The Falcons defense was around the league average in most statistics last season, but a new defensive coordinator and the addition of a new playmaker is expected to improve Atlanta's defensive standing this season.
Coordinator Mike Nolan expects to get a little more out of Atlanta's defenders and Asante Samuel brings more than just a new, bold attitude to the D. Samuel also brings shutdown corner potential and the ability to flip an interception into a score in the blink of an eye.
One key stat overlooked by many from Atlanta's defense last season is defensive scoring. The Falcons had five touchdowns on defense last year, third in the league. With Samuel in place and Nolan teaching aggressive play, that number could rise. Those two factors alone could mean the Falcons may be a good play in fantasy football this year on defense.
The Falcons don't carry a defensive reputation so they won't be among the first defenses off the board like the league stalwarts the Steelers, Ravens and Texans. Atlanta could linger into the final rounds of the draft and they could give a fantasy player a solid late-round option on defense. Additionally, their bye week is in Week 7, plenty of time to figure out what you'll get from them.
Numbers and hypotheticals aside, look at the Falcons' defensive performance in the first quarter against a solid offensive team in Baltimore last week. It's only preseason and very little game planning was done by either team, but the raw performance of the defense is encouraging.
Against the Ravens first-team offense in the first quarter, Atlanta didn't allow a first down and limited the Ravens to nine yards of total offense. They also had one sack and a pass defensed. On offense it may be the best test Atlanta will face among their preseason opponents, but look to the third week of the exhibition season for a good measure of what the D is capable of.
In the preseason's Week 3, the Falcons will face the Dolphins in Miami. The third week is generally when the starters play through halftime and it will be a good time to see what the starting 11 and the key rotating reserves can put together as the 2012 season begins.
Last year the Houston Texans were among the final selections in the draft, grouped with kickers and other defenses that weren't considered to be very good. They turned out to be one of the dominant defenses of the league and a huge factor in getting them into the playoffs. The Falcons may not not see a Texans-like surge, but an improvement is expected and a fantasy player could do far worse than what Atlanta will likely produce for the 2012 season.