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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
Zach Ertz keeps making big plays
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:15 am ET) Tight end Zach Ertz has turned into the Eagles' big-play receiver. He averaged 21.5 yards on his four catches Week 2 at Indianapolis after averaging 25.7 yards per reception Week 1.

Ertz didn't find the end zone Monday night like he did in the opener, but he again showed off his huge catch radius and his 24-yard reception set up the winning field goal. He drew six targets, third-most on the team. Ertz plays the Redskins in Week 3.


LeSean McCoy goes over 100 total yards with a touchdown
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) Eagles running back LeSean McCoy produced another solid, if not spectacular, performance Week 2 at Indianapolis. McCoy ran 20 times for 79 yards, punching in a 1-yard touchdown, and caught four passes for 23 yards.

McCoy was targeted five times and took a back seat in the passing game to running back Darren Sproles, who caught all seven of his targets for 152 yards.

McCoy will go for his first 100-yard rushing game Sunday against the Redskins.


Andrew Luck delivers three more touchdowns
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:03 am ET) After accounting for three touchdowns in the season opener, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw three short scoring passses in Monday night's 30-27 loss to the Eagles. It was Luck's fifth career game with at least three touchdown passes.

Luck completed 20 of 34 throws for 172 yards and rushed four times for 20 yards. However, Luck was picked off in the fourth quarter with Indy driving to put the game away. Receiver T.Y. Hilton was clearly held on the play, but no flag was thrown.

Luck found running back Ahmad Bradshaw for two of his touchdowns, tight end Jack Doyle for the other. Luck visits the Jaguars in Week 3 looking for his first victory of the season.

Nick Foles throws for 331 yards in comeback win
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/15/2014) Eagles quarterback Nick Foles made big throws down the stretch in leading his team to a 30-27 comeback win in Indianapolis. After passing for 322 yards in the opener, Foles completed 21 of 37 throws for 331 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Foles ranks second in the league with 653 passing yards, trailing only Matt Ryan. While he missed some throws in the first half against the Colts, Foles also was victimized by his receivers. Riley Cooper dropped a 20-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and tight end Brent Celek later dropped a short scoring toss.

Foles finally threw a touchdown with 3:25 left when he threaded a 6-yard strike to Jeremy Maclin. On the winning field goal drive, Foles lofted a 24-yarder to tight end Zach Ertz. Foles did his best work with Darren Sproles, finding the scatback on short throws that yielded 57- and 51-yard gains.

Foles plays Washington in Week 3.


Darren Sproles goes off for 152 receiving yards
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/15/2014) Eagles coach Chip Kelly knows how to create mismatches with Darren Sproles, and Sproles exploited nearly every one of them in Monday's 30-27 win in Indianapolis. The diminutive running back caught seven passes for a career-high 152 yards and rushed four times for 26 yards and a touchdown.

Counting his 25 yards on four punt returns, Sproles amassed 203 total yards. Sproles got going on the Eagles' second drive, beating linebacker Josh McNary on a crossing route and racing 57 yards. Late in the third quarter, Sproles bounced off three tacklers for a 19-yard touchdown run.

He scooted 51 yards on a screen pass in the fourth quarter, sparking a touchdown drive that tied it at 27. With under two minutes left, Sproles took another screen 17 yards to set up the winning field goal. It was a virtuoso performance by Sproles, who caught all seven of his targets. All but four of his receiving yards came after the catch.

He'll take on the Redskins in Week 3.


Mychal Kendricks hobbles off
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/15/2014) Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks hobbled off the field in the third quarter of Monday's game at Indy with a calf injury. At the time, Kendricks was tied for the team lead with seven tackles. He had one tackle for loss and a pass defensed.

Arthur Jones has high ankle sprain
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/15/2014) Colts defensive end Arthur Jones suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half of Monday's game against the Eagles, reports the Indianapolis Star.

Arthur Jones taken for X-rays
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/15/2014) Colts defensive end Arthur Jones was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the second quarter against the Eagles. He was taken for X-rays, with his return called questionable.

Julio Jones expected to practice fully Tuesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/15/2014) Falcons receiver Julio Jones (ankle) was limited in practice Monday but is expected to practice in full Tuesday, reports the team's website. Atlanta hosts the Buccaneers on Thursday.

Roddy White held out of practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/15/2014) Falcons receiver Roddy White did not practice Monday due to a hamstring injury, reports the team's website. Atlanta has a short week to prepare for Thursday's home game against the Buccaneers.

 
 
 
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