Adam Meyer breaks down the Falcons and their impact on the 2014 fantasy football season.
Julio Jones is poised for a huge year in Atlanta after missing most of 2013 with an injury.
By Adam Meyer
Training camp update (8/8):
The running back position could get hairier before the regular season begins. Steven Jackson is battling a left hamstring injury that has kept him out of practice and will likely miss the first preseason game against the Dolphins. That means more carries for Jaquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman.
As for the receiving corps, Julio Jones is still recovering from the operation on his right foot. The Falcons plan to hold him out of every other practice. Jones still wants to be ready by Week 1 and will likely not play until the third preseason game.
As I mentioned in the original preview, I’m avoiding the Falcons defense in fantasy football. But, if you were thinking they were going to improve through the draft, rookie linebacker Marquis Spruill is out for the season with a torn ACL.
The five year streak of Atlanta finishing with a winning record came to an end last year when the Falcons won only four games. In 2013, even with two banged up receivers, Atlanta ranked 32nd in rushing yards per game (77.9 yards). Through the draft, the Falcons looked to improve the offense with Jake Matthews on the offensive line and a certain running back from a certain championship team.
As a member of the National Champion Seminoles, Freeman rushed for 1,016 yards and 14 TDs. Freeman could find himself second on the depth chart, behind Stephen Jackson, before the 2014 season ends.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan
In his six seasons as the starting QB, Ryan threw the most interceptions of his career (17) last season. Injuries to his top receivers definitely played a factor in Ryan’s season. Harry Douglas was the healthiest option in 2013. This year, with an injury-free receiving group, I expect Ryan to crack the Top-Three in passing yards, behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
Running back: Steven Jackson
It was his first season with Atlanta and Jackson wasn’t his usual self. He failed to reach the 1,000 yard plateau for the first time since 2004. Also, Jackson’s 3.5 yards per carry were the fewest of his career. Even in an offense built around passing, Jackson had his fewest receiving yards (191) since his rookie year. If he only had the 32nd-most attempts (157 rushes) on a team with its two best receivers injured, imagine how much Jackson’s production will suffer when they’re healthy.
Running back: Jacquizz Rodgers
Another reason for Jackson’s lack of success was Rodgers. Though, Rodgers didn’t steal carries, he did have the fourth-most receptions on the team. However, in his final six games of the season, Rodgers didn’t even surpass 50 total yards of offense. He should only be drafted as a late handcuff or final round flier.
Wide receiver: Julio Jones
He’ll be back. Jones only played in five games last year and still managed to record 41 receptions. Before injuring his foot, Jones totaled 60 targets for 580 yards. In 2014, he’ll be a top-tier wide receiver option. I’m projecting Jones to have 1,500 yards and 10 TDs.
White was riddled with injuries last year and his stats reflected how he felt. White caught the fewest passes (63) and collected the fewest yards (711) since his sophomore campaign in 2006. With a healthy Jones and White, defenses will stress about whom to double-cover.
Wide receiver: Harry Douglas
The only player who benefited from his teammates troubles was Douglas. He led the Falcons is targets, receptions, and yards. Douglas also set career-highs with his 2013 season. His 1,067 receiving yards were more than double his best season. Douglas’ 85 receptions were 47 more than his previous season. If anything positive came from the 2013 year, it was that Douglas established himself as a reliable option for Matty Ice in the future.
Tight end: Levine Toilolo
Is he gone? Are you sure? Yes. Tony Gonzalez is no longer playing in the NFL. Now, there’s a massive hole where a dunking, 6’5” tight end once stood. “Obviously, our tight end is probably not going to have 90 catches anymore,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. Toilolo had 50 total catches in three years at Stanford. Last year, in his rookie season, he caught 11 passes for 55 yards.
Placekicker: Matt Bryant
Bryant made a career-high five field goals from 50 yards and greater last season. On the down side, Bryant had his fewest field goal attempts (27) since 2009. He finished 22nd among fantasy kickers. Bryant’s success, as is for all kickers, hinders on his team’s offense. If Ryan, Jones, and White are clicking, Bryant will return to the Top-12.
Team defense (D/ST):
There were six defenses that didn’t reach 100 fantasy points last year and Atlanta was one of them. As soon as the Falcons were able to sign players from free agency, they worked on the defense. Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai look to bolster the line. Until I see some results in the first couple of games, I’m looking elsewhere for my fantasy defense.