 20.6 percent of his passes went their way a year ago.

Willson might be the better pass catcher of the Seahawks tight end tandem, but we don't have much to go on here. There are better tight end options worth targeting on waivers, at least until Willson proves himself. 


Christian Ponder preparing to start
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:28 pm ET) Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder took the first-team reps Monday and Tuesday while rookie Teddy Bridgewater watched with an ankle injury. "I'm preparing to play, but we're hoping the best for Teddy," Ponder told reporters.

"I've talked to Teddy. He's doing everything he can to prepare and be ready to play."

Ponder has started 35 games, but none with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. He could be under center Thursday in Green Bay. "It's a very different style of offense than what we've ran the previous three years," Ponder said. "Without Adrian [Peterson], it's different. Defenses play us differently without Adrian. I'm comfortable and fit well in it."


 
 
 
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