Juggernaut Index No. 6: The Atlanta Falcons

There should be no need for us to spit out thousands of words on the Falcons at this point, because we've already written this team to death. Every other day, it seems, one of Atlanta's skill players is featured on the Yahoo! fantasy home page. Michael Turner has taken a turn or two, as has Jacquizz Rodgers. We've debated the relative merits of Julio Jones and Roddy White, we've celebrated the potential of Matt Ryan.

If we don't dial down the hype about this franchise fairly soon, Yahoo! users are gonna start looking for Andre Rison and Jeff George when they launch their drafts.

So in consideration of the fact that we've already bombed you with Falcons propaganda (and occasional pessimism), I'll be taking a bulleted approach to their Juggernaut entry, linking to earlier discussions whenever it's warranted. This team has been thoroughly dissected by our staff of licensed fantasy professionals. Here are the basics...

Julio Jones is a star, a tremendous vertical threat, a nightmarish coverage assignment. As a rookie, he was a beast during the most important fantasy weeks, finding the end zone six times over the final month of the regular season. He's already had his coming-out party, so there's no guessing game here. He just needs to stay healthy.

By the way, Julio's first career NFL touchdown was one of the most ridiculous plays of 2011 — seriously, just look at this catch. How did he even see the ball, let alone catch it? Unreal.

If you're thinking about drafting Julio as the No. 2 receiver off the board, I'm not gonna argue. He's fantastic. Good luck dealing with him, NFC South DBs. Bwahaha.

Roddy White almost certainly won't see as many targets in 2012 as he's accustomed to, but that's OK. The man has led the league in the category in each of the past two seasons (179, both years) and he finished second in 2009 (165). If his targets are reduced by 40 this season, he'll still rank top-10. He and Jones are an unfair tandem.

For what it's worth, I thought Roddy was slightly unlucky last year. If memory serves, he drew multiple PI flags in the end zone in 2011. Without the infractions, those plays would have been touchdown catches. Instead, they simply set up goal line situations — nice for Atlanta, but not for White's fantasy value.

Matt Ryan is the No. 6 quarterback on my board, and I've drafted him just about everywhere. If we're right about the fantasy value of his receivers — you'll note that both Julio and Roddy rank inside our top-5 — then there's basically no way Ryan can avoid having a career-best season. His situation is excellent, the weapons at his disposal are outstanding. We've discussed Ryan's curious draft-day price previously, and it's been trending up in recent weeks. I'm still buying. He'll run plenty of no-huddle this year under OC Dirk Koetter, allowing him to exploit personnel advantages and get max value from this team's elite receivers. I'm on board, fully. But...

...just because we expect to see a fast-break style from the Falcons much of the time, that doesn't mean they'll simply toss the NFC's leading rusher on the scrap heap. Michael Turner has been reliably great over multiple seasons, and he was a monster in 2011. The Burner didn't slow down last year until a groin injury struck in the final weeks.

(Parenthetical gripe: Plenty of fantasy analysts attribute his December swoon to age and decline, which is fine. It's their opinion, and it's supportable. But when they don't mention the fact that he spent a month on the injury report, missing practices ... well, they aren't giving you the full story. Bad form, experts).

Turner is exactly the sort of established player who doesn't need to pile up preseason mileage, so there's no reason to fret about his quiet August. None of Atlanta's coaches are wondering what Turner can do, because they already know. He's a pile-mover, the team's best option near the goal line. He averaged 4.5 YPC last season while rushing for 1,340 yards, plus he finished with a monster game (172 yards, 2 TDs in Week 17 vs. the Bucs). He can lose 50 carries this year, yet still be useful.

You'll find additional thoughts on Turner right here. None of the cool kids want him, but he can still pay the fantasy bills.

Jacquizz Rodgers is an interesting player, too. I'm allowed to like both of the backs atop the Falcons' depth chart. We all expect Rodgers to see more touches in his second season. He can be a really nice short-range receiving threat, no question, a great fit in a fast-paced, pass-heavy gameplan. However, I doubt he'll poach many goal line chances from Turner. Let's be realistic. He's a teacup running back, four inches shorter than Turner and approximately 900 pounds lighter.

[Michael Silver: Eagles boss Jeffrey Lurie gives Andy Reid justifiable ultimatum]

Tony Gonzalez is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, the greatest tight end of his era. He holds every significant career record at his position. He's also coming off an 80-catch, 875-yard season, so we shouldn't dismiss him. The man has ranked as a top-8 fantasy TE every year since 1999 (No. 4 in 2011), yet he's the 11th player taken at his position this season. Bet against him at your own peril.

Matt Bryant's name seems to appear on almost all of my fantasy rosters. I'm actually not sure why he's buried in the kicker ranks. The guy went 27-of-29 last year, and 7-for-9 from 40-plus. He's accurate, he's tied to an appealing offense, he kicks in a dome ... what the heck else are you people looking for?

OK, I've used up all my bullets. Who am I missing? Harry Douglas is the No. 3 receiver here, and he's given us a few useful fantasy lines in the past (including a 133-yard performance last season, Week 10). Atlanta will run a ton of three-receiver sets, so feel free to scoop up Douglas in deeper leagues. RB Jason Snelling still lurks, but he's dealing with a leg injury. Undrafted rookie QB Dominique Davis had a stellar preseason, surviving roster cuts. But if we ever have to discuss Davis' fantasy potential this season, then things will have gone horribly wrong for this franchise (and for pretty much all of my fake teams).

The Atlanta defense projects as a middle-of-the-pack fantasy commodity, a match-up play. Mike Nolan has joined the coaching staff, and his challenge is to make this a top-of-the-pack bunch, hopefully sometime soon. The Falcons' D wasn't really exceptional in any area last season, though they did rank sixth versus the run (97.0 YPG, 4.2 YPC). So that's something. I'm a fan of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for IDP (115 tackles in 2011), and DE John Abraham is still around, too (9.5 sacks).

And that's that, dirty birds. Please fill the comments section with sunshine...

2011 team stats: 25.1 PPG (NFL rank 7), 114.6 rush YPG (17), 272.8 pass YPG (8), 33.21 yards/drive (8), 0.110 turnovers/drive (9)

Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco, 18. Kansas City, 17. Cincinnati, 16. Denver, 15. Tennessee, 14. San Diego, 13. Pittsburgh, 12. Baltimore, 11. Dallas, 10. Carolina, 9. Chicago, 8. Houston, 7. Detroit

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