For those who aren't familiar with the Juggernaut Index, this series is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care primarily about yards and points. The Juggernaut Index is all about projected fantasy contributions — that's it, nothing else.
The Oakland Raiders haven't finished with an above-.500 record since 2002. The team won just four games last season and four the prior year. In 2013, Oakland's offense ranked 24th in scoring (20.1 PPG) and the defense ranked 29th in points-allowed (28.3). An offseason spending spree netted the Raiders a collection of brand-name vets who've been recently terrible.
In a nutshell, this franchise has delivered a sustained period of failure that is unmatched in today's NFL. Oakland has created a culture of failure, essentially. The team is buried at the bottom of an otherwise loaded division.
So yeah, this group was the obvious choice to rank dead-last in this year's Juggernaut Index. Look upon your roster and despair, Raiders fans.
The presumptive starter at quarterback is new arrival Matt Schaub, a man who became a punchline in Houston last year. We think of some players as injury-prone, others turnover-prone. Schaub, at this stage, is catastrophe-prone. He threw 14 interceptions over 10 games last season, including an unprecedented pick-sixes in four straight games. He also averaged just 6.45 yards per pass attempt, well below his career average (7.63). It seems highly unlikely that a 33-year-old Schaub, coming off a train-wreck season, is going to vault himself back into the fantasy conversation in leagues with standard configurations. His current receiving corps isn't as good as the group he torpedoed last season. Schaub isn't guaranteed a dime in salary beyond 2014, we should note, so it's not as if Oakland has made a long-range commitment here.
The real story of the 2014 season for the Raiders, arguably, is the development of second-round rookie QB Derek Carr, a kid who posted ridiculous passing numbers at Fresno State (5,082 yards, 50 TDs, 8 INTs, 68.7 completion percentage last year). Carr is an excellent athlete — check the combine results — and he doesn't lack arm strength. He's far from a finished product, but it wouldn't have been much of a surprise if he'd been selected in the back-half of the first round. He's good. Carr certainly didn't waste any time leapfrogging Matt McGloin on the depth chart, and he thus has a decent chance to finish the upcoming season as Oakland's starter. In my most recent dynasty rookie draft, Carr was snagged in Round 3 (immediately after RB Jerick McKinnon, just before WR Josh Huff.)
This team's receiving corps is not exactly a star-studded bunch, although it must be acknowledged that holdovers Rod Streater, Andre Holmes and Denarius Moore have been burdened with sketchy QBs. Streater led this team in catches (60) and receiving yards (888) in 2013, finishing with just four drops on 94 targets. So he was not the problem. Holmes is a 6-foot-4 receiver-of-interest who surged last December, actually ranking as the No. 25 wideout in fantasy over the season's final five weeks. He's capable of making degree-of-difficulty receptions like this one, an important trait for any pass-catcher on this team. Moore has flashed plenty of talent over his three NFL seasons, though injuries and inconsistency have dogged him. But, again, the best quarterback he's ever worked with was a past-his-prime version of Carson Palmer.
The Raiders added free agent wideout James Jones to the mix back in March, and he figures to lead this team in targets, receptions and yardage in the year ahead. While in Green Bay, Jones obviously benefited from playing in a Nintendo offense with an all-time QB. Stats won't be nearly as easy to compile in Oakland. Still, if any receiver on this squad is going to reach 900 yards and, say, six scores, Jones is the best bet. (Greg Little, another offseason add, might be the worst.) With a no-risk price tag attached (ADP 125.2), Jones offers clear profit potential.
Oakland's backfield is not anything I'm interested in discussing or owning, but this feature requires me to address it. So here goes...
Maurice Jones-Drew had a lousy, inefficient season in 2013 — a year that cost him millions of dollars, and that left many of us doubting his long-term fantasy relevance. He gained just 3.4 yards per carry and found the end-zone only five times on 277 touches. The foot injury that ended his season in 2012 clearly had a lasting impact. And then there's the well-documented knee issue. MJD is now a high-mileage back entering his age-29 campaign, plus he's tied to an uninspiring offense. Not much to like, right?
Well, Jones-Drew is now a member of the "best shape of my life" club, so there's that. He certainly sounds like a guy who's rededicated himself to the game, and to extending his career. MJD is just three years removed from a rushing title, which is no small thing. But of course when he claimed that rushing crown, Michael Turner and Willis McGahee were also on the leaderboard, not far behind. Three years is basically a lifetime in the NFL.
I've mock-drafted MJD near his current Yahoo! ADP (109.4), so I won't claim the risk/reward situation is awful. In all likelihood, Jones-Drew will find himself in a committee arrangement with the notoriously brittle Darren McFadden, who signed a one-year make-good deal with the team that's already paid him $60 million. Fantasy owners really shouldn't get worked up about this team's backfield hierarchy, because it's tough to believe these two backs won't split touches when both are healthy ... which, of course, will be a rare occurrence. McFadden, you'll recall, has averaged 3.3 yards per carry in back-to-back seasons, and he ceded touches to Rashad Jennings late last year. He's simply a dart-throw for fantasy purposes.
Latavius Murray seemed like an intriguing name three months ago, but the MJD signing killed that buzz. For now, Murray is a wait-and-see fantasy commodity. Marcel Reece remains in the team picture at fullback, but — as with Murray — there's no reason to get interested in him until Jones-Drew and/or DMC are compromised. This team's offensive line is retooled, but it remains far from elite. No reason to get excited about that unit.
Whatever the Raiders may lack defensively, this team should at least bring pressure on opposing passers. Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley each signed two-year deals, and rookie Khalil Mack should be a monster. These guys have a chance to pile up sacks, so it's reasonable to think of the Oakland D/ST as a streaming option. This year's secondary should be better than the helpless bunch that allowed 33 TD passes last season (seven to Nick Foles), but it hardly looks like a strength. You won't be drafting this team D, not with a rough division schedule looming, plus the matchup with the NFC West. At least one of the two Broncos games will occur in Week 17. That helps.
I sincerely wish that I could recommend Sebastian Janikowski to you — he's a longtime personal favorite — but Sea Bass wasn't so helpful in 2013. He was successful on only 21 of his 30 attempts (11-for-18 from 40-plus). He also deals with an annoying number of tweaks and strains, making him a high-maintenance fantasy investment. Look elsewhere, gamers.
And yeah, that's pretty much the consistent theme of this Juggernaut entry: Look elsewhere.
2013 Oakland Raiders team stats: 20.1 PPG (NFL rank 24), 226.8 pass YPG (24), 17 pass TDs (29), 125.0 rush YPG (12), 27.3 rush attempts per game (16), 32.4 pass attempts per game (25).