The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.
17. New York Giants
This seems like a fair time to direct your attention to the boilerplate above. We're ranking teams for fantasy here, not reality. The Giants are likely to be outstanding in 2009. The offensive line is excellent; the defensive front seven is obscene. It's a winning roster, no question.
Yet it's not exactly a fantasy buffet.
Brandon Jacobs(notes) is the only Giants skill position player who ranks as a Week 1 starter in standard leagues. He's the 14th running back selected in a typical draft at MDC (average overall pick 17.5) and he's coming off consecutive 5.0 YPC seasons. Jacobs is an unrepentant bruiser – the clip of him bulldozing LaRon Landry never gets old – and he found the end zone 15 times last year, but injuries have been an issue. He's been shelved eight times over the past two seasons. If you draft Jacobs, then you'll want to also target Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) as a handcuff with benefits.
Bradshaw, in fact, should have value without regard to Jacobs' health. Recall that Derrick Ward(notes) rushed for 1,025 yards in a supporting role for the Giants last season. Bradshaw will inherit much of Ward's old workload, and he's recovered from a calf injury that reportedly compromised his speed in '08. Bradshaw recently told the Newark Star-Ledger, "I've been waiting for this year forever."the game log from the playoffs two seasons ago – so he seems like one of the better late-round, low-risk picks in early drafts. His current ADP is just 140.6, which puts him way down in Ricky Williams(notes) territory. He's a steal. Rookie fourth-rounder Andre Brown(notes) figures to be the handcuff's handcuff. He's the right size (6-0, 228 pounds) and he runs well inside. Danny Ware(notes) is clearly in the mix, too.
If/when Jacobs gets hurt, experts everywhere will be circling this backfield hierarchy, recommending waiver adds. As Jacobs himself has said, "Our backs are going to be the best running backs in the league, as it has been the last three years. I'm just calling it like it is."
That's bold, but not crazy.
The passing game? Well, that's a different story. Quarterback Eli Manning(notes) is coming off his best season statistically, having reached career highs in passer rating (86.4), completion percentage (60.3) and yards-per-attempt (6.8). However, as a fantasy commodity, he's strictly a backup in 12-team leagues. Manning finished 14th in overall fantasy scoring at his position in '08 (209 public league points), just ahead of luminaries like Jason Campbell(notes) (206) and Joe Flacco(notes) (195). He's limited by the run-first nature of the offense and the lack of marquee talent at receiver in the post-Plaxico era. No member of the Giants' current receiving corps demands extra attention, as Burress did.
Domenik Hixon(notes) and Steve Smith currently top the depth chart. Hixon led the team in yardage last year (596), while Smith led in catches and targets (57, 82). Neither player managed a 100-yard game in Burress' absence. Many analysts like Hixon as a breakout candidate and it's certainly possible … but I just can't get that Week 14 drop vs. Philly out of my head. Right in his hands. Game-changing. Tragic.
Rookie first-rounder Hakeem Nicks(notes) will catch everything – seriously, everything. Video evidence here. He and third-rounder Ramses Barden(notes) – at 6-6 and 230, a huge target – have impressed so far, and their paths to fantasy relevance aren't too cluttered. The NFL learning curve is the issue, but consider them both as late-round fantasy plays. Sinorice Moss(notes) and Mario Manningham(notes) are still lurking, but the fact that the Giants spent two early picks on receivers should tell you something. Those two will go undrafted in most make-believe formats.
Tight end Kevin Boss(notes) caught just 33 passes last year, though six went for touchdowns. That position is extremely deep this year, however, so Boss projects as more of a bye-week add, not a fantasy starter. Rookie Travis Beckum(notes) is a terrific receiving threat who could take a chunk out of Boss' already small-ish workload, although Beckum (not a blocker) really shouldn't see the field on running downs. He's a nice dynasty play, but you're unlikely to start him in '09.
It would be no great surprise if New York finished as the top-scoring fantasy D in '09. They were fifth last year and sixth the prior season, and Osi Umenyiora(notes) is returning to a unit that managed 42 sacks in '08. The team allowed the fifth-fewest points per game in '08 (18.4) despite facing a treacherous NFC East schedule. They're loaded with solid IDP options: DE Umenyiora, DE Justin Tuck(notes), S Kenny Phillips(notes) (draft him), DE Mathias Kiwanuka(notes), LB Antonio Pierce(notes), LB Michael Boley(notes) (hip, PUP).
Earlier Juggernauts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville.
Photo via Getty Images.