The last we saw it, the Falcons’ offense was being dismantled.
Atlanta’s only two points during its blowout playoff loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium earlier this year came from a second-quarter safety on an Eli Manning intentional-grounding call. QB Matt Ryan was unable to get comfortable and RB Michael Turner had little room to run. The Falcons were held to only 3.9 yards per offensive play and one of the team’s greatest weaknesses, its offensive line — which returns almost entirely intact from last season — did not measure up in the trenches.
The Falcons’ offensive luster was lost that day. They appear to have gained much of it back, at least within fantasy circles, during the offseason — in a recent PFW fantasy mock draft, the Falcons had seven skill-position players drafted, tying for the most from any team.
Ryan, Turner, RBs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez were all selected in the first 13 rounds of a 16-round, 12-team draft (White, Turner and Jones were the first three Falcons off the board, each getting drafted between Rounds 2-4). The only other clubs to have seven skill-position players drafted were the Patriots, Packers, Lions and Saints, who represent the league’s four highest-scoring teams last season and four of the five (the Eagles were ranked fourth) highest-ranked offenses in total yards.
There is good reason for the interest in the Falcons’ skill-position players. Atlanta’s offense was ranked a tier below the likes of New England, Green Bay, Detroit and New Orleans in 2011, but it could make up plenty of ground with breakthrough seasons from Jones and Rodgers, progress from Ryan and steady, healthy years from the over-30 crowd of Turner, White and Gonzalez — all very conceivable … if the offensive line has a better year.
That is a big if.
The biggest X-factor of all for Atlanta is its front five. Offensive lines are easy to gloss over when determining fantasy strategy. We are not drafting guards, tackles and centers, but the performances of players like Falcons OLT Sam Baker, coming off a poor, injury-plagued season, will help determine the fantasy fates of Ryan and company in 2012.
Aside from OLG Justin Blalock and ORT Tyson Clabo, there is little certainty on the Falcons’ offensive line heading into the preseason.
That fact should not send fantasy owners into an avoid-Falcons-at-all-costs tizzy. However, it ought to be in the back of their minds when it's time to craft a strategy for drafts.