The Atlanta Falcons won 13 regular season games last year, posting a +120 point differential, and they beat Seattle in a classic divisional round playoff matchup. The Falcons' season ended just 10 yards short of a Super Bowl berth. So please — please — spare us your thoughts on how and why this franchise will never achieve anything. Today, we're discussing a damn good football team.
From a fantasy perspective, Atlanta's roster is absolutely loaded, to an absurd extent. In fact, if a hypothetical drafter were to use each of his or her top five picks on Falcons, none of the individual selections would seem like a crazy reach. Consider the ADPs...
1. RB Steven Jackson, 14.8
2. WR Julio Jones, 21.8
3. WR Roddy White, 35.0
4. QB Matt Ryan, 54.5
5. TE Tony Gonzalez, 66.2
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To be clear, no one is recommending that you actually draft a starting fantasy roster comprised exclusively of players from a single NFL franchise. That would be insane. Not even Brad Evans does [expletive] like that. If you went that route, your weekly scoring potential would be bound by the upper limit of one team's offensive output. It's always best to diversify in fantasy, to tie yourself to many high-yield offenses. Rather, I'm simply noting the fact that Atlanta's roster features five early-round skill players, each of whom might reasonably have been selected in the first five rounds of any draft. That's seriously impressive.
It's not as if drafters have been paying an expectant price on Falcons, either. These guys all delivered terrific seasons in 2012. Ryan finished fifth at his position in fantasy scoring, Jones and White placed ninth and tenth, and Gonzalez ranked third among tight ends. (Matt Bryant finished third at kicker, too.) To that ridiculous mix, the Falcons have added Jackson, a player who last season finished as our game's No. 17 RB. It's not as if Atlanta's front office remained idle while the other elite NFC teams improved.
Jackson is of course a high-mileage player who turned 30 in the offseason, so we have to assume the decline phase begins soon, if it isn't already underway. But I've watched every snap Jackson has played during the preseason, and I can tell you that the man still runs decisively and with respectable power extreme violence. He's a capable pass-catcher as well, an outstanding multi-purpose back. He's exactly what this team needed last year, when a crusty, zombified version of Michael Turner was running behind an unspectacular O-line. Jackson has strung together back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back 1000-yard rushing seasons, and he did so with a lousy supporting cast with the Rams. Don't bet against him now, when he's finally surrounded by high-end talent. Remember, Turner still managed to find the end zone 10 times for Atlanta last season, despite being awful (3.6 YPC). No one should be surprised if Jackson finishes with 1500 scrimmage yards and a dozen scores in 2013. His arrival is obviously a blow to anyone who still had high hopes for Jacquizz Rodgers. (Sorry, Funston.)
The Falcons passing game was excellent last year, ranking fifth in the NFL in both yardage and touchdowns. Ryan had his finest pro season, finishing with career highs in yards (4719), TDs (32) and pass attempts (615), while leading the league in completion percentage (68.6). He was aggressive, but not recklessly so. Jones emerged as an almost unfair weapon, a guy who routinely outran and/or out-jumped coverage. And before you tell me you think he's overrated, I'd like you to review his highlight reel from the NFC title game. Julio is a man-beast, deserving of his lofty ADP. When that kid is on the field, essentially every snap is a red-zone possession.
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White has never missed a game in his eight-year NFL career, and he's topped 90 receptions in each of the past three seasons. His lowest yardage total in the last six years is 1153 (2009). He's as reliable as it gets at his position, and he continues to rank among the yearly target leaders (143 in 2012). Roddy is a guy you can simply draft, start, and forget. He should never find his way into a sit/start question. He'll be there for you every week, hauling in 6-8 balls for 80-plus yards. Harry Douglas returns as the No. 3 wideout for this team, though he won't get interesting unless Julio or Roddy are forced to sit for some reason.
Gonzalez is unrivaled as the greatest tight end in football history, having somehow managed to remain an elite weapon through 16 seasons. Last year, at age 36, Gonzo caught 93 passes for 930 yards and eight scores. Those numbers would have made him a top-20 fantasy wideout. There are really no historic comps for this guy. He already holds every significant career record at his position — catches (1242), yards (14,268), receiving TDs (103) — and he'll push them all to unreachable heights in 2013, which we believe will be his final pro season.
Atlanta's defense features talent at each level — LB Sean Weatherspoon is tremendous, DBs William Moore and Tom DeCoud just earned Pro Bowl recognition — but this team failed to pressure opposing passers last season. The Falcons ranked No. 28 in the league in sacks, dropping QBs just 29 times. In an effort to address that shortcoming, the team added DE Osi Umenyiora on a two-year deal. He'll surely help. Still, it's tough to endorse this D/ST as a must-own fantasy commodity, not with a Week 1 visit to New Orleans on the schedule. But Atlanta is approved for streaming purposes.
The NFC is absolutely stacked this year, so I'll stop short of penciling any team into the Super Bowl. However, if you made me bet one of 'em (not sure how you'd coerce me, but let's just say), then this would be the squad. The 2013 Falcons have no glaring weaknesses and plenty of glaring strengths.
2012 team stats: 26.2 points per game (7), 294.9 passing yards per game (5), 87.3 rushing yards per game (29)
Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville, 29. Buffalo, 28. Cleveland, 27. Tennessee, 26. San Diego, 25. Miami, 24. St. Louis, 23. Pittsburgh, 22. Arizona, 21. Minnesota, 20. Kansas City, 19. Chicago, 18. Baltimore, 17. Philadelphia, 16. Indianapolis, 15. Carolina, 14. Cincinnati, 13. NY Giants, 12. Detroit, 11. New England, 10. Tampa Bay, 9. Seattle, 8. Washington, 7. Houston, 6. New Orleans, 5. San Francisco, 4. Denver, 3. Green Bay, 2. Dallas