July 14, 2008
The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings rely on hard, incontrovertible math. There are algorithms at work. This stuff is peer-reviewed. Seasons are simulated. You can't argue with science, so don't even try...
24. Atlanta Falcons
Yes, this ranking clearly suggests a high level of enthusiasm for Michael Turner.
Atlanta's new $34.5 million running back is currently 16th in the Yahoo! experts ranks, ahead of all the rookies, and several popular brand name RBs. That's just about as high as we can reasonably rate a player who's never carried more than 15 times in a regular season NFL game.
When he's been given opportunities, however, the Burner has been terrific. He's averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 228 career rushing attempts, and he was impressive in San Diego's playoff win over Indianapolis. Turner is a 5-10, 237-pound punisher who won't be tackled quietly on initial contact, yet who also possesses big-play speed.
You have to be excited about Turner's role in the Atlanta offense:
When the Falcons signed him last month, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith told reporters, "Michael Turner is a great player who happened to pass through the Chargers, helped us win and it's time. We all know it's his time."
And this would the place, as (Mike) Smith's Falcons are installing a power rushing game. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey's system, when he developed it in Pittsburgh (2001-02), was termed "Exotic Smashmouth," as he leavened the halfback options passes and tight end reverses with Jerome Bettis' domination between the tackles.
Turner has the Bettis role.
You're drafting Turner as a RB2 (his Mock Draft Central ADP is 36.6), but he absolutely has the potential to deliver RB1 numbers. Jerious Norwood will again have a complementary role. He's more handcuff than sleeper this season, although he may emerge as a flex-starter in Points Per Reception (PPR) leagues.
The Falcons' O-line was sketchy on its best days in '07, although Warrick Dunn and Joey Harrington did very little to make that unit look good. Atlanta will likely start rookie Sam Baker at left tackle this season. He was the No. 21 overall pick in the NFL Draft, but many observers, including the folks at Rivals, didn't grade him quite that high:
This is a bit of a reach here. Baker did not seem like he was going to be taken in the next few picks. However, the Falcons fill a void along the offensive line.
We haven't yet mentioned Atlanta's other first round pick, of course, No. 3 overall selection Matt Ryan. In a 10-team public fantasy league, Ryan shouldn't be drafted, even as a final-round flier. He's strictly of interest in dynasty leagues -- and even there, think of him as trade bait. For a can't-miss, face-of-the-franchise quarterback, Ryan sure threw a lot of interceptions as college senior (19), and his completion-percentage was not especially high (59.3).
He's no Bartkowski. That's the official position of this blog, until further notice.
Veteran Chris Redman proved useful late last season, throwing for 315 yards and two TDs in Week 16. If you're going to invest in Roddy White this year -- and he's our 19th ranked wide receiver, so we encourage you to do so -- then you'd prefer Redman to Ryan. White had six receiving TDs in his 1202-yard breakout season, and three of them were thrown by Redman in the final weeks.
Another nice detail about White: he delivered 5.7 yards after the catch in '07. The Atlanta offense should be run-heavy this year, but White was successful in one of the NFL's all-time train-wreck environments last season. He can be very good again.
Laurent Robinson is the other Atlanta WR worth watching. He caught 37 passes for 437 yards as a rookie, and he also worked well with Redman (7 receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD in Week 16). None of the Falcons other receivers are draft-worthy in most formats, though it's worth noting that
Hugh Harry Douglas* may pass Michael Jenkins on the depth chart.
The Atlanta defense is not to be owned in fantasy leagues. They allowed 25.9 points and 355.5 yards per game in '07, and sacked opposing quarterbacks only 25 times. Head coach Mike Smith was Jacksonville's defensive coordinator for five seasons, though, and he was a defensive assistant in Baltimore prior to that. There's hope for the future, if not for the present.
*Heh. If Hugh is your third receiver, it's a problem.
2007 Atlanta Falcons team stats
Rushing: 95.0 Y/G
Passing: 206.0 Y/G
Points per game: 16.2
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 43, 17
'08 Schedule strength: .469
The rest of the Index...