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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
Report: Ray Rice files grievance against Ravens
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) Running back Ray Rice has filed a grievance against the Ravens challenging the team's decision to terminate his contract in early September, Pro Football Talk reports.

Rice is arguing that the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows just one penalty per infraction. The league suspended the former Raven two games after reviewing the domestic-violence incident, but after a second video of the same incident was brought to light in the public forum, Rice was cut by the team and suspended indefinitely by the league.

Rice's grievance against the league is set for Nov. 5 and 6, while his grievance against the Ravens doesn't have a scheduled date for resolution. He'll look to seek the salary he would have earned if he had been reinstated in Week 3 in his grievance against the Ravens.


Arians: Cardinals TE Troy Niklas unlikely to return in Week 8
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians indicated Tuesday that tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) is unlikely to play in Week 8 against the Eagles, FOXSports.com reports.

Niklas has missed the last two weeks after suffering an ankle sprain. He has one reception for 16 yards on the season.


Report: Patriots expected to sign DE Alan Branch
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) The Patriots are expected to sign free-agent defensive end Alan Branch, the Boston Globe reports.

Branch was released by the Bills after a DUI arrest in August. The Patriots reportedly are going to be without defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) for about a month, leaving a need to add depth on the defensive line.


Report: Patriots DE Chandler Jones (hip) out multiple weeks
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones missed practice Tuesday with a hip injury and is expected to be sidelined for about a month, the Boston Globe reports.

Jones recorded four tackles and a sack in the team's Week 7 win over the Jets last Thursday after entering the contest listed as probable. He has posted 4.5 sacks over six games this season.


Panthers LB Luke Kuechly to avoid fine after ejection
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly will not be fined for making contact with an official during his team's Week 7 loss to the Packers, NFL.com reports.

Kuechly was ejected from Sunday's game after the incident, which the linebacker contends happened because he wasn't aware it was an official pulling him from behind after a play. Panthers coach Ron Rivera disagreed with the decision to eject Kuechly and predicted the linebacker wouldn't face a fine.


Seahawks sign TE Brett Brackett, waive TE RaShaun Allen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) The Seahawks claimed tight end Brett Brackett off waivers from Tennessee Tuesday and waived tight end RaShaun Allen. Brackett played two games with the Titans before being waived Monday.

Colts add Jeff Demps, Konrad Reuland to practice squad
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) The Colts signed running back/return specialist Jeff Demps and tight end Konrad Reuland to the practice squad Tuesday, the team announced. The team released quarterback Dominique Davis and wide receiver Chandler Jones to make room for the new additions.

Identifying a few streaming DST options
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) If you need to pick up and play a DST unit in Week 8, Jamey Eisenberg identifies three worth snagging in his waiver-wire column: the Colts (59 percent owned) in Pittsburgh, the Cowboys (43 percent) against Washington, and the Dolphins (36 percent) in Jacksonville.

Hitting the wire for tight ends
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) With how up-and-down many tight ends have been this season, identifying the right ones on waivers can be a key. In his Week 8 waiver-wire column, Jamey Eisenberg tries to pin down the best ones for you to target this week.

Ravens tight end Owen Daniels, coming off a six-catch performance with a touchdown in Week 7, is the top pick for the 41 percent of CBSSports.com leagues in which he is available. A big reason why is a matchup against the Bengals, who have allowed four double-digit Fantasy scoring games by tight ends this season.

The remainder of the top five for the week is rounded out by Coby Fleener of the Colts (44 percent owned), Charles Clay of the Dolphins (34 percent), Jared Cook of the Rams (47 percent) and Kyle Rudolph of the Vikings (32 percent), who makes more sense as a stash option if you can afford the roster space. 


Prioritizing waiver-wire picks at wide receiver
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10/21/2014) In his Week 8 waiver-wire column, Jamey Eisenberg takes a look at the wide receivers most worth adding ahead of this week's games.

The list is headlined by new Seahawks' No. 1 Doug Baldwin (33 percent owned), with Odell Beckham (68 percent) of the Giants, Davante Adams (21 percent) of the Packers, Allen Robinson (34 percent) of the Jaguars and Brandon LaFell (56 percent) of the Patriots rounding out the remainder of the top five.

If you need to drop someone to make room for any pickups this week, he also recommends possibly parting ways with the Vikings' Cordarrelle Patterson (81 percent) or the Steelers' Markus Wheaton (35 percent). 


 
 
 
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