There is no better way to describe the fantasy outlook of the Atlanta Falcons heading into the 2014-15 NFL season. The 2013 season was an incredibly frustrating one for both Falcons fans, as well as fantasy owners. Atlanta, after bringing in an All-Pro veteran running back, was figured to be a favorite to be playing in the Super Bowl, but just four wins and 12 losses later, the Falcons left fantasy owners wanting more.
However, injuries played a major factor in the poor season for the Falcons. So, with the regular season in the books, I figured it be a good idea to review each team’s fantasy prospects from the year that was. We’ll be starting with perhaps the league’s biggest underachievers, the Atlanta Falcons.
If you make any changes to your 2014 fantasy football approach next year, whatever it is, do not let it surround Mat Ryan. After an off 2013 campaign, the 28-year old signal caller makes for one of the best buy-low candidates in all of fantasy football.
Ryan started the season off just as strong as usual, throwing for at least 300 yards and two scores in four of his first five games, but after Julio Jones went down for the season, it all went downhill from there. Ryan finished the year with a pretty solid season, still, throwing for 4,515 yards (4th-most), 26 touchdowns (9th-most) and 17 interceptions. Those numbers were good enough for 239 fantasy points, ranking him as the number 14 quarterback in fantasy for the season. It was his lowest fantasy point total since the 2009 season. Still, fantasy owned should not be afraid of drafting Ryan next season. The guy has finished as a top-10 quarterback in three of the last four seasons, and played the majority of 2013 without his best two wide receivers. There is still plenty of volume to liked here, as Atlanta attempted a strong 41.2 pass attempts per game, the third-most in the NFL. The Falcons horrible defense forced Ryan to drop back to pass a lot (40 times per game, to be exact), and their defense won’t be much better in 2014. Creative, pass-oriented offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter will remain in Atlanta, which will only help Ryan.
Buy low, folks. He’ll be a draft day bargain, for sure.
Many assumed Steven Jackson would be a top-12 fantasy running back after joining the Falcons high-powered offense. I was one of those folks who wasn’t concerned about his usage and age, and was all in on the system and opportunity. However, it made sense to be all in on Jackson. A guy who still managed to consistently finish as a top-20 fantasy running back, despite limited scoring opportunities in a bad St. Louis offense, would join the high-powered Falcons offense that figured to be in scoring territory early and often. Coming into this season, the Falcons were one of the top teams in terms of red zone rushing attempts in football. And considering that the likes of Michael Turner managed to average 12 rushing touchdowns during his five seasons with the Falcons, Jackson, a far superior back, would have had no trouble. A Week 2 hamstring injury kept him sidelined until Week 8, hindering his fantasy success. Consider him another buy-low target, but temper expectations a bit.
Julio Jones is a stud. He was off to another remarkable start, catching 41 balls for 580 yards and two scores during his first five games, resulting in an impressive 13 fantasy points per game. Unfortunately, a foot injury sidelined the star receiver for the remainder of the season. He’s still a top-10 wide receiver on draft day. Roddy White, meanwhile, I’m not so sure. As consistent as they come, White figured to be another top-12 fantasy wideout in 2013, but a nagging (and I mean nagging) high ankle sprain that kept him out of action for three games, but more importantly, more of a decoy for about 11 of them. He did finish the season off strong, however, catching 20 passes on 29 targets for 232 yards and two scores in the final two contests of the year. Finally, Harry Douglas served as a very consistent fantasy replacement for Roddy, especially in PPR formats. He caught at least four passes in 12 of 16 games this season, en route to his first career 1,000-yard season.
Look for a major bounceback year from this entire offense next year, including the wideouts.
270 games, 1,325 receptions, 15,127 yards, 111 touchdowns.
What a career for Tony Gonzalez.
During (what we think) will be the final season in the illustrious career of Gonzalez, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame tight end finished as fantasy’s number four option at his position, hauling in 83 passes for 859 yards and eight touchdowns. The stud missed just two games during his entire career, and will leave a huge hole in the Falcons offense. It’ll hurt Matt Ryan to miss such a dependable red zone target like Gonzo, but no one can blame him for finally hanging them up. If Atlanta keeps their tight end depth chart how it is this offseason, Levine Toilolo, a 6’8″ freak, would make for an intriguing sleeper/dynasty investment.
Hat tip to you, Tony Gonzalez.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.