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The Atlanta Falcons
Stadium: Georgia Dome
Schedule Strength : 1st (easiest schedule)
Postseason Weather issues: None
Offensive Line Ranking: 28th
Head Coach – Mike Smith
Before moving to Atlanta, Smith was the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and former linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens (becoming one of eight head coaches spawned from the Ray Lewis Coaching Tree). Like so many head coaches with a defensive background, Smith has proven he would prefer a run-to-set-up-the-pass offensive system. However, the offensive personnel of the Falcons indicates a greater use of the passing game. And although Smith will have input as to the offensive system, play calling and game planning will fall under the guidance of the offensive coordinator.
Offensive Coordinator – Dirk Koetter
Hired this past offseason, Koetter is most recognized for being the former offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars under another defensive-minded head coach, Jack Del Rio (also a member of the Ray Lewis Coaching Tree). While in Jacksonville, Koetter adhered to a run-first mentality adopted largely due to the talents of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a lack of quarterback talent (David Garrard and Blaine Gabbert) coupled with Del Rio’s preference to run the football. Koetter does have ties to a “vertical passing attack” installed during his time as the head coach at Arizona State. Not so coincidently, the Falcons possess the offensive weapons to stretch the field vertically, along with rostering the greatest tight end in league history. We should anticipate a continued balanced attack of pass and run mix, but multiple sources indicate Atlanta’s downfield passing game will be opening up this season under Koetter.
QB – Matt Ryan
Entering his fourth year in the league, much was expected from quarterback Matt Ryan in 2011. However, the young signal caller began the year at a snail’s pace, posting only one multi-TD game in the first seven weeks (Week 2). After Atlanta’s Week 8 Bye, Ryan ratcheted up his game, becoming the fourth-highest fantasy scoring quarterback between Weeks 9-16. On the plus side, Ryan has shown incredible durability, superior arm strength, solid decision making while possessing arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. A declining Michael Turner will also force the Falcons to produce more via the aerial attack. Upon review, the Falcons also have the league’s most favorable regular season and postseason schedule, while playing in a dome is always a quarterback’s best friend. Ryan’s only downfall could be a suspect offensive line, but the upside has Ryan pegged as a sure fire Top 8 quarterback or better with a player rating of 8.6.
Michael Turner has become a conundrum of sorts. No major injuries, only 1,418 carries over his career, but now on the wrong side of 30 years old. He has been the Falcons’ “bell-cow-running back” over the past four seasons, but wore down quickly late in 2011, posting only one double-digit game in Weeks 12-16 (which included the fantasy postseason). Atlanta does possess the league’s most dangerous wide receiver duo, thus relieving defensive pressure from the running game. However, Turner’s inability to play in a passing offensive system has always been his Achilles heel, limiting his opportunity. The Falcons made it a priority during the offseason to re-sign third down specialist, and “touchdown vulture” Jason Snelling. Fueling the flame of doubt, Atlanta’s coaching staff has openly stated they will scale back Turner’s role in the coming season, implementing a running back by committee, utilizing both Snelling and Rodgers (where there’s smoke, there’s fire). A subpar run blocking offensive line will also limit Turner’s production. On the plus side, Turner remains the most talented running back on the roster possessing excellent speed considering his size, and enormous leg strength that ensures goal line carries. All told, Turner looks to be headed for a down season with low-end RB2 status equaling a player rating of 7.9. Handcuff Turner with Snelling.
WR1 – Roddy White
Surpassing 80 receptions and 1,150 yards in five consecutive seasons, Roddy White has quietly become the most consistent fantasy wide receiver over that stretch (almost unrecognized). White’s only downfall is the continued emergence of second-year wide receiver Julio Jones cutting into his production, of which White himself has recognized. Still considered amongst the elite wide receivers in the game today, White has no injury history, equaling a solid player rating of 8.9.
WR2 – Julio Jones
Plagued by nagging injuries his rookie season, Jones displayed flashes of brilliance as a deep downfield threat with the potential to score a touchdown on every play. The Falcons have stated throughout the offseason that they intend to open up the passing game and get Jones more involved. Talent alone should make Jones a hot commodity in fantasy drafts, and rightfully so with a player rating of 8.7.
TE – Tony Gonzalez
At age 36, history would indicate Tony Gonzalez should be on the downhill side of his career, and by his standards he is. However, against all odds, Gonzalez just continues to produce solid fantasy numbers. With 875 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, the third lowest total of his career, Gonzalez still placed fourth amongst all tight ends. He may no longer be amongst the “elite” fantasy tight ends (Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham), but we could do a whole lot worse. Player rating of 8.0.
K – Matt Bryant
Bryant has many of the advantages we look for when selecting a kicker. He plays on a team with a solid offense, he plays in a dome, he possesses the accuracy and leg strength to meet the minimum requirement of 84 percent of all field goals made, and he has the ability to kick field goals longer than 48 yards. Bryant enters 2012 with a player rating of 9.4.
D/ST – Atlanta Falcons
Given the history of head coach Mike Smith, we would categorize the Falcons defense as underachievers. Lacking talent at many key positions (defensive end for example), the loss of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton will slow the progression of the Falcons. However, during the offseason, Atlanta added two key pieces as significant upgrades - shutdown cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. With Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson already on the roster, the acquisition of Samuel now gives Atlanta the best three cornerback combination in the league. Nolan is a proven defensive mastermind over the years, once taking a 31st-ranked Denver defense to third in the NFL the following season. A huge knock against the Falcons is playing in the tough NFC South, arguably the best division in football. At the end of the day Atlanta is a low-end top defense, with excellent spot start potential, leading to a rating of 7.8.
*Player Ratings on a scale of 1-10
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