Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
No team in the NFL has a pair of receivers quite like Atlanta's Roddy White and Julio Jones. The Broncos (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker), Giants (Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks), and Packers (Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson), all have strong duos, but they're clearly a tier below White and Jones. Last year, White had 92 catches for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns, while Jones hauled in 79 passes for 1,198 yards and 10 scores. Both were legitimate No. 1 receivers for fantasy owners. But can they do it again? And is this the year Jones takes over as the top dog in Atlanta?
It's a challenge for any team to produce two guys capable of being top fantasy receivers, no matter how good the receivers and quarterback are. The target for a top receiver in a non-PPR league should be 170 points, no matter how you slice it. In most fantasy leagues, that equates to 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. White and Jones both reached that level last year, but it might not be so easy to do it again.
Matt Ryan had a career-high 615 pass attempts last year. Part of that was because the Falcons had a very ineffective rushing attack.They ran for just 1,397 yards and 3.7 yards per carry as a team, both the fourth-worst in the league. The team upgraded at running back, signing Steven Jackson during the offseason. He ran for 1,042 yards and 4.1 yards per carry with the Rams last season. With Jackson in tow, Ryan probably won't top 600 pass attempts again in 2013.
Still, Atlanta will remain a pass-first team, and White and Jones are both top-10 options at the position. Despite being ranked second by essentially every fantasy expert on the Internet last year, White remained the No. 1 to Jones' 1a. White had 143 targets while Jones had 129. He also had nearly 200 more yards than his younger teammate. However, I believe 2012 was the last year with White on top. Jones is entering his third year, the magical season for a receiver, and he's one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league. White turns 32 in November. It's no knock on White, who has been the model of consistency, averaging 94 receptions for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns over the last six years. But it's just a matter of time before Jones removes that "a" from after the "1" next to his name. That will happen this season.
|Atlanta Falcons' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Falcons' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
The Saints and Buccaneers were two of the worst defenses in the league last year. New Orleans could struggle again, but Tampa Bay addressed their biggest need by adding Darrelle Revis. They get the AFC East, which had one great defense last year (Jets), one good one (Dolphins) and two bad ones (Bills and Patriots). The NFC West might be the best defensive division from top to bottom, with two of the best defenses in the NFL in the Seahawks and 49ers, and another good one in the Cardinals. All told, it isn't the best schedule for fantasy owners, but that's certainly no reason to avoid the Falcons' skill players.
QB -- Matt Ryan, Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree
RB -- Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling
WR -- Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, Tim Toone
TE -- Tony Gonzalez, Chase Coffman, Levine Toilolo
Stats via NFL.com and FFToday.com
Despite ranking 24th in total defense and not being especially strong against the pass or the run, the Falcons allowed the fifth-fewest points in the league. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they had 31 takeaways, sixth most in the league. Rushing the passer was an issue last year. They had just 29 sacks, more than just four teams. To that end, they lured Osi Umenyiora away from the Giants, and he'll anchor a defensive line that features strength in the middle with Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry.
Asante Samuel may have lost a step, but he's still a solid corner and had five interceptions last season. The Falcons shored up the secondary in the draft, selecting Desmond Trufant with the 22nd pick in thedraft. He starred at Washington in college, and is the third Trufant brother to play corner in the NFL.
The Falcons didn't get a ton of production out of starting linebackers Akeem Dent, Stephen Nicholas and Sean Witherspoon last year, but the unit returns intact. Perhaps Umenyiora will have a trickle-down effect on everyone on this side of the ball, but this isn't a team you'll want to consider as a fantasy defense until and unless they show something during the season. If you prefer to play the defense carousel, they good be a nice matchup play.