The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care about yards and points, not wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I.
It's entirely possible that we'll never again see the CJ2K version of Titans running back Chris Johnson, but that doesn't mean he can't assist the fantasy community. So many things need to fall into place for a player to even reach the 1,600-yard rushing plateau — only two guys did it last season, one the year before, one in 2010 — that we should probably never forecast that total for anyone. It's an absurd number ... and it's still 400 yards short of 2K.
Really, when 2,000-yard seasons happen, we should just appreciate them as minor football miracles. We certainly shouldn't expect any player to approach a number like that a second time in a career.
And yet we do. I can pretty much guarantee that if Adrian Peterson rushes for only 1,400 yards and, say, nine TDs this year, thousands of fantasy gamers will consider him a bust. That's just how it went with CJ three seasons ago, when he followed his historic 2K campaign with a perfectly respectable 1,364-yard, 11-TD performance. And fantasy owners were like, "He's killing me."
Of course it can be argued that Johnson really did kinda kill you in 2011 — the holdout year — when he posted career lows in every meaningful category. He ran like a guy who had slept through the offseason, plus his O-line didn't do him many favors. CJ rebounded to respectability last year — 1,243 rushing yards, 4.5 YPC — but his surge didn't begin until mid-season (195 yards in Week 7), so his owners still pretty much hated him.
This season, Johnson often slips beyond the third round in Yahoo! drafts (ADP 33.4), the 15th running back off the board in a typical league. I'm happy to invest at that price. Here are a few essential facts about CJ entering 2013:
• He has never rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards in any of his five NFL seasons;
• He's never missed a game due to injury;
• He's averaged 4.7 yards per carry for his career, and he gained 4.5 last year;
• He had three runs of 80-plus yards last season — not bad for a guy who's supposedly lost big-play ability.
And then there's this: Tennessee's offensive line, on paper, looks like it could be very good. The team signed Andy Levitre away from Buffalo in free agency, a player who may have been the best guard available, and they selected Alabama lineman Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick in April's draft.
So yeah, I'm ready to believe in CJ again. I don't need him to reach some historic, unrealistic yardage total again, and neither do you. Johnson's setup appears to be excellent.
I'm not going to waste many words here on Shonn Greene, because I'm assuming you've all watched Shonn Greene play football. He's a plodder who isn't much of a tackle-breaker, nor a pass-catcher. Here's what Tennessee's offensive coordinator initially said about the Johnson-Greene split...
Dowell Loggains says CJ still the team's franchise back and Shonn Greene is change of pace guy
— John Glennon (@glennonsports) May 7, 2013
...so to me, this is just not a worrisome signing. Sure, Greene could get the short-yardage work, or the run-down-the-clock touches. And yeah, maybe he'll poach a few inside-the-5 carries. But there's quite a gap between these players, talent-wise. We're not looking at a committee. If CJ is there for you in Round 3, take him.
The Titans' passing game will again be directed by scattershot QB Jake Locker, a guy who hasn't posted a completion percentage above 60 in any college or pro season. Locker is a strong-armed passer and a gifted athlete, capable of making plays as a ball-carrier. But he's also an erratic, inaccurate quarterback who will find himself at the controls of a run-heavy offense. You won't draft the kid in standard leagues, though you might use him as a match-up play during bye-weeks. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick is familiar to fantasy managers, but he doesn't pose an immediate threat to Locker's job.
Tennessee's receiving corps has an abundance of talent, with Kenny Britt now (presumably, hopefully, plausibly) fully recovered from the ACL injury suffered in 2011. Britt earned favorable reviews during OTAs, and things have been unusually quiet on the legal front for the 24-year-old. (Yup, that's right: He's still just 24. It feels like he's been around forever, but this is not an old man.) You should probably expect Britt's ADP to rise as we get deeper into draft season — it's crazy-low at the moment: 113.3 — but he'll still offer serious profit potential. Remember, before the knee surgeries this guy was a monster. In the Titans' first two games of the 2011 season, Britt was basically uncoverable, hauling in 14 balls for 271 yards and three TDs.
Kendall Wright had a promising rookie season for Tennessee (64-626-4), and Nate Washington is still in the mix, too. This team also invested a second-round draft pick in Justin Hunter, a talented 6-foot-4 receiver with excellent speed (4.44) and leaping ability (39.5-inch vertical). Hunter is a dynasty target, for sure. Eternal fantasy sleeper Jared Cook was jettisoned after four meh seasons, replaced by seven-year vet Delanie Walker. Realistically, in standard fantasy formats, Britt is the only member of the Titans' receiving corps who needs to be targeted.
This team's defense ranked dead-last in points-allowed last season (29.4 PPG), twice giving up 50-plus. So that's not good. The Titans allowed 30 or more points in six of their first seven games last year. There's no obvious reason to target this unit in fantasy, except perhaps as a streaming option. Safety Bernard Pollard is the only IDP here who deserves a strong recommendation; DE Derrick Morgan, LB Colin McCarthy, LB Zach Brown and DB Jason McCourty are worth mentioning, but I'm withholding a formal endorsement.
2012 team stats: 20.6 points per game (23), 223.6 passing yards per game (23), 105.4 rushing yards per game (21)