Turner's Fantasy Value Misleading

By Zack Cimini

Last year saw a free agent running back get his pay day and a starting spot for an NFL team. No one knew where to project him as a fantasy running back, and figured the team would struggle due to numerous variables. Yet this team stormed to a revival and became an overnight success story. There is no question this back should now be a first round fantasy selection, but buyer beware……beware.

Michael Turner had an incredible year that allowed Matt Ryan to be a rookie, and make plays only when needed. Carrying the ball at nearly 400 times gave Turner the output you’d expect from that amount of carries, with 17 touchdowns and nearly 1700 yards. He also led the league in yards after initial contact. At his size he has a rare combination of adding on yards when there is nothing.

At 27, Turner feels he can keep going at last year’s pace without worrying about his body breaking down. Reason for that is he was a primary backup for years in San Diego, so actually feels like he has only played one season. A good season at that, but will the Falcons actually keep Turner’s pace of carries that high?

We think they’ll lessen the load for a few reasons. One, Matt Ryan will be more comfortable with the teams system. It’s not that Ryan didn’t throw a lot last season, as he had many games where he threw in the high twenties for attempts. The x-factor where they’d pull Ryan back a bit came within the red-zone. For a quarterback that threw as much as he did, Ryan only had 16 touchdown passes. Another peculiar stat on Ryan’s touchdown throws is that most of them came on big plays.

That’ll change in a hurry now that the Falcons brought in tight end, Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been one of the best red zone targets for over a decade now, and doesn’t seem to have lost anything physically. Double check the amount of touchdowns Ryan threw to a tight end last season. Still looking? That’s right……zero. If Gonzalez hovers around his average for touchdowns a season (7), how many touchdowns will this take away from Turner? It could be a bigger impact than fantasy owners think drafting Turner as a top three fantasy back.

For being fourth in the league in points, the Atlanta Falcons red zone efficiency was amazing. Can they sustain that success within the red zone?

Ready for the third clincher on why Turner’s season a year ago will come down from fantasy craziness? Jerious Norwood. Norwood is a back that has averaged over 5 yards a carry the last three seasons with minimal touches. He makes a big play on a high rate average usually a long burner. Sooner or later the Falcons are going to have to figure a way to make more plays for him. He can’t continue to get 100 carries a season, as he is too productive.

They have figured a way to get him more involved out of the backfield as his catches per year have went up to a career high 36 last season. Last year he had 131 complete touches and scored six touchdowns. More than anything you’d have to expect the Falcons to protect their premier back in Turner by not overworking him. This team is talented and will need to have him energized for a second burst come playoff time. If not a season low average and yards per carry could happen once again in the first round of the playoffs (2.3 ypc for 42 yards against the Cardinals).