|By Rusty Reeves, Tuesday, July 8, 2014|
QB Matt Ryan - Solid/Safe Pick
BOUNCE-BACK: Matt Ryan was viewed as a bit of a letdown in 2013. Coming off career highs in passing yards and touchdowns in 2012, everyone and their brother had Ryan projected to be one of the elite QBs. He passed for 200 fewer yards, six fewer touchdowns and threw three more interceptions. We're optimists here, and we have Ryan ranked as the No. 7 QB for 2014 for a reason: he and his offensive playmakers can be really good. He was without stud WR Julio Jones for 11 games. WR Roddy White played through nagging injuries and didn't truly get healthy until the last few games of the year. RB Steven Jackson was supposed to give the Falcons a running game that would help them open it up a bit, but he tore his hammy in Week 2 and ultimately missed four games. The offensive line was like a piece of Swiss cheese, allowing 44 sacks (third worst in the league). Despite all this, Ryan still finished fourth in the league in passing yards (4,515) and ninth in TDs (26). White and Jackson should be back this year. The offensive line was addressed in the off-season.
Editor's note: Last year, the Falcons bottomed out offensively. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ryan will lead Atlanta to an improved record and a more effecient offense. Injuries would have to pile up yet again for Ryan to be denied.
RB Steven Jackson - Over the Hill (decreased production)
NOT DONE YET: Let's try this again! Jackson enters the 2014 campaign with something to prove to Falcons fans. After tearing his hamstring in Week 2, Jackson was largely a waste of roster space the rest of the way. He finished with 543 rushing yards (a career-low) and it was his first season under 1,000 yards since his rookie year. Jackson's age (30) is the biggest concern, along with all those huge workloads over the years. To his credit though, Jackson is a student of the game and works as hard as anyone in the league; however, 30-year-old RBs aren't typically "getting better." If he can stay healthy, he could reach the 1,000 yard mark again. The Falcons addressed their offensive line issues in the offseason and their passing attack will keep defenses honest, so Jackson should have every opportunity to succeed this season. He is an RB3 for our fantasy purposes.
Editor's note: The same appeal from last season applies once again. Jackson was supposed to reinvigorate a running game recently vacated by Michael Turner. WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White draw the defense away from the box, creating more rushing lanes for SJax to plow through. There's still some potential here, especially with an ADP of 106.23.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers - Bye Week Fill-in
Jacquizz Rodgers is a prototype backup running back. He rarely gets an opportunity to start, but he's always drafted in fantasy leagues. The main reason for this is that he's an effective pass-blocker and a good pass-catcher. His inability to hit holes and pick up extra yards as a runner limits his ability to be a feature back. However, he has caught over 50 passes each of the last two seasons, so he has a little value on rosters in deeper PPR leagues. He's not a guy you'd be excited to start, but if you had CJ Spiller or Doug Martin last year, Rodgers was probably someone you'd love to have been getting eight points per game from. He is the same guy this year, with a rookie challenging him. His value is limited.
RB Devonta Freeman - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
POSSIBLE EARLY DYNASTY IMPACT: Rookie RBs always get people excited. They typically are called "sleepers" when they're the backup. Rookie RBs backing up 30-year-old starters? We like to dub them "super-sleepers." After racking up over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns in 14 games his final season at Florida State., Freeman was snagged by the Falcons with the third pick in the fourth round of the NFL draft. He should start to share third-down duties with Jacquizz Rodgers and challenge for more and more playing time. Should the 30-year-old Jackson miss any time for injuries (likely), Freeman can be a dangerous playmaker. With fresh legs, a nose for the end-zone and a good offense, all he needs is an opportunity.
WR Julio Jones - Stud (low risk)
COMEBACK PLAYER CANDIDATE: Jones was on his way to a monster season last year, averaging eight catches for 116 yards through the Falcons first five games. Then, he broke his foot and never saw the field agaiN. Jones is one of the elite talents at the wide receiver position and all reports are communicating he will be back to 100-percent by the start of the season. Jones is a Top 5 WR in any format and should get back to doing what it took to crack 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in 2012 (more than likely surpassing those totals greatly). Now 25 years old, Jones should be entering his athletic prime. He must stay healthy. Another injury-plagued season would practically destroy his fantasy value into the years to come.
Editor's note: The former Crimson Tide receiver skipped OTAs. He probably won't participate in training camp either. This should be a concern since he will have to knock the rust off during the regular season, but Jones is just so talented and athletic that it may not even matter.
WR Roddy White - Solid/Safe Pick
White was about as tough as it gets last year. He missed two games on the season; a lesser man would have missed more time. Once he was at his healthiest, White averaged over eight catches and 100 yards in the last five games of the season. With running mate Julio Jones back, expect White to continue the 2014 season in the fashion he ended the 2013 year. Keep in mind at the time, he wanted to maintain his consecutive games streak. This stubbornness kept him on the field, but ultimately led to really underwhelming production. Back at full steam, White is a solid WR2.
WR Harry Douglas - Deep-league Only
The former Louisville receiver should have been the 2013 recipient of the "Make the Most of Your Opportunities" award! Douglas' 85 receptions and 1,067 yards led the team in both categories. At just 6-foot, he lacks the size to be a consistent red zone threat, as evidenced by him only having six TD catches in his five-year career. Unfortunately, with a healthy Julio Jones, Roddy White, and even Steven Jackson back in the mix, Douglas is reduced to a 40-catch, 500-yard guy with would be lucky to score more than one TD. Like last season, he only gains fantasy value if someone is injured ahead of him on the depth chart.
WR Drew Davis - Not Draft Worthy
Davis caught a career high five balls for 77 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons' Week 8 game against Arizona last year. Other than that, he was largely irrelevant. Heading into 2014, the same can be expected.
TE Levine Toilolo - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Someone has to play the position vacated by future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. There is so much excitement about the guy taking the place of Gonzalez (who had 83 catches, 859 yards and eight TDs in his final season) that in a recent FFWC Draft, he was the 30th TE off the board, going in the 23rd round out of 28. All sarcasm aside, Toilolo is not likely to be a relevant fanatasy player this season, no matter whose place he's taking. He is large (6-foot-8, 265 lbs), but all that's getting him is extra blocking assignments this year.
TE Bear Pascoe - Not Draft Worthy
The Falcons' TE situation is just bad, especially for fantasy. Pascoe has been used as a blocker for all of his career and little else. While Levine Toilolo's fantasy value is minimal, he looks like Jimmy Graham compared to Pascoe.
PK Matt Bryant - Sleeper (undervalued)
Bryant is a good kicker, even at 39 years of age. He is still very accurate (made at least 86.8-percent of his kicks over his last four seasons), plays in a dome, and the Falcons should score more points this year than last. This all should come together in a beneficial way for his production. He has a chance to rebound after a less-than-stellar 2013.
Atlanta - Quality Backup
The Falcons' defense was one of the worst in the league in 2013 -- giving up 27.7 points per game. They attempted to address this in the offseason by signing two of the top DTs available in free agency (Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai) and spending seven of their nine draft picks on defensive players. It is hard to gauge how they'll gel as a unit, but the moves were made to address the team's weakness. Can't fault them for trying. In leagues that hold their playoffs in Weeks 14 to 16, the Falcons would be a team to avoid. They will be going up against former Super Bowl-winning QBs in all those games: playing at Green Bay, home against Pittsburgh and at New Orleans. That's a tall order for any defense. The one thing the DST does have going for it is the addition of KR/PR Devin Hester. He was one of the best to ever do it.