Falcons fans hope that the debacle that was the 2013 season will be soon forgotten following a 2014 resurgence. Atlanta endured a tremendous number of key injuries throughout the year, per SportsIllustrated.com, stumbling to a depressing 4-12 record.
Top wide receiver tandem Julio Jones and White battled injuries all season long, and their struggles understandably hampered Ryan’s production. Atlanta has plenty to prove in the coming year, and a huge part of its success hinges on a revitalized passing game.
Despite missing most of last year due to a foot injury suffered in Week 5, Julio Jones has not fallen out of favor with the fantasy community. With positive reports of a successful recovery, according to NFL.com, most expert projections have Jones soaring back into the fantasy receiver elite in 2014.
Meanwhile, there seems to be more hesitancy to trust Jones’ teammates, White and Ryan, to return to their pre-2013 form. Despite the doubters, there’s a case to be made that White and Ryan represent two of the safest value picks this upcoming fantasy football season.
Over a six-season stretch between 2007 and 2012, White epitomized consistency at the wide receiver position. During that stretch, White played 16 games every season and averaged 94 receptions, 1,295 receiving yards and eight touchdowns per year—a fantastic stat line for just about any receiver in the NFL not named Megatron.
Some speculated that when Jones inevitably exploded in his 2012 sophomore season, that White’s production would surely take a hit. How’d “Mr. Consistency” fair that year? He posted 92 receptions, 1,351 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. In fact, White even managed to out-produce the bigger, stronger and more athletic Jones in fantasy scoring that season.
Now, after missing a few games in 2013 due to injuries for the first time in his nine-year career, public perception may be that White is on the decline. At 32 years old, some may speculate that he will see fewer snaps in favor of the team’s leading wide receiver from last season, Harry Douglas.
Several fantasy experts’ early 2014 rankings generally reflect this perception. For now, White’s consensus offseason rank among analysts falls in the 18 to 25 range for receivers. That’s a precipitous drop from last season when White’s average draft position was in the five to 10 range among receivers, according to the web’s most popular fantasy football services.
White was considered a clear-cut, No. 1 fantasy receiver just seven months ago.
Should we really now write White off as a low-end No. 2, high-end No. 3 wide receiver? Isn't this all too reminiscent of another aging generational talent who just about everyone underestimated coming off a down year in 2011—Reggie Wayne? How did that work out again?
White reminded us how productive he can be when healthy at the end of the 2013 season. Over the final five games of last year, White actually outpaced his 2007-2012 rate of production, averaging over 100 receiving yards and 8.5 receptions per game.
Now, with the retirement of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, Ryan’s security blanket and favorite red-zone target, the Falcons offense could employ plenty three-receiver sets. With more targets to go around following Gonzalez’s departure, the offense could be tailored to prominently feature White, Jones and Douglas.
Considering that Jones has proven to be the more severely injury-prone receiver over his career (Jones has missed 14 games in three seasons; White has missed three games in nine seasons), another Jones injury could equal the most targets of White’s career.
|2014 Projection:||98 receptions||1,325 receiving yards||9 touchdowns|
Ryan threw for more than 4,500 passing yards in 2013, fourth-most in the league. So is a bounce-back year really necessary for the seven-year veteran?
While Ryan’s raw yardage total is impressive, he still finished down around 15th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks. The yards were there, however, the Falcons collapsed as a team, and Ryan’s overall performance suffered as a result. With his uber-elite pass-catching duo of Jones and White banged up for much of the season, he threw for the fewest touchdowns since 2009 (26) and most interceptions in his career (17).
His 651 passing attempts were also the most of his career, largely due to the team playing from behind in several games and needing to throw more than usual. More passing attempts do not always equal greater production, especially if those extra throws are made under duress in late-game, desperation situations when the rate of incompletions and interceptions increases.
Though “garbage time” stats still count in fantasy, Ryan’s value thrives when the Falcons thrive as a team. When Atlanta boasted the NFC’s best regular-season record in 2012, Ryan posted career highs in total passing yards (4,719) and touchdowns (32)—good for a top-10 finish in fantasy scoring.
Ryan is likely to slip in some fantasy drafts this year due to the emergence of young, productive quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck and Nick Foles, among others. Those fearful of another down year in Atlanta may opt for these supposedly safer options. Therefore, Ryan could come as a great value pick later in the draft.
|2014 Projection:||4,650 passing yards||34 touchdowns||13 interceptions|