2014 Team Outlook: Atlanta Falcons
QB Matt Ryan, ATL - Solid/Safe Pick
BOUNCE-BACK: Matt Ryan was viewed as a bit of a letdown in 2013. Coming off career highs in passing yards and touchdowns in 2012, everyone and their brother had Ryan projected to be one of the elite QBs. He passed for 200 fewer yards, six fewer touchdowns and threw three more interceptions. We're optimists here, and we have Ryan ranked as the No. 7 QB for 2014 for a reason: he and his offensive playmakers can be really good. He was without stud WR Julio Jones for 11 games. WR Roddy White played through nagging injuries and didn't truly get healthy until the last few games of the year. RB Steven Jackson was supposed to give the Falcons a running game that would help them open it up a bit, but he tore his hammy in Week 2 and ultimately missed four games. The offensive line was like a piece of Swiss cheese, allowing 44 sacks (third worst in the league). Despite all this, Ryan still finished fourth in the league in passing yards (4,515) and ninth in TDs (26). White and Jackson should be back this year. The offensive line was addressed in the off-season.
Editor's note: Last year, the Falcons bottomed out offensively. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ryan will lead Atlanta to an improved record and a more effecient offense. Injuries would have to pile up yet again for Ryan to be denied.
QB T.J. Yates, ATL - Not Draft Worthy
Yates was on the cutting-room floor in June for the Houston Texans. The Falcons, looking for a solid backup QB, swung a deal that landed them the fourth-year QB out of North Carolina. Yates was looking to battle Case Keenum for backup duties in Houston, but the Texans decided they'd be fine moving on. Atlanta saw an opportunity and seized their brand new backup. Yates isn't fantasy-relevant, although he is a step-up from last year's backup (Dominique Davis).
RB Steven Jackson, ATL - Over the Hill (decreased production)
NOT DONE YET: Let's try this again! Jackson enters the 2014 campaign with something to prove to Falcons fans. After tearing his hamstring in Week 2, Jackson was largely a waste of roster space the rest of the way. He finished with 543 rushing yards (a career-low) and it was his first season under 1,000 yards since his rookie year. Jackson's age (30) is the biggest concern, along with all those huge workloads over the years. To his credit though, Jackson is a student of the game and works as hard as anyone in the league; however, 30-year-old RBs aren't typically "getting better." If he can stay healthy, he could reach the 1,000 yard mark again. The Falcons addressed their offensive line issues in the offseason and their passing attack will keep defenses honest, so Jackson should have every opportunity to succeed this season. He is an RB3 for our fantasy purposes.
Editor's note: The same appeal from last season applies once again. Jackson was supposed to reinvigorate a running game recently vacated by Michael Turner. WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White draw the defense away from the box, creating more rushing lanes for SJax to plow through. There's still some potential here, especially with an ADP of 106.23.
RB Devonta Freeman, ATL - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
POSSIBLE EARLY DYNASTY IMPACT: Rookie RBs always get people excited. They typically are called "sleepers" when they're the backup. Rookie RBs backing up 30-year-old starters? We like to dub them "super-sleepers." After racking up over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns in 14 games his final season at Florida State., Freeman was snagged by the Falcons with the third pick in the fourth round of the NFL draft. He should start to share third-down duties with Jacquizz Rodgers and challenge for more and more playing time. Should the 30-year-old Jackson miss any time for injuries (likely), Freeman can be a dangerous playmaker. With fresh legs, a nose for the end-zone and a good offense, all he needs is an opportunity.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, ATL - Bye Week Fill-in
Jacquizz Rodgers is a prototype backup running back. He rarely gets an opportunity to start, but he's always drafted in fantasy leagues. The main reason for this is that he's an effective pass-blocker and a good pass-catcher. His inability to hit holes and pick up extra yards as a runner limits his ability to be a feature back. However, he has caught over 50 passes each of the last two seasons, so he has a little value on rosters in deeper PPR leagues. He's not a guy you'd be excited to start, but if you had CJ Spiller or Doug Martin last year, Rodgers was probably someone you'd love to have been getting eight points per game from. He is the same guy this year, with a rookie challenging him. His value is limited.
WR Julio Jones, ATL - Stud (low risk)
COMEBACK PLAYER CANDIDATE: Jones was on his way to a monster season last year, averaging eight catches for 116 yards through the Falcons first five games. Then, he broke his foot and never saw the field agaiN. Jones is one of the elite talents at the wide receiver position and all reports are communicating he will be back to 100-percent by the start of the season. Jones is a Top 5 WR in any format and should get back to doing what it took to crack 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in 2012 (more than likely surpassing those totals greatly). Now 25 years old, Jones should be entering his athletic prime. He must stay healthy. Another injury-plagued season would practically destroy his fantasy value into the years to come.
Editor's note: The former Crimson Tide receiver skipped OTAs. He probably won't participate in training camp either. This should be a concern since he will have to knock the rust off during the regular season, but Jones is just so talented and athletic that it may not even matter.