Other than their former starting QB/franchise player filling out his prison cell application (he'd prefer a nice view of the barbed-wire-enclosed basketball court) and their backup from last season now playing in Houston, not much has happened here. Something tells me you've had your fill of news about a certain dog-killing QB, so I've vowed not to even mention his name once in this preview (other than listing him in the "key losses" section).
So, let's sum it up this way: The Falcons probably wish they hadn't traded Matt Schaub.
The team's eternal search for a reliable receiver (much less two) continues. Sure, Joe Horn is a nice pickup ... if this were 2003. At running back, there is a nice combo of an up-and-comer and a proven veteran, but that duo figures to face plenty of eight-man fronts as defenses dare Joey Harrington and Co. to beat them with the pass. Defensively, there are almost as many questions, and there's also a rookie starting at cornerback.
Let's just say new coach -- and innovative offensive mind -- Bobby Petrino will have his hands full. This isn't the University of Louisville; it's a step down.
Projected draft round Player Round Joey Harrington, QB 17-DND Warrick Dunn, RB 8-9 Jerious Norwood, RB 5 Joe Horn, WR 11 Michael Jenkins, WR 15 Alge Crumpler, TE 8 Billy Cundiff, K DND Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: QB Joey Harrington, WR Joe Horn, QB Chris Redman, CB Lewis Sanders. Key losses: LB Ed Hartwell, DE Patrick Kerney, WR Ashley Lelie, QB Matt Schaub, QB Michael Vick.
Alge Crumpler, TE. In his preseason debut Monday, Crumpler, who has been working his way back from offseason knee surgery, had two catches for 15 yards. Well, it's a start for the one guy you should feel confident drafting in this team's alleged passing game. Crumpler led the team in receptions (56), receiving yards (780) and receiving TDs (a career-best 8) last season, but things are much different now with Joey Harrington at QB. Still, the Falcons have to throw it to someone, and Crumpler remains option No. 1. He isn't an elite tight end, but you can count on him as an every-week starter.
Jerious Norwood, RB. All offseason, we heard about how nicely Norwood would fit into Bobby Petrino's offense. So it was fair to assume he'd replace Warrick Dunn as the starter. Not so fast (see: the Dunn section below). Until a stomach bug hit Norwood, he seemed like a can't-miss No. 3 back with upside. That still figures to be the case, but he might get off to a slow start if he is forced to split carries with Dunn. The speedy Norwood averaged 6.4 yards per carry in part-time duty last season, so there is no question about his ability. Questions about his workload, however, should cause him to slip into the fifth round of your draft.
Lawyer Milloy, DB. Milloy was second on the team with 98 tackles last season, and he also chipped in with two sacks. But for the third time in the past five seasons, he didn't have an interception. If it's tackles you want, Milloy can help. But he isn't a good bet for a TD. Target him as a No. 3.
Warrick Dunn, RB. Last week, coach Bobby Petrino told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Dunn had the edge over Jerious Norwood to start in Week 1. But that was before Norwood clearly outplayed Dunn in the team's most recent preseason game. Even if Dunn starts in Week 1, it shouldn't be long before he is on the short end of the carries in Atlanta. True, Dunn has three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. But he is 32 years old, is coming off back surgery and isn't as good a fit in the offense as Norwood. Dunn is worth a mid-round pick, but he is looking like a flex back -- at best.
Joe Horn, WR. What did Horn do last season that he hadn't done since 1999? Catch fewer than 40 passes. Yes, injuries limited him to 10 games (nine starts) last season, but a guy who is 35 isn't a good bet to stay healthy in 2007, either. That weighs on Horn's value, as do the serious issues this team has at QB. While we'd all love to see Horn return to his prime form, catch a TD pass and dig a cell phone out of the goal-post padding, we're not even sure he'd get a dial tone anymore. If you draft him as anything more than a bench option, you'll be sorry.
Joey Harrington, QB. He somehow has managed to go from the scapegoat piano man in Detroit to the starting QB in Atlanta. However, Harrington still checks in at a pathetic 30th in our QB rankings, despite a nice preseason. Really, what's to like about a guy who has failed as a starter with two teams, has a subpar receiving corps and plays behind a shaky offensive line? Harrington was signed to be a backup QB, and that's his true role, despite what the current depth chart says. After taking over for the injured Daunte Culpepper in Miami last season, Harrington had more INTs (15) than TDs (12), one 300-yard game (actually, it was 414 yards) and a 68.2 QB rating. Ug-ly.
Michael Jenkins, WR. To his credit, Jenkins caught a career-best seven TD passes last season. However, we're still waiting for the put-it-all-together season from the fourth-year player. And given the state of the Falcons' offense, we're destined to be waiting at least another season. There's potential here, but not enough to risk more than a late-round pick.
Falcons defense/special teams. Remember how unappealing this unit became last year when injuries struck John Abraham, Grady Jackson, Rod Coleman and Patrick Kerney? That's about how unappealing it is to start 2007. Kerney is now a Seahawk, and questions remain about the ability of those other three players to stay on the field. Atlanta finished 29th vs. the pass last season, giving up an alarming 41 plays of more than 40 yards through the air. This unit was merely middle of the pack in sacks (though rookie Jamaal Anderson should help some in that department), and it ranked in the lower third in takeaways. Things got so bad this offseason that the run-stuffing Jackson actually sued the team. The return game offers no help. You'd have to be pretty desperate on a bye week to turn to the Falcons' D for help.
Jamaal Anderson, DL. Here's a sleeper for you IDP owners. Anderson, the team's first-round pick, will start at defensive end. And he has pass-rushing ability. If John Abraham can stay healthy -- that's a big if -- he could draw the attention away from Anderson, helping to free his path to the QB.
Keith Brooking, LB. Brooking logged an impressive 136 tackles last season as an outside linebacker, but he is moving back to the inside this season. Therefore, his tackle total shouldn't suffer, but he'll be less reliable for sacks. Consider him a No. 3.
Billy Cundiff, K. Cundiff beat out Aaron Elling in a battle that was on par with your average 0-0 soccer match as far as excitement goes (and I play soccer). Unfortunately, Cundiff attempted -- and missed -- only one field goal last season. Plus, the Falcons likely will give the 98-year-old Morten Andersen a routine call four weeks into the season.
John Abraham, DL. There are folks in the intensive care unit of your local hospital who are healthier than Abraham, who hasn't played a full season since 2002. If he gets off to a great start, consider putting in a claim. Otherwise, don't bother.
Roddy White, WR. White is entering his magical third year in the league, but that should excite you about as much as the prospects of a nude waterfall scene featuring Hurley this season on "Lost." White went from three TDs as a rookie to none last season. The knock on him remains the same: a case of the dropsies. The new regime seems to be high on White, who is a potential deep target. But depending on Joey Harrington delivering a deep ball and then expecting White to catch it is like asking that teen beauty contestant from South Carolina to put together a coherent thought.
Jason Snelling, RB. With 30 carries for 124 yards, Snelling leads the team in both categories this preseason. But the emphasis there is on preseason. Both Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are well ahead of Snelling, meaning Snelling won't be an option unless injuries strike often.
Adam Jennings, WR. Another preseason standout, Jennings leads the Falcons with nine catches for 113 yards. Because the team is so thin at wideout, it is only slightly insane to think Jennings could carry this momentum over to the regular season. Track him, but don't you dare draft him.
Chris Redman, QB. Just in case you wondered who the team's Plan D is, behind Plan C Joey Harrington. But you shouldn't be wondering.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: The shrewd pickup here is Jerious Norwood, who is priced as the game's 40th-most-expensive RB at $5.15M. For Pete's sake, that's cheaper than Tampa Bay backup Kenneth Darby ($5.30M). In fact, Norwood comes a full million bucks cheaper than Warrick Dunn. This is a great buy-low opportunity on a guy whose value should only rise.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: Jim Mora is yesterday's news, and Bobby Petrino is now the man with the headset. Petrino turned around the Louisville program, but he is unproven at the pro level. He served as an assistant in Jacksonville for three seasons, but that's his only NFL experience. It's a good thing he isn't dealing with too many distractions. Oh wait. But if there's one thing Petrino knows, it's offense. The Falcons should be less one-dimensional this season, despite a passing game loaded with question marks, players who have failed to live up to their potential and backups being forced into starting jobs. The team has a new defensive coordinator in Mike Zimmer, who comes over from Dallas. Look for more aggressiveness, though that could leave a shaky secondary exposed.
Offensive line: Coach Bobby Petrino will install more of a power running game this season, but there are two hurdles that must be overcome. First is that both Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are smaller running backs. Second, the O-line also lacks size. Making the transition in the running game even more daunting is that the pass blocking also must improve. Only six teams allowed more sacks than the Falcons last season, and Joey Harrington is far less mobile than that guy who started in 2006. Left tackle Wayne Gandy is on a very hot seat, and there's a rookie (Justin Blalock) starting at left guard.
Schedule analysis: The running game will get a stern test early in the season, with games at Minnesota and at Jacksonville. Both of those teams finished in the top four in run defense last season, but the overall schedule is conducive for Atlanta's rushing attack. After Week 2, there's a three-game stretch against some more penetrable defenses (Panthers, Texans, Titans). The Falcons are matched up against the AFC South and the NFC West, and those two divisions aren't loaded with top-notch defensive units. Looking ahead to playoff time, the Falcons have a soft stretch against the Saints, Buccaneers and Cardinals. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Ninth easiest (or 24th toughest).