Despite the fact that there are many NFL and fantasy football fans who pick over offseason news with a fine-tooth comb, we understand that there are still a lot of you out there who simply don't have time to keep up with player movements or the happenings of each team. That's why yours truly is here to give you the lowdown on the recent 2014 news of each team, both AFC and NFC and how it impacts your fantasy football league/team.
With the NFC East and NFC North under my belt, now is time to focus on one of the toughest divisions in the NFL; the NFC South. As if the Falcons had to deal with the offensive powerhouse of the Saints, the Buccaneers won't make it any easier with all the offensive changes the team made in the offseason.
The Falcons sinking to the bottom of the NFC South with a 4-12 record might have left a sour taste in Falcons fans' mouths, but it wasn't through the fault of QB Matt Ryan. Ryan has managed over 4500 passing yards in back-to-back seasons, totaled 15 300-yard games and 58 touchdown passes in 16 games. To say the losing season rested entirely on Ryan would be an unfair call with all the woes on defense. Ryan is one of those fantasy football quarterbacks who doesn't get much love only because the top of the heap in terms of QB1s continue to grow. Drew Brees, Tom Brady and now Nick Foles are all knocking the door to be drafted No. 1. Don't sleep on Ryan this year, however. The running game, which was supposed to be an improvement going into last season, failed miserably. And this is coming from a guy who figured RB Steven Jackson had at least 1-2 good seasons left in him.
The Falcons figure to pass and pass a lot in 2014. According to Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure, the Falcons will lean on the pass even more due to the lack of a true running game and because of the continued problems on defense. The fact that both WR Roddy White and WR Julio Jones (fingers crossed) are both healthy makes the prediction that much more feasible.
As of this writing, Ryan is ranked as the 9th overall fantasy quarterback, with guys like RG3, Cam Newton and the aforementioned Foles ahead of him. This spells higher value than what Ryan used to hold. I'd load up on running backs and receivers and take a chance on Ryan, who's average ADP is in the 6th round. Lets just hope that his receiving corps doesn't let him down.
Oh Steven Jackson.....what happened? I, like a few others, predicted Jackson's move to Atlanta would push him back into stardom. Yes he's getting old, but his offseason regimen had kept him youthful. At least while he was in St. Louis. Jackson was ranked as one of the biggest bombs as his numbers looked more like his rookie year than what we were used to seeing at his peak as a Ram. Injuries, once again, crept back, causing Jackson to miss four games. This year won't be any easier with Jackson, who is another year older and now expected to compete for snaps with rookie Devante Adams. Adams looked better-than-expected in workouts. If he looks just as good in pads, Jackson's current value as a 10th round pick might be on shaky ground. Jackson is nothing more than a flex option going forward.
As for Freeman, the only thing in his way is his lack of pass protection. According to HC Mike Smith:
"He’s got great vision, he’s got great stop-and-start ability," Smith said. "The big thing that he needs to work on is the ability to work in pass protection because we ask our backs to do a lot."
Like we've seen from other backs, pass protection is key when it comes to being able to play all three downs. If/when Freeman fixes this part of his game, we'll slowly see him push Jackson on third-down plays along with early-down touches. Freeman might not look as intriguing in redraft leagues for the sheer fact that we don't know what his role will exactly be, but he is going to continue to climb up dynasty rankings. Jackson still has two years left on his current deal, but would it really surprise anyone to see him be on the chopping block next offseason? Unless Adams can't keep his momentum, he is the future of the Falcons backfield. I might dare say he could even be worth a late-round flier if you have the room.
Adams will also battle Jacquizz Rodgers, but it won't be much of a fight. As a former "Quizz" owner myself, I know how frustrating it was to have him on my team. Considering he wasn't able to beat out plodder Michael Turner for more playing time, or the starting job outright, no one should be looking his way unless you're in a 16-team league. I foresee "Quizz" losing even more value in 2014 now that he has legitimate competition.
Moving to the receivers: the Falcons sport, in my opinion, the best duo of wide receivers in the league. There's only been one problem: health.
Roddy White has been a rock, playing all 16 games in his career from 2005 to 2012. In 2013, White missed two games due to ankle and hamstring injuries. And for the first time in his career, he failed to reach 1000 receiving yards. I'm not worried about White's value. Like I stated, per the source above, the Falcons are going to be one of the more pass-heavier teams in the league. There is no reason to think White can't bounce back and at least match the 92/1351/7 statline he put up in 2012. Maybe the catches and yards will dip some, but not enough to push him all the way down to his current 5th round ADP. White might not be a lock as a top-10 WR1, but his value is incredibly high if he continues to be ranked as the 26th receiver off the board. That's a high-end WR3. White clearly falls under the "what have you done for me lately?" category. Don't think like one of those owners.
While White has been a pinnacle of health, besides 2013, Julio Jones became a nightmare last year. Missing your WR1 for 11 games is bad enough, but his continued foot problems would make you think owners are weary about drafting him. Not the case. Despite Jones' foot woes, he's still going in the bottom of the first round (1.11). It shouldn't really be surprising though should it? Much younger than White, Jones has yet to reach his peak as a top-notch fantasy football asset in the three years he's been in the NFL.
It also looks like a new "cutting edge" procedure might finally put Jones' foot problems in the past. That remains to be seen, but it looks like owners aren't worried. If Jones manages to fall in your lap, you pretty much have to take him on the upside alone. While his best year came in 2011, with 79 catches, 1198 receiving yards and 10 scores, he's bound to shatter those numbers one of these years. In a pass-heavy offense, 2014 could be the year. Don't regret passing on him, even if health is still a cloud over his head.
Finishing up the receiver position, Harry Douglas could see more snaps and looks now that Tony Gonzalez is gone. Douglas is usually good for a game or two as a starter, but he really isn't worth much as the team's No. 3. Even with the unusually high amount of passes expected this year, there won't be enough to make Douglas worthy of a draft pick. If you do insist on taking him, the last few rounds is where he belongs.
With Gonzo gone, the tight end position goes from an asset to a liability and a question mark. Since the Falcons didn't go out of their way to draft Gonzalez's heir, the starting job will go to TE Levine Toilolo. However, don't get excited. The Falcons are expected to change their offense so that the tight end acts as more of a blocker than a move tight end. This also goes hand-in-hand with the passing offense the coaching staff wants to use. Using Toilolo as a blocking specialist will keep Ryan more protected in the pocket. This will be the first year in awhile that a Falcons tight end isn't worth drafting in any format.