The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: For FANTASY purposes. We're not interested in real-life winning percentages here. This is simply about yards, points, and draft position. We're down to the final three teams, so all the names here are well-known and drafted early.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick recently told Yahoo!'s Michael Silver, "You can't design a defense to stop me."
I doubt that statement was actually a personal challenge to Silver, who seems like a poor candidate to design a Vick-resistant defense on his own — and even if he could, who would Mike recruit to play it? His first-team D would be, like, Dan Wetzel, Jason Cole, and nine Cal volleyball players. That ain't stoppin' the Eagles, no matter the scheme.
In any case, when Vick made that declaration, he wasn't hyping himself so much as the ridiculous talent surrounding him in Philly. Here's the quote in context:
"You can't design a defense to stop me, especially not on this team. We have so many weapons, and some teams have tried to make that their primary focus. That's when we run up the score."
As for the notion that defenses might try to mitigate his running ability by using a player as a spy who patrols the line of scrimmage, Vick was similarly dismissive: "I don't even notice a spy now. The last spy I saw was versus Jacksonville last year. DeSean ran a shallow cross right past him and scored. LeSean, DeSean — those guys will beat the spy. Maybe it used to be an option before, but I'm not that guy anymore. I'm getting the ball out."
So good luck game-planning against this team when it's at full strength. Vick might be the least of your worries.
The Eagles have an excellent pair of starting wideouts in Jeremy Maclin and the live-wire quick DeSean Jackson, both of whom topped 900 receiving yards last season. Jackson only caught 47 passes in 2010 and 63 the year before — not exactly a PPR-league monster — but he still reached 1,000 yards in each season. All of his catches have TD potential (and also fumble-at-the-goal-line-while-celebrating potential). Maclin seems to have recovered sufficiently from the vapors his mystery illness, and he's expected to play the opener at St. Louis. He hauled in 70 passes for 964 yards in 2010, leading the team in touchdown receptions with 10. There's been a discount on Maclin in fantasy drafts due to preseason health concerns, so he's a decent bet to deliver a profit.
If Philly can eventually get Steve Smith healthy following knee surgery, they'll have yet another insane weapon. Smith, you'll recall, is just one season removed from a 107-catch campaign with the Giants. He's not expected to play in Week 1, but anything the team gets from Smith this year is merely another decoration on the cake. Jason Avant and Riley Cooper round out the receiving corps, along with tight end Brent Celek. Last season, with Vick at the controls of the offense, Celek's role diminished significantly. He caught 34 fewer passes than he had in '09, and he gained 460 fewer yards. Entering 2011, only one of the Yahoo! experts bothered to rank him in the top-20 at his position (Evans, No. 19).
McCoy, like D-Jax, is a big-play threat, a guy who can flip field position like few other players. In 12 of 15 games last season, he delivered at least one play that covered 20-plus yards. McCoy also led all running backs in targets (90) and catches (78), a byproduct of Andy Reid's scheme. Shady is an elite PPR option, a reasonable top-five pick in such formats. He'll compete for carries with Vick inside the 5, so you worry a bit about his TD ceiling. The counter-argument, of course, is that McCoy has the potential to find the end zone from distance, and he's guaranteed a significant number of touches. He broke the plane nine times last season, so it's not as if a decent TD total is out of the question. Ronnie Brown figures to be strictly a reserve to open the year; on talent, McCoy has a huge edge over Brown.
As I've mentioned a few times this preseason (here's one example), Vick presents an unusual risk/reward scenario. I've heard the argument to draft him first overall — or in the top-five, or somewhere uncommonly early for a QB — but I just can't endorse it. The position is simply loaded with guys who have 30-TD potential; any of the quarterbacks we've ranked 1-9 could finish atop the fantasy scoring leaders. We can't bank on Vick giving us another 49-point single-game scoring effort, because those things tend to occur only once every 20 years. Vick's greatest strength, fantasy-wise, is his unmatched ability to run the football (676 yards in 2010), but of course that tendency also exposes him to an unmatched number of hits. There's a level of injury risk here that should give you pause — or, at the very least, it should force you to roster a credible back-up QB.
We should also note that late in the 2010 season, opposing defenses had occasional success against the Eagles via blitz, forcing quick reactions and early throws. The loss to Minnesota in Week 16, when Antoine Winfield dominated, was the best example of this approach. For all his skills, Vick is not immune to turnovers. And we haven't even mention Philly's offensive line, a unit in transition. They'll start a pair of rookies in 2011, plus they're shifting a left guard to right tackle (Todd Herremans). We're a blind-side sack away from seeing Vince Young behind center.
Still, I don't want to overwhelm this discussion with pessimism. In all likelihood, the Eagles will have a Nintendo offense that produces breathtaking highlights at the same rate Cedric Benson produces 3-yard runs. This is a potentially thrilling team, an obvious Super Bowl contender. I may not rank Vick as my No. 1 quarterback, but I've still got him top-five (and top-20 overall). We're looking at a terrific offense here, with very few question marks.
Philly's defense, as you might have heard, is pretty good, too. This team acquired both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, adding that pair to a secondary that already featured Asante Samuel. So whatever you've got, they should be able to cover it — and this should allow Trent Cole and Jason Babin to regularly meet at the quarterback. Philadelphia's team DEF ranks as a top-three unit; expect a huge year.
2010 team stats with NFL rank: 27.4 (3) points per game, 243.9 pass YPG (9), 145.4 rush YPG (5), 35.1 pass attempts (12), 26.7 rush attempts (18)
2. Atlanta Falcons
As fantasy owners, we love teams like this. The Falcons' positional hierarchies are perfectly clear and the skill players are elite. Atlanta finished fifth in the league in scoring in 2010, and it would be no great shock if they improved in the year ahead. You'll find top-10 fantasy assets on this roster at quarterback, running back and tight end, plus a top-five kicker, a top-five receiver, and a rookie wideout who ranks as a WR3. Unless injuries intrude, you're not going to regret a heavy investment in this team.
Michael Turner finished third in the NFL in rushing yards last season (1,371) and first in carries (334). In fact, he's led the league in carries twice in the past three seasons. Many of you probably hate the fact that he's been used so heavily since '08, while others are targeting him specifically because the workload is substantial and secure. I've made a modest commitment to the Burner this season, grabbing him whenever he happens to fall to my usual 2011 draft spot, the 10-14 range. He's never failed to reach double-digit touchdowns in his three seasons with the Falcons, and it's not like he piled up mileage early in his career, when he was Tomlinson's understudy in San Diego. I'm keeping him on the approved list. (Not so much in PPR leagues; he's only caught 23 passes over the past three years). Jason Snelling remains the handcuff here, and he's demonstrated that he can deliver a solid Turner impression if called upon. Rookie Jacquizz Rodgers is the new Jerious Norwood, a change-of-pace back who should get a few third-down touches. We'll be overrating him in no time, Norwood-style.
In 2010, Roddy White drew more targets than any receiver in football (179) and led the league in receptions (115). White averaged 86.8 yards per game, he visited the end zone 10 times, and he gave you a TD in each of the final three weeks, during the fantasy playoffs. Total star, a sure top-four wide receiver in fantasy drafts. Roddy actually finished with nearly three times as many receptions last season as the team's No. 2 wideout, Michael Jenkins (41).
This year, Jenkins has relocated to Minnesota, and Falcons fans aren't likely to miss him. The team traded up in the draft to select Alabama's Julio Jones in the first round; few rookies are as well-positioned as Jones to succeed in 2011. He spent time with Matt Ryan during the off-season — learning the script, working on timing — then made a serious impression in camp. Jones is an explosive player with terrific size (6-3, 220), and, when you factor in all the other problems presented by Atlanta's offense, he's a match-up nightmare. A defense can only take away so many weapons. On skills, Jones is a No. 1 receiver, but few opponents will give him that level of attention. Slot receiver Harry Douglas is likely to be involved in a few highlight plays before the season is finished, too. He's now two years removed from ACL surgery, he's had an excellent preseason, and he seems ready to reclaim his sleeper status.
You probably already know everything that needs to be known about Tony Gonzalez, a man who might just be the best player in the history of his position. At age 34, Gonzalez finished fourth at his position in receptions last season (70, on 109 targets), 11th in yards (656), and he found the end zone six times. His average yards-per-catch is in a multi-year decline, but you can't complain about his workload. The addition of Jones and the return of Douglas should create space for the vet. He's still a fantasy starter, even if his best years are well behind him.
There's been quite a bit of fantasy chatter about Atlanta getting pass-happy (pass-happier?) in the season ahead. Let's just keep in mind that Matt Ryan actually attempted more throws last season than all but five NFL quarterbacks, and the Falcons finished seventh in the league in pass attempts in 2009. This team's receiving corps can easily deliver multiple fantasy starters without tweaking its run/pass mix at all, and without reducing Turner's role. The personnel enhancements should help Ryan boost his yards-per-attempt (6.5 last year), which could nudge him toward his first 4,000-yard season. He threw for 28 scores last year and reduced his interceptions by five, despite throwing 120 more passes than he had in '09.
And with that, gamers, we're down to our final Juggernaut — the juggernaughtiest team of all...
2010 team stats: 25.9 (5) points per game, 222.9 pass YPG (15), 118.2 rush YPG (12), 36.1 pass attempts (8), 31.1 rush attempts (5)
Previous Juggernaut entries: Washington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Carolina, San Francisco, Buffalo, Miami, Seattle, Oakland, Jacksonville, Denver, Tennessee, Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Arizona, New York Jets, Baltimore, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, Detroit, New England, Indianapolis, San Diego, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Dallas, Green Bay.
Photos via US Presswire