NFC South top 25: No. 23

We continue our series of my projected top 25 players in the NFC South for the 2012 season with No. 23:

Michael Turner, running back, Atlanta

What he did in 2011: Turner rushed for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns on 301 carries. He also caught 17 passes for 168 yards. Those are very good numbers for any running back. But Turner and Atlanta’s offense weren’t very consistent last year. Turner’s yards tended to come in bunches. He finished the season with a 172-yard game against Tampa Bay, but went five straight games without a 100-yard performance before that. In an embarrassing playoff loss to the New York Giants, Turner was as ineffective as the rest of Atlanta’s offense. He finished that game with 41 yards on 15 carries.

Why he’s No. 23 in 2012: Although Turner now is 30 and has lots of miles on his legs, I still see him as a 1,000-yard rusher. Yeah, I know the Falcons have been very consistent this offseason in stating that the number of carries for Turner will be reduced. But that doesn’t mean the Falcons are trying to phase him out of the offense. They merely are trying to help him continue to be effective. The coaching staff wants to keep his legs fresher than in past years and second-year pro Jacquizz Rodgers is going to get a lot more playing time than he did a year ago. The Falcons also want more out of their downfield passing game. But the increased use of Rodgers and more passes downfield should only help Turner. He’s a power back, capable of wearing down a defense. He can do a better job of that if he’s fresh and the offense at least has a threat of a downfield passing game.