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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
Jaguars relying on young WRs Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:54 pm ET) The Jaguars will be young at wide receiver this year, but that doesn't concern the team. 

The Jaguars don't have a receiver with more than 59 career receptions on the roster. The team is relying heavily on a trio of second-year players in Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson

"Those guys all had 40-some catches," general manager David Caldwell said, per ESPN. "It’s not like they didn’t produce at all or missed a whole year. They did some good things ... They’re no longer young guys. They have to be our veterans."


Raiders sign draft pick Neiron Ball
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:46 pm ET) The Raiders signed their fifth-round draft pick, Neiron Ball , the team announced

Ball is a linebacker out of Florida. With his signing, the Raiders have seven of their 10 picks from the 2015 draft under contract. 


Eagles DB Maxwell: 'We're going to do big things here'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:45 pm ET) Byron Maxwell knows what it takes to win big. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks two seasons ago and was one play away from winning a second last year.

Maxwell wants to continue his tradition of winning with the Eagles. The Eagles signed Maxwell to a six-year, $60 million contract this offseason in hopes he can help get them to the playoffs.

"I'm starting to get adjusted to Philadelphia. I love this city. I love the people around here. It's cool," Maxwell said. "I think we're going to do big things around here." "I'm starting to get adjusted to Philadelphia. I love this city. I love the people around here. It's cool," Maxwell said. "I think we're going to do big things around here."

Maxwell recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games played last season. And though he just got a huge contract, he still motivated to getting that second Super Bowl ring.

"I'm more addicted to that feeling of getting another one. Winning is addicting. The fun is in the winning. I'm chasing after that," Maxwell said. "I'm excited about the season."


Colts' Phillip Dorsett has impressed at team OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:28 pm ET) Rookie wide receiver Phillip Dorsett is not experiencing any rookie blues early on with the Colts, per ESPN.com.

The first-round pick out of the University of Miami wrapped up an impressive week of organized team activities, leaving a good impression on his veteran teammates.

"It's definitely not too big for him," quarterback Andrew Luck said about the receiver. "He fits in very, very well."

Dorsett averaged more than 24 yards per catch during his last season as a Hurricane, a stat that if he maintains as a Colt will get him on the field despite a talented group of receivers.

"I feel like I'm getting it pretty well," he said. "I came from a pro-style offense with a lot of concepts in college. It's basically the same concepts just different names. There's a lot more verbiage and differently terminology. So it's something that you just have to learn and get used to it."


After emergency surgery, Jets' Rontez Miles optimistic for another shot
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:15 pm ET) Jets safety Rontez Miles is lucky to have another chance in the NFL. A freak injury last season almost took this opportunity away, per ESPN.com.

Just before Miles was to make his 2014 debut last December, he suffered what appeared to be a basic calf bruise after a collision with teammate Marcus Williams. He soon realized this was no regular injury. Miles developed compartment syndrome, meaning the blood flow to his calf was restricted because of a buildup of pressure.

Miles was rushed to a hospital and underwent emergency surgery.

"It could've been amputated or the muscle could've been destroyed," Miles said after Wednesday's organized team activities. "It could've been a couple of months or a year or so of recovery, and it would've been hard to come back from that."

Miles has been fighting for a spot on the Jets' roster for the better part of two years. He played in one game in 2013 and was ready for another chance last season before his freak injury. His goal will be even harder now because the safety position is now very crowded, but that won't deter Miles.

"Hey, I can't complain," Miles said. "I'm here and I'm playing football."


Extension for Marshal Yanda will cost Ravens
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:52 am ET) The Ravens want to sign guard Marshal Yanda to a contract extension, but the price-tag could be significant, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Yanda is in the final season of a five-year, $32.5 million contract he signed in 2011. The four-time Pro Bowl selection will turn 31 years old in September so his side will not look to compromise in the negotiations.

Mike Iupati, a three-time Pro Bowl guard, signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Cardinals at the start of free agency. The Chargers signed Orlando Franklin to a five-year, $36.5 million free-agent contract this offseason. Those deals set the bar high for the Ravens to retain one the NFL's premier guards.

Yanda was recently named the fifth-best player in the NFL by Profootballfocus.com.


Michael Sam finds new home with CFL's Alouettes
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:13 am ET) Michael Sam signed a two-year deal with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes on Friday.

The former joint SEC Defensive Player of the Year participated in the NFL's first-ever veterans combine earlier this year, where he was confident he would be playing professional football again.

“I am very excited and proud to join the Montreal Alouettes and want to thank team Owner Robert Wetenhall, General Manager Jim Popp and Head Coach Tom Higgins for this opportunity,” Sam said. “I cannot wait to put on the pads, get back on the field and work hard each and every day with my teammates to bring a Grey Cup to the great fans here in Montreal.”

Sam was drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Rams before the team ultimately cut him. He joined the Cowboys' practice squad before being released in October.

CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora first reported Sam's signing.


New Broncos S Stewart: 'It's my position to lose'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:30 am ET) Adapting to the playing conditions in Denver is proven to be difficult. Newly-signed safety Darian Stewart isn't concerned by that one bit, according to ESPN.com.

Broncos strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson warns all the new arrivals that is that athletic life a mile above sea level is very different and much drier than other locations. 

Stewart got the picture.

“You dehydrate pretty quickly, so you definitely have to stay hydrated," Stewart said. “Being up here and getting acclimated to the weather has been good. It’s going to help me when we go down south to wherever we have to play at."

Regardless of the new conditions, Stewart, who started 14 games last season for the Ravens, believes he will be the top guy at his position when the season rolls around.

“It’s my position, it’s my position to lose," Stewart said. "When I line up, I feel like at this level you’ve got to have confidence. When I signed here, I knew it was my job … I’m feeling well. Last year I was feeling well and it’s all about just staying consistent.’’

Stewart recorded 53 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 16 games last season.


Report: Cowboys and CB Orlando Scandrick agree to extension
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:51 am ET) The Cowboys and cornerback Orlando Scandrick have a agreed to a new contract extension, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. It's a one-year, $9.5 million extension worth $20 million in total for Scandrick.

Scandrick recently reported to team workouts after a brief holdout that caused him to forfeit $500,000 of his base salary. The 28-year-old is expected to sign new his deal on Friday.

Arguably the Cowboys' best cornerback, Scandrick was scheduled to make $1.5 million this season and still had four years left on his current deal.

Scandrick recorded 55 tackles with two interceptions in 14 games last season.


Report: Cowboys try out RB Daniel Thomas
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) The Cowboys are in the market for another running back with Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle as their top three guys at the moment. 

Therefore, Dallas could be looking to add another. According to The Baltimore Sun and National Football Post's Aaron Wilson, the Cowboys worked out running back Daniel Thomas on Thursday. 

Thomas was with the Dolphins the previous four years and totaled 1,480 career yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. The Cowboys also worked out Ben Tate and Felix Jones. 


 
 
 
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