Fantasy Football 2012: Atlanta's Matt Ryan Has Top-5 QB Potential in 2012

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Fantasy Football 2012: Atlanta's Matt Ryan Has Top-5 QB Potential in 2012
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In countless mock drafts, courtesy of FFC, quarterbacks are going at a premium this year. I've seen five to six signal-callers going in the top-25 of drafts, something that doesn't usually happen.

There is a changing of the guard this year. Much like how the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns are doing, fantasy owners are on edge in drafts, clinging to the notion that they need to get a franchise quarterback, and sometimes reaching for them.

Does that mean picking Tony Romo or Philip Rivers in the fourth round? Does that mean picking Cam Newton in the top 20? Does it even mean making a huge reach for Robert Griffin III, hoping he can duplicate Cam's rookie success and be the new Michael Vick?

Fantasy football enthusiasts are always looking for the next big thing, and this year, I believe we'll see a huge season from Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.

I know. We're going to ask this question again and again until he does it.

"Is this the year for Matt Ryan?"

He's shown steady improvement over his career in Atlanta; he had a decent season last year. He finished eighth among quarterbacks last season, had five less points than Romo and 12 less than Eli Manning.

And according to mock drafts, he's going No. 78 overall, 23 slots lower than Romo. Since when did five points mark a three-round slide?

I love the tools he has around him. Roddy White will be the same, steady guy he always has been. Every time we're ready to count out Tony Gonzalez, he reminds us why he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But what I'm most excited about is Julio Jones. Jones played just 13 games last season, and scored double-digit fantasy points seven times. What's interesting is that in those seven games, Matt Ryan was a monster; he averaged 18.3 fantasy points according to ESPN fantasy scoring.

That places him just two points-per-game behind Matt Stafford, and two points ahead of what he actually scored. If Jones stays healthy, it presents unlimited potential for Ryan. Thanks to him, and Dirk Koetter, Ryan is sure to improve upon his 7.4 yards per pass attempt from last season.

Let's also look at the play calling for Atlanta. There exists a preconceived notion that Atlanta runs the ball way too much for their pass offense to ever be elite for fantasy. Yet, they are ranked fourth in the league in pass attempts.

So why wouldn't Ryan put up more points? Well, the problem is how one dimensional their red zone offense is. 

According to CBSSports.com, the Falcons ran the ball 51.3 percent of the time they were in the red zone. Ryan completes just 48 percent of his passes in the red zone, mostly because 37 percent of his targets go to Roddy White.

As good as White is, too many defenses simply key in on him and make the red zone offense bland. Jones had just eight, and I expect that number to go up, and therefore diversify and amplify the effectiveness of the Atlanta passing offense in the red zone.

Atlanta will need pass more, and pass more down the field in 2012, if only because their running game is declining. Michael Turner ran behind the 30th ranked offensive line for run blocking in the NFL, resulting in a dreadful 3.2 yards per carry down the stretch.

Dirk Koetter has said that he wants to keep Turner fresh, which will mean Jacquizz Rodgers will be on the field more. Rodgers can serve as a Darren Sproles-type screen player for Ryan, keying a way to open up the offense more and keeping opposing blitzers honest.

He will pass more, and more down the field in 2012, and he will have a better red zone offense. With a declining run game, Atlanta will need to lean on Matt Ryan's arm more. He has the potential to finally make it his year.

Draft Matt Ryan knowing you got a bargain.  

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