Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Football Preview: Matt Ryan Looks To Open It Up

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 18: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons passes against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons would like to transform themselves into competing with the scoring outputs of the Patriots, Packers, and Saints. Can they finally do that this year?

One shouldn't say that the Falcons were bad in 2011. They finished 10-6, had a good offense, a pretty good defense, and so far in four seasons of Matt Ryan they've had a winning season each year and gone to the playoffs three times.

However, one could definitely classify it as a "disappointing" year for the Falcons.

The all-in addition of Julio Jones was supposed to turn this into the kind of offense that could keep up with Drew Brees and the Saints. Plenty of teams should be jealous of the weapons and quarterback that Atlanta has, but one still should expect better than a 10-6 season and finishing 10th in total offense. Your running back topped 1,300 yards, you've got two great receivers, and a Hall of Fame tight end. So what are you supposed to do?

They couldn't change the personnel and it wouldn't be right to fire the coach, so instead they brought in Dirk Koetter out of Jacksonville to find a way to open up this offense. The Falcons are expected to throw more, run less, and do better than the 7.4 yards per pass attempt that Ryan posted last year. It's not that they were afraid to go gunslinging, but you've got to be more efficient in your slingin'.

That's what Koetter's expected to develop. Will it work?

2011 Record: 10-6

Drafted Skill Players: None. Peter Konz, C (2nd), Lamar Holmes, OT (3rd), Bradie Ewing, FB (4th)

Dearly Departed: Chris Redman, Ovie Mughelli, Eric Weems

Quarterback

Matt Ryan

The addition of Julio Jones last year was supposed to be the key to turning Matt Ryan from "very good" into one of the upper-echelon quarterback options in fantasy. While he was far from "bad" and had career-highs in touchdowns (29) and yards per game (261.1), the total finished product felt underwhelming. However, of his final seven games of the year, Ryan completed 63 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns, two interceptions, 267 yards per game and a quarterback rating of 104.8.

A bad playoff performance against the Giants, in which the Falcons managed just two points (very obviously meaning that the offense got shutout), also leaves a sour taste, and they're still looking for their first playoff win under Ryan. While Atlanta was fourth in the NFL in pass attempts, they were just eighth in yards and 13th in net yards per pass attempt. You'd like to see better efficiency for that many pass attempts.

I believe that the team is committed to doing that this year and even if he throws a few more picks in a new system, he'll have another season of career-highs and be one of the better starting options in the game.

2012 Projection: 62 percent, 4,600 yards, 34 touchdowns, 15 interceptions

The Chris Redman era is over in Atlanta, replaced by Luke McCown and one of Ryan's former backups at Boston College, Dominique Davis.

Running back

Michael Turner

Despite coming off a season with over 1,300 yards and 4.5 yards per carry, there are too many reasons to stay away from Turner in fantasy this season. He has carried the ball 1,189 times in the last four seasons, turned 30 in February, and is expected to get fewer carries as they migrate to a passing-oriented offense. An offense that better fits his backup and will likely see a more balanced share between the two in terms of snaps.

2012 Projection: 225 carries, 825 yards, eight touchdowns

Jacquizz Rodgers

Dynamic in college at Oregon State, Rodgers had just 393 total yards as a rookie but that's not bad for a fifth-round pick. I believe he'll get considerably more touches in 2012.

2012 Projection: 100 carries, 425 yards, three touchdowns. 40 catches, 400 yards, three touchdowns.

Jason Snelling enters his sixth season as the other guy.

Wide receiver

Roddy White

Everyone thought that the addition of Julio would mean fewer targets for White. Well he had 180 targets in 2010 and 180 targets in 2011. White has five straight seasons over 1,100 yards and even if Jones might eclipse him in production, there's going to be more love to go around in the newish offense. I'm not worried about tagging both as WR1s.

2012 Projection: 90 catches, 1,200 yards, 10 touchdowns

Julio Jones

He had five 100-yard games as a rookie and missed three games with injury. He had six touchdowns in the final four games. I've always like Julio Jones, I'm not going to stop now.

2012 Projection: 70 catches, 1,300 yards, 12 touchdowns

Harry Douglas

He tore up the Saints for eight catches and 133 yards in Week 9 and he looked pretty good doing it. Most of the love is going to go to the stars but Douglas could have a few good games and benefit from open lanes underneath.

2012 Projection: 45 catches, 500 yards, two touchdowns

Kevin Cone and Tim Toone round out the group.

Tight end

Tony Gonzalez

If this really is his last go-around, what a career it's been. Gonzalez has missed two games in his 15-year career. He's a five-time first team All Pro. A 12-time Pro Bowler, including last year at age 35. He's got more career yards than any other active player other than Randy Moss. He's got more catches than anyone ever, except for Jerry Rice. The 6'5, 250-pound athletic, basketball-playing tight end revolutionized the position and opened the door for some of the highly productive players at the position that you see today. And he can still hang with all of them after putting up 80 catches for 875 yards last season.

2012 Projection: 70 catches, 750 yards, six touchdowns

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