Are you ready for some fooooootbaaaaaall?!?!? Of course you are, and we here at Fantasy Knuckleheads are too. Nowhere else but here will you find team-by-team analysis of schedule, coaching strategy, and key players as you prepare for the 2010 fantasy football season.
Atlanta Falcons 2010 fantasy targets
Quarterback: Matt Ryan
Matty Ice may not be as big as a fantasy stud as Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, but that's not a problem for this knucklehead. If you're thrust into a run on quarterbacks, don't panic. Chances are that Ryan can be had a few rounds after the run on the elite starters. Considering the 25-year old Ryan threw 2,916 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, that's pretty good value. If you end up with him as your starting quarterback, though, you better hope his interceptions come down from his total of 14 from a year ago.
Running Back: Michael Turner
Turner came out of nowhere in 2008, his first year as a starter in the NFL, giving hopeful fantasy owners a huge surprise. Some injuries helped to dampen a potential repeat performance in 2009, limiting him to just 178 carries. However, it is important to know that despite the smaller workload last year, Turner raised his YPC to a stellar 4.9, while still contributing 871 yards and 10 scores. Turner should be a safe bet to be among the league's best at running back again this year.
Wide Receiver: Roddy White
In the Atalanta Falcons' offense, there is one and only one wideout worth looking at: Roddy White. White is just one of two Falcons wide receivers to find the end zone more than once last season, and outside of Ryan, he is the cornerstone of Atlanta's passing game. He proved this by following up his huge 2008-09 with an 85-catch, 1,153 yard, 11 touchdown season last year. Barring injuries or a breakout by Michael Jenkins or Harry Douglas, White is "the man" down in Atlanta.
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez
Hooking up with the young star Matt Ryan in Atlanta last year must have been rejuvenating for the grizzled veteran Tony Gonzalez, who returns for his 14th season of NFL action this year. He showed he can still play with the big kids last year, grabbing in 83 catches for 867 yards and 6 touchdowns. Because of his age it's hard to expect anything more in this upcoming season, but Gonzalez still remains one of the better fantasy options at tight end.
SUN 9/12 @ Pittsburgh
SUN 9/19 vs. Arizona
SUN 9/26 @ New Orleans
SUN 10/3 vs. San Francisco
SUN 10/10 @ Cleveland
SUN 10/17 @ Philadelphia
SUN 10/24 vs. Cincinnati
--WEEK 8 BYE--
SUN 11/7 vs. Tampa Bay
THU 11/11 vs. Baltimore
SUN 11/21 @ St. Louis
SUN 11/28 vs. Green Bay
SUN 12/5 @ Tampa Bay
SUN 12/12 @ Carolina
SUN 12/19 @ Seattle
MON 12/27 vs. New Orleans
SUN 1/2 vs. Carolina
As the schedule shows, the Falcons shouldn't have a terrible 2010, but it won't be a cakewalk, either. They start off with the unenviable task of opening the season in Pittsburgh before going to the Super Dome to face the defending Super Bowl champs two weeks later. They should have no problem beating up on Carolina, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis, however, Philly, Baltimore, and Cincinnati will probably give the Falcons some trouble.
Judging by each team's performance in the 2009 season, look for the Week 12 match-up against Green Bay to be a shoot-out, while each game against the Saints will probably be a high scoring affair as well. All in all, two games against rebuilding division rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina along with games against St. Louis and Cleveland will likely allow for great fantasy production from this offense, but it is important not to let your hopes rise too high for games against better defensive units such as Baltimore and San Francisco.
The Atlanta Falcons featured a very average offense in the 2009 campaign, coming in at 16th in the NFL with 340.4 yards per game. Additionally, the team was 14th in the league with 223.2 passing yards per game and 15th with 117.2 rushing yards per game. Drafting primarily defensive players early on plus a couple of guards who figure to be backups, this offense doesn't look primed to do a whole lot better in 2010, although a healthy Michael Turner and another year of experience for Matt Ryan should help the team improve upon their 12th-best 44 total touchdowns from a year ago.
(UPDATE: Atlanta's receiver depth has now become an issue which may have some negative impact on Matt Ryan's value. Michael Jenkins, an important piece in Atlanta's offense, has missed most of this month with a shoulder injury he sustained during a practice session earlier this month. His ability to return for the start of the regular season is questionable. Also, a few days ago the news broke that rookie wide-out Kerry Meier will miss the entire 2010 season with a knee injury he sustained in a preseason game against the New England Patriots.
Meier, a fifth round draft pick this year, had the chance to crack the Falcons' receivers rotation this year, as the team was excited with his physical play style. Even with Meier out and Jenkins expected to miss a week or two of the regular season, Atlanta does not plan to sign a wide receiver as a replacement, which will mean more playing time for Harry Douglas, Eric Weems, and Brian Finneran.
Overall, the Falcons have a soft defense that was easy to score on in 2009. The team was ranked 21st in the NFL with 348.9 yards allowed per game, but their 106.9 rushing yards allowed per game was good for tenth-best in the league. The Falcons hope that their signing of free agent Dunta Robinson and drafting of Oklahoma standout Dominique Franks will bring much-needed improvements to the team's pass defense, which was fifth worst in the NFL last year in allowing 242 passing yards per contest. The addition of Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in the draft should also be a big help to the Falcons, but at this point I would still have a tough time suggesting this team's defense as a whole for your fantasy league.