Andy Behrens

Juggernaut Index No. 1: In these uncertain times, Dallas offers safety, experience, Pacman

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings are not to be questioned.

And yes, we're discussing these final three teams after most of you have drafted. We've taken this approach because fantasy owners already know their Colts, Patriots and Cowboys. At this point in the Index, it's basically a barroom argument with injury updates.

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1. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys, of course, are not strangers to the top spot in the Yahoo! Juggernaut Index.

Romig ranked them first in '96, Mike Harmon loved Dallas in '83 -- yeah, he whiffed on Hogeboom, but he totally nailed Doug Cosbie -- and here's what a younger, edgier Brandon Funston had to say back in '78:

Dave Casper in the third round? No thanks. That's a jive-ass pick. Billy Joe Dupree will give you the same numbers, and his ADP is 61.4.

Believe me, people simply did not write "jive-ass" on the Internet back in 1978. Not in the mainstream media. It never happened. But Funston got away with stuff like that because he was dead-on right, and he used to have hair like Parker Stevenson.

So this is clearly not the first time that Dallas has entered a season with high expectations. The fantasy community could not be more enthusiastic. We're taking three Cowboys within the first 17 picks of an average draft. In the final Yahoo! preseason ranks, Dallas had the No. 2 quarterback, the No. 6 running back, the No. 2 wide receiver, the No. 1 tight end, the No. 1 kicker, and the No. 6 defense.

The bottom line is that no other NFL team matches up with them, fantasy-wise. The Patriots were spectacular in '07, but nearly all the points belonged to two players. Dallas offers elite fantasy talent at every roster spot, which made this a relatively easy choice.

You're free to disagree with the selection, obviously, but we didn't have a difficult time making it.

Also, please recall that this is a fantasy-specific ranking, so Tony Romo's playoff history has no relevance here. Last year he threw 36 touchdown passes in Weeks 1 through 16, and he ran for two more scores. What he does in January is not a concern of ours.

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As we mentioned yesterday, 36 TD passes is a big number historically, and it's not a total you should casually project for any player, regardless of their situation. Romo certainly has the weapons to get there again, however: Terrell Owens is uncoverable, Marion Barber is terrifying, Jason Witten is exceptional, and Patrick Crayton is...well, he was a disaster against the Giants, but he'd always seemed reliable.

Romo also has three Pro Bowl linemen -- G Leonard Davis, C Andre Gurode, and T Flozell Adams -- and a savvy coordinator, Jason Garrett.

Here are a few useful facts about the offense, via the Dallas Morning News:

The Cowboys led the league with 233 plays of 10 yards or more and 68 plays of 20 yards or more.

In case you wondered, the offense scored more points in the second half (247) than it did in the first half (207), an indication Garrett made better second-half adjustments than the defensive coordinators he faced.

It would be no surprise if the chronically backward-hatted Romo threw for another 30 TDs this season, which would again place him among the top fantasy scorers. He was No. 2 overall last year, finishing with 302 public league points. If you took away five touchdown passes, he still would have tied Peyton Manning in fantasy scoring. He's a safe pick, and you should expect him to have a huge opener against the Browns. Romo sits atop the Week 1 QB ranks.

T.O. does not suffer from a lack of exposure, and I've already delivered a preseason pitch on behalf of Witten, for whom Romo has much affection (it's evident above). Let's instead focus on running back Marion Barber, a player who found the end zone 28 times over the past two seasons, despite being trapped in a job-share with Julius Jones.

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Barber's average draft position is 8.6 this year, so it's clear that fantasy owners are excited about his prospects. As John Hansen put it, Barber is "a fantasy football gift if you can get him later/late in the first." He's a violent runner (Barber, not Hansen) who delivers hits that are much worse than those he takes...but he takes plenty.

No less an authority than Emmitt Smith has raised questions about Barber's style:

"I think he spends a lot of energy that may not be necessary," Smith said when he attended Cowboys practice this spring. "For a starting back, I'm all about putting your heart into it, but you're doing a lot of kicking, running up, bucking and you're exerting a lot of energy. We need you for four quarters."

Just enjoy him while he lasts, because self-preservation does not seem to be one of Barber's priorities.

He's a cruel, unusual runner, but you have to be impressed with the results. Barber averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2006 and 2007, and he caught 44 passes last year. Explosive rookie Felix Jones is the handcuff, but he's not expected to seriously threaten Barber's workload.

Matt Buser projects 347 touches this season. If Barber reaches that total while simply maintaining his career TD rate, as well as his yards per carry (4.5) and yards per reception (7.0), then you're looking at 1700 combined yards and 20 touchdowns.

And yes, that would be a fantasy gift late in the first round.

The Dallas defense is loaded with IDP plays. They include LB DeMarcus Ware (84 tackles, 14.0 sacks), Bradie James (101 tackles), Greg Ellis (12.5 sacks), Zach Thomas (165 tackles in '06), Roy Williams (92 tackles), Ken Hamlin (62 tackles, 5 INTs), and Pacman Jones (4 INT in '06), who should be paired with Atari Bigby whenever possible. But not with strippers.

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OK, that's the Index, everyone. We thank you for your patience, and for your complete, unwavering agreement with all of the selections. Please celebrate the Cowboys via comments...

2007 Dallas team stats

Rushing: 109.1 Y/G

Passing: 256.6 Y/G

Points per game: 28.4

Turnovers: 24

Red Zone possessions and TDs: 56, 30

'08 Schedule strength: .523

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The rest of the Index...

32) Chicago, 31) Tennessee, 30) San Francisco, 29) Miami, 28) Baltimore, 27) NY Jets, 26) Oakland, 25) Tampa Bay, 24) Atlanta, 23) Houston, 22) Kansas City, 21) Buffalo, 20) Carolina, 19) Detroit, 18) Seattle, 17) Denver, 16) Washington, 15) St. Louis, 14) Minnesota, 13) Arizona, 12) Jacksonville, 11) Cincinnati, 10) Philadelphia, 9) Pittsburgh, 8) Green Bay, 7) NY Giants, 6) Cleveland, 5) New Orleans, 4) San Diego, 3) Indianapolis, 2) New England, 1) Dallas

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Photos via Getty Images

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