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Should You Draft Him?: Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons are a team I greatly enjoy not being a fan of. As a lover of football I’m able to appreciate Mike Smith’s quality as a coach, the consistent regular season excellence in a league with the most parity among major American sports, and the weekly highlight reel plays pulled off by Matt Ryan and his awesome stable of offensive playmakers. As a person with no emotional investment in the success of the franchise, the annual early playoff exits have no effect on me, and I don’t have to be the recipient of relentless internet trolling after a 24-2 loss. I’m also not a fan of a billionaire holding a city ransom for public funding. Way to make Atlanta feel appreciated, Arthur Blank.

Something Falcons and non-Falcons fans alike can appreciate is the treasure trove of fantasy points that this team will surely provide. The quarterback is a stud, the two starting wide receivers are the league’s best tandem, the Hall of Fame tight end is crazy old but still a top performer, and Steven Jackson as the starting running back fixes the only dark fantasy spot the Falcons had last year. It’s not a question of whether they should all be started every week. That part is easy. What’s more complicated is which ones will live up to their draft position
 because an offense this good with so much proven talent isn’t hiding a lot of sleepers. So let’s ask that immortal question: Should you draft him?

(ADP = average draft position. It’s based on present data from 12-team standard leagues. I won’t profile defenses or kickers because I don’t like your face.)

Matt Ryan (ADP: Early Round 5):

Considering how good he is and how incredible his supporting talent is, it almost felt like a letdown when he was “only” the seventh-highest scoring fantasy quarterback last season. Ryan doesn’t put up much in the way of rushing, and the Falcons don’t play in a way that allows him to put up absolutely insane stats like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. He’s a stud who can be counted on for more than 250 yards a game and a little better than two touchdowns a week, but I don’t quite like him as the fifth quarterback off the board. Cam Newton has considerably higher upside and is only going three spots earlier, and other quarterbacks with good rushing stats and passing upside similar to Ryan’s can be grabbed a round or two later. If I’ve missed out on Newton, Manning, Rodgers and Brees, I’m passing on Ryan and grabbing a receiver. No offense intended, because he’s great and the contract extension was well-deserved.

Should you draft him?

Steven Jackson (ADP: 13th Overall):
Jackson is a very hotly contested topic of fantasy debate. On the one hand he’s 30 and has had more work than any other running back over the last decade. On the other hand, anyone who watched him play last year knows there’s plenty left in the tank. Also, a totally used up Michael Turner managed to be the 16th-highest scoring running back last season, and Jackson is way better. Personally, I’m not buying. I don’t see Jackson coming anywhere close to justifying being chosen at the tail of a snake draft.

It’s easy to say the Falcons didn’t shell out the big bucks for Jackson to have him stand on the sidelines. It’s also easy to say that they didn’t trade away an entire draft for Julio Jones, give Ryan a nine-figure contract, and desperately beg Tony Gonzalez for one more season to be the kind of team that has to rely on feeding an old running back the ball 20 times a week. Also, there’s Roddy White. I hear he’s pretty good.

Furthermore, Mike Smith is smart and I’d like to think Turner being so terrible late in the last two seasons taught him a valuable lesson about keeping your old starting running back fresh. The fact is the Falcons don’t need to give Jackson 250 carries to comfortably make the playoffs. Their eyes are on the Super Bowl prize, and if they’re smart (which they are), they’ll keep his regular season workload light and unleash him in the postseason. I honestly don’t think he’ll rush for 1,000 yards.

Should you draft him?

Jacquizz Rodgers (ADP: Late Round 11):
He’s a great late-round flier in points per reception drafts. He is Darren Sproles-like in height and usage. He displayed outstanding efficiency as a receiver last season, pulling in a phenomenal 53 receptions on 59 targets. That’s a rate of 89 percent. For comparison to other elite pass catching running backs in 2012, Sproles hauled in 72 percent, Ray Rice caught 73 percent, and Doug Martin snagged 69 percent. More opportunity could turn him into an every week PPR starter.

I’m not as enamored with him as a standard league player, because he isn’t really built to be an every week starting back. His workload upside would be a full start or two in the event of a minor injury to Jackson. If Jackson went down with something more long term, we’d probably see more of a 50-50 split between Rodgers and Jason Snelling. I just don’t see much standard league upside. I would give Rodgers a strong yes in PPR leagues, and a no in standard leagues. I’m giving him a no because these articles focus more on standard scoring. If you’re in a PPR league, this paragraph will serve as a test of whether you actually read the columns or just skip to the red or green text.

Should you draft him?

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