Juggernaut Index No. 9: The Atlanta Falcons

Andy Behrens
August 23, 2010
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The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.

If the Falcons manage to keep their marquee skill players healthy in 2010, then they're going to be awfully useful in the imaginary game. Atlanta enters the season as one of only three teams to place two players within the overall fantasy top-25. The Falcons also offer a tight end who ranks sixth at his position on our draft board (first all-time), plus a talented, battle-tested young quarterback who's a steal at his ADP (87.4).

All of these guys dealt with injuries last year, but, as far as we know, they're healthy at the moment. Atlanta is a top-heavy team for fantasy purposes, so this a relatively easy group to spin. Let's take a bulleted approach…

Running back Michael Turner(notes) is an absolute workhorse. Not literally, like with hooves (which would be unfair), but figuratively, like with 20-plus carries per game. He's a punishing runner with an uncommon size/speed ratio. Turner isn't exactly elusive, but that doesn't mean tackling him is a picnic. If you're planning to draft Turner in a standard fantasy league, then you'd better have a top-six pick. The man has reached the end zone 27 times in 27 games for Atlanta, and he's been a very effective rusher on a per-touch basis (4.9 YPC in '09, 4.5 in '08).

Turner appeared in only 11 games last year due to a high-ankle sprain, but he now appears to be at full strength. To date, he hasn't been a serious contributor in the passing game for the Falcons, so you have to downgrade him in PPR formats. It's worth noting, however, that Atlanta has run some no-huddle/empty-backfield plays in the preseason, and Turner has remained on the field. He's caught three passes in limited action over two exhibition games. That may not sound like much, but he only has 11 total receptions over the past two seasons.

Jason Snelling(notes) proved to be a capable handcuff to Turner last season, rushing for 613 yards and four TDs on 142 carries. If the Burner is your first pick, then make Snelling your 14th. Jerious Norwood(notes) has never received 15 carries in any NFL game, despite his career 5.3 YPC. It should be perfectly clear at this point that he won't be deployed as an early-down back, no matter how the fantasy community feels.

Roddy White(notes) is one of the NFL's elite wide receivers, a heavily targeted wideout with big-play ability. He's delivered three straight 80-catch, 1,100-yard seasons, and he established a new career high in TDs last year (11). Draft him with confidence. If you're picking first overall in a 10 or 12-team league, there's a decent chance that White will be your No. 1 WR (ADP 24.0). He shrugged off a mid-season knee injury last year, managing to play all 16 games.

(Prediction: In Week 16, when Atlanta hosts New Orleans on Monday night, the broadcast team will refer to White as "unknown" or "underrated" approximately 870 times, just as the MNF crew did with Andre Johnson(notes). It won't matter that anyone with a fantasy team — or anyone who knows someone with a fantasy team — can tell you that Roddy is fantastic).

Michael Jenkins(notes) figures to start alongside White when healthy, though he's dealing with a shoulder injury right now and might not be able to go in Week 1. Regardless of his physical state, he's just a low-upside option. If a 50-600-2 fantasy line works in your league, then Jenkins is on the radar. If he's not ready by the opener, Brian Finneran(notes) would likely step in. If there's a sleeper in this receiving corps, it's Harry Douglas(notes), a player who missed the 2009 season due to an ACL tear. He produced a pair of 90-yard games as a rookie in 2008.

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Tony Gonzalez(notes) slips all the way to pick No. 70.1 at Mock Draft Central, where he's typically the seventh tight end taken. At that price, he should be a welcome addition to any roster. Gonzalez is coming off an 83-catch, 867-yard, 6-TD campaign, and those numbers would have been a bit better were it not for a late-season calf injury. He's only missed two games in his 13-year Hall of Fame career, so durability isn't a concern. This guy has given us 11 straight seasons with 100-plus fantasy points; that's no small achievement, when you consider that his career began in an era when TEs rarely put up triple-digits. Gonzalez led all tight ends in targets last year (135) and he led all Atlanta receivers in red zone looks (25).

At this late date, I'm still the only member of the Yahoo! fantasy team who ranks Matt Ryan(notes) ahead of Kevin Kolb(notes). Not sure why that is, really.

Don't we have any interest in seeing how Kolb handles a legit NFL pass rush?

Or how he responds to adver—

Oh, never mind. This is not the place to have another Kolb value discussion. We're discussing other birds. Ryan looks like a quarterback who can lead a very good team — a Super Bowl-caliber team, in fact — for a very long time. He has the full skill set and an excellent supporting cast. Ryan dealt with turf toe last season, an injury that caused him to miss two full games, and all but one series in a third. He still managed to throw 22 touchdown passes, as the Falcons tilted the run/pass mix in his favor. If you're going to let me have Ryan in the ninth round of a 10-teamer (note the ADP above), I'll take him. Much appreciated.

The Falcons' defense couldn't stop the pass last year, ranking 28th in the NFL, perhaps because they rarely touched opposing quarterbacks (28 sacks). Entering the 2010 season, this unit looks like a situational option. It's not a defense you'll actually draft. The IDPs of interest are LB Curtis Lofton(notes) (133 tackles in '09), DB Erik Coleman(notes) (116 tackles), and DL John Abraham(notes) (needs to play like it's '08, when he had 16.5 sacks). Rookie LB Sean Weatherspoon(notes) could get interesting, too.

There you have it, community. The 2010 Falcons have been spun. Let's hope this rank holds, because my portfolio is ATL-heavy. Whether you approve or not, please comment. Or feel free to Photoshop this thing…

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