The Juggernaut Index lurches forward, four teams at a time, full of wondrous revelations (below) and chilling images (above). To review our previous entries, just hit the links: Washington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Carolina; San Francisco, Buffalo, Miami, Seattle. Let's get started with a fresh batch...
24. Oakland Raiders
First of all, we should acknowledge that a healthy Darren McFadden is a bad man, a sensational runner. If he ever gives us a full 16-game season, he's a serious threat to reach 2,000 scrimmage yards. I'll co-sign Brad's spin on McFadden, endorsing him as a mid-first rounder. Last year he surpassed 100 total yards in 10 of his 13 games, including his first seven. McFadden is clearly more than just a straight-line sprinter; he's an asset in the passing attack, he runs through contact, he breaks the plane. He ranked second among all running backs in per-game fantasy scoring last season. He's dealing with a fractured orbital bone right now, but he's on track for end-of-preseason action.
There's just a lot to like with McFadden, simply put.
However, after he's taken near the top of your fantasy draft, you might not hear another Raiders' name until Michael Bush is selected as a handcuff. (And for the record, there's no better handcuff in our game than Bush. He should get 8-10 touches when McFadden is active, and he'll star in the 3-4 games when Darren is sidelined). After Bush, then you'll probably have to wait until the kicker's round, when someone grabs Sea Bass. Thus, it's tough to rank this team any higher than the mid-20s for fantasy purposes, even with McFadden in the backfield.
Jason Campbell returns at quarterback, directing an offense that finished in the bottom-third of the league in both pass attempts and passing TDs. While Campbell certainly isn't a high-end quarterback, you have to remember that this fan base is still emerging from the JaMarcus era. Mediocrity is a huge leap forward. Campbell will be backed up by either Trent Edwards or Kyle Boller, so it's not like there's an upside option in the second chair.
The Raiders lost Zach Miller to Seattle, which means they'll be without the guy who led the team in catches and yardage for three straight seasons. Not an easy person to replace, but Kevin Boss will try. We know Campbell has a history of hitting 5 and 6-yard check-downs, regardless of game situation, so Boss could see a fair number of targets. The Oakland wide receivers are a sketchy group, but Jacoby Ford displayed some big-play brilliance last season, and fifth-round rookie Denarius Moore has been one of the buzziest camp stories in the league. Both players are late-round fliers with potential. In most fantasy leagues, Louis Murphy (injured), Chaz Schilens (injured, again) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (pass-dropper, go-route specialist) should open the year unowned and untrusted.
We should also mention that this team lost Robert Gallery to the Seahawks, where he joins both Miller and former Raiders head coach Tom Cable. And as everyone knows, the defense lost one of the league's elite corners, Nnamdi Asomugha. Again, not small losses ? although I'm not so panicked about Cable, because Hue Jackson was last year's OC and Al Saunders is now on staff.
Still, there are serious questions with several units here, and only one elite fantasy asset. If they didn't have such a steady hand in the owner's box, you'd really worry.
2010 team stats with NFL rank: 25.6 points per game (6), 198.8 pass YPG (23), 155.9 rush YPG (2), 30.7 pass attempts (24), 31.5 rush attempts (4).
23. Denver Broncos
Alas, the much-discussed deal didn't happen, so Orton remains in Denver. He's directing a John Fox offense, which means ... well, we'll just refer you to the Denver Post's Mike Klis:
An NFL plan sometimes becomes a Plan B, but the idea behind Denver's defensive-minded head coach John Fox is for his offense to have more Moreno-McGahee, and less Kyle Orton-Brandon Lloyd.
You might recall that Orton-Lloyd was a magnificent combination last season, as the Broncos (at least under Coach McDaniels) threw the ball constantly, finishing seventh in the league in pass attempts. Lloyd led the NFL in receiving yards, making a ridiculous leap in value. That dude used to show up once or twice per season; last year, he was in the every-week circle of trust. I've already given you my reasons for not rating him as a WR1 in 2011, but they don't make his 2010 campaign any less impressive.
Joining Lloyd in a receiving corps that won't get as much use this season, we find second-year wideout Eric Decker (sleeper) and Eddie Royal (apparently peaked as a rookie). You will not find Demaryius Thomas, at least not yet. He's recovering from Achilles surgery, probably won't enter the fantasy conversation again until October or November.
The running game here is solid, but a division of labor is the worry. Knowshon Moreno has had a healthy preseason, he's reportedly dropped some weight, and he dodged a bullet when DeAngelo Williams re-upped with Carolina. It sounds like Willis McGahee is going to poach plenty of touches inside-the-5, which clearly limits Moreno's upside. If everything goes as planned, Knowshon could be something like LeSean McCoy, but in a much-less-productive offense, and with 40-45 fewer receptions. Interested? Meh.
Tebow is the wild card here, no doubt. Denver should probably have a red zone package for this guy, which would of course be bad for Orton, Willis and Knowshon. It's hard to believe we won't see him at some point, either in a cameo role mid-game, or as an eventual Orton replacement. He's not the most accurate club in the bag, but he's tempting to use. The rushing stats make him a clear person of interest in the fake game; he was the top fantasy scorer over the final three weeks in 2010. But right now, he's No. 2 on the depth chart.
2010 team stats with NFL rank: 21.5 points per game (19), 252.4 pass YPG (7), 96.5 rush YPG (26), 36.3 pass attempts (7), 24.9 rush attempts (27).
Well, this shouldn't take too long, because Maurice Jones-Drew and his handcuff, Rashad Jennings, are the only two Jaguars who are likely to be drafted in standard leagues. MJD claims his knee is pain-free, post-surgery, and we have no choice but to trust him (or doubt him and draft McFadden instead, because there's so little injury potential there). Jones-Drew has been an elite fantasy back in prior years, even while sharing a workload. Pencil him in for 280-ish carries, take him in Round 1, then hedge with Jennings if you're a cautious sort.
And that should be all I need to say about Jacksonville. But no, that wouldn't please anyone except me. Moving on...
Maybe you'll chase last year's TD total with Marcedes Lewis, but that really seems like a mistake to me, given the depth at tight end. (He's an awesome real-life player, don't get me wrong, but this is not exactly a Nintendo offense). If any wideout on this team is going to have fantasy value, it's Mike Thomas (66-820-4 last year). I'm not even going to list the other receivers, because this team doesn't throw (see stats below). I like the concept of a healthy-ish Jarett Dillard, because the NCAA numbers were crazy-good, but I don't expect anything from anyone in this passing game. Draft Thomas in a PPR; ignore the rest.
David Garrard is the exact opposite of an upside quarterback, and I have no interest in discussing him, either. He's going to lose his job ? maybe not in Week 1, but soon. Rookie Blaine Gabbert is excellent, he was drafted No. 10 overall, and it's tough for me to imagine him not starting after Jacksonville's bye, if not earlier. The Jaguars face New Orleans, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in Weeks 4-7, and fans will be begging for some Gabbert after that sequence. Of course he'll still lead a run-first offense, where the only elite play-maker is the running back.
And you better be healthy, MJD, or the guru assault will be relentless and unforgiving.
2010 team stats with NFL rank: 22.1 points per game (18), 191.6 pass PG (27), 149.7 rush YPG (3), 29.3 pass attempts (31), 32.0 rush attempts (3).
21. Tennessee Titans
You've already received my take on the Chris Johnson holdout, which is ridiculously similar to the Steven Jackson holdout of '08. Do we need to go over this again? I'm still drafting Johnson top-five and ignoring the whole mess.
It's a mistake to think that Johnson and the Titans are terribly far apart in this thing. The player wants an offer before he reports; the team wants him to report before they make an offer. Both sides agree that he's worth a lotta million dollars. Johnson whiffed on the deadline to earn an accrued year toward free agency, so he's firmly tied to Tennessee.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, he misses a week or two of the regular season ? and this seems like a remote chance, one that requires gross negligence on someone's part. Does your fantasy league decide its title in Week 1 or Week 2? If not, then you should not be too terribly worried about Chris Johnson. He's a rare talent, and the Titans are going to need an exceptional player in the backfield, because no other aspect of the offense merits great respect. Javon Ringer's talents will not be enough. Also, Johnson is the only player on this team who can move tickets, without regard to the Titans' record.
Basically, I'm not at all concerned about CJ2K, unless someone here gets pretty stupid. Feel free to disagree in comments, worrywart.
If you're on board with any of the ideas we've put forward this preseason about the advantages of system and roster continuity, then you're not too excited about Tennessee. The head coach and offensive coordinator are new (Mike Munchak, Chris Palmer), as is the quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck). None of those names are exciting; that's why I stuck 'em in parentheses. This presumably remains a run-first team, because that's all they'll do well. Hasselbeck is clearly a bridge to Jake Locker. The rookie gets a developmental year (smartly), and likely won't play until Hasselbeck gets dinged.
This receiving corps is well known to the fantasy community, and at least one of its members is well know to New Jersey police. Kenny Britt delivered a delightful medley of legal entanglements this off-season, for which he will almost certainly receive a suspension. The only way he avoids some sort of punishment is if it's determined that the league can't discipline players for nonsense perpetrated during the lockout.
In any case, the NFL won't be suspending Britt during the fantasy playoffs. Don't overstate the impact of potential discipline. He's the greatest receiving threat on this roster, though his hamstrings and (alleged) behavior have been trouble. Nate Washington and Damian Williams are still in town, both deep-league plays, and Justin Gage is lurking, too. Tight end Jared Cook has made plenty of sleeper lists thus far, after a strong finish in the final two weeks last season (12 receptions, 154 yards, TD). He's made sleeper lists before, of course, but never this many. Cook should be drafted as a starter in 14 and 16-team leagues, a nice target for those who don't chase the top-tier at this position.
2010 team stats with NFL rank: 22.3 points per game (16), 194.2 pass YPG (25), 107.9 rush YPG (17), 29.6 pass attempts (30), 25.4 rush attempts (23).
Photos via US Presswire