August 30, 2011
As most of you already know, 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've moved into the top half of the ranks, so all these teams are promising.
Previous 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.
12. New York Giants
This is a situation where, if you want to argue that the team should rate higher in the Juggernaut Index, you could certainly present a compelling case. The Giants finished among the NFL's top-10 in total points, passing yards and rushing yards last season, yet here they are at No. 12.
But these are my meaningless ranks, so you're stuck with my biases. For me, Eli Manning(notes) is a problem. He's regularly drafted as a top-12 fantasy quarterback, but he's hardly an ideal fit in all scoring formats. Eli was responsible for 30 turnovers last year and 22 the season before. If you're involved in a league that seriously penalizes interceptions and fumbles — let's say your system deducts more than a point per turnover — then Manning's bouts of recklessness really limit his value.
True, Eli is a durable player coming off back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons, and his receivers are terrific. I understand the appeal. But he also does stuff like this and this, as if comical turnovers were part of Kevin Gilbride's game script. When Eli's name is up next in the draft queue, I'll typically veer away from his position, preferring Stafford, Kolb or Bradford in later rounds.
Hakeem Nicks(notes) is entering his third year, and he's already a star. Nicks delivered 79 catches, 1,052 yards and 11 scores in just 13 games last season, and he was targeted 128 times. At that pace, he would have finished fourth in the NFL in targets (158) if he'd played all 16 weeks. Draft him early, top-five at his position. Mario Manningham(notes) has a clear path to consistent targets this season, with Steve Smith out of town, so he has to be viewed as a viable WR2 in the fake game. Manningham closed with three straight 100-yard efforts in 2010, catching four TD passes during the most important weeks on the fantasy calendar. Victor Cruz(notes) and Domenik Hixon(notes) are battling to claim the No. 3 receiver title, while ex-sleeper Ramses Barden(notes) is still broken (ankle, reserve PUP). Rookie Jerrel Jernigan(notes) has done little of note during the preseason, except look awful on punt returns. Travis Beckum(notes) takes over at tight end for Kevin Boss(notes) (now in Oakland), but the position is deep enough that you can ignore him for now.
We know this running game is solid, and Brandon Jacobs(notes) has put together a rather nice preseason (thanks, Bears defense). Last year, Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) out-carried Jacobs 276 to 147, and both backs appeared in all 16 games. You should expect the workload to again tilt toward Bradshaw in 2011, though perhaps not as much. Jacobs is barely a rumor in the passing game (31 REC since 2008), so Ahmad gets a significant edge in PPR. (Also in point-per-fumble leagues). DJ Ware(notes) is next on the depth chart, but you're not drafting him in standard formats.
Fantasy owners are always tempted by the Giants defense, because it's full of brand names. (Justin Tuck(notes), for example, is an elite IDP option, my highest-rated lineman). They've started well and finished poorly in recent years, although they had a brutal schedule in the fantasy playoffs last season (PHI, at GB). This team led the NFL in forced fumbles in 2010 (30) and they were among the leaders in '09. Definitely a draft-worthy defense, for those who don't stream.
2010 team stats: 24.6 points per game (7), 242.8 pass YPG (10), 137.5 rush YPG (6), 33.7 pass attempts (17), 30.0rush attempts (7).
11. Detroit Lions
You should never make judgments about NFL teams based on preseason performance, obviously. The level of competition and preparation are nothing like what we find in the regular season.
Thus, we shouldn't make a big deal about the fact that Matthew Stafford(notes) is 24-for-31 after three exhibition weeks, with 356 yards, five touchdown passes and zero picks. And we need to ignore 30-plus point totals that Detroit is putting on the board. It's best that we just don't think about these things.
But, um ... well, it's really hard to ignore these numbers (even though they don't count) when you're looking for confirmation of Detroit's 2011 fantasy potential.
This squad is loaded with talent at the skill spots. It's also loaded with injury red flags, so the fantasy community hasn't fully embraced the Lions. Stafford himself only appeared in three games in 2010, his season cut short by an injury to his throwing shoulder. My usual stance is that every player in the NFL is a health risk due to the nature of the sport, but it's important to acknowledge Stafford's cluttered medical history. We should also note that his division is a minefield; just think of the edge rushers in Minnesota, Chicago and Green Bay. He's basically another risk/reward pick, a player with massive upside. Stafford's arm is top-shelf (when attached) and the weapons at his disposal are sensational. If you're targeting him on draft day, just make sure to pair him with a second credible quarterback. I went Stafford/Bradford over the weekend, hoping to get at least one healthy shoulder out of the combo.
Calvin Johnson(notes) will of course be a top-three receiver in most leagues (ADP 14.6), and it's not uncommon to see him fly off the board in Round 1. Megatron gave us a big year in 2010 with Shaun Hill(notes) as his quarterback (77-1120-12) and another in 2008 with Orlovsky and Culpepper (78-1331-12). If we ever get a full season of Calvin and Stafford, we could be looking at an all-time campaign. Johnson's ceiling is top-one. The supporting receivers in Detroit are a solid group, featuring veteran Nate Burleson(notes) and rookie deep threat Titus Young(notes), a late-round flier with potential. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew(notes) is coming off a nice PPR season (71-722-4), though we should mention that he was really at his best with Hill. He caught just six total passes in Stafford's three games.
Jahvid Best(notes) is an explosive player, a clear steal as the No. 22 running back selected in Yahoo! drafts. His highlight reel is of the highest quality. But, as with Stafford, you fret about injuries here. Best has a concussion history, he dealt with turf toe as a rookie, and he suffered a medley of injuries at Cal. Still, his 2011 fantasy projection improved when Mikel LeShoure(notes) suffered a season-ending torn Achilles. Best caught 58 passes in his first year, so he gets a PPR upgrade. Jerome Harrison(notes) was added via free agency, and he figures to have a rotational role. In the fake game, he's for handcuff lovers only. Aaron Brown is still in the team picture, but he won't enter the fantasy discussion until Best is dinged.
Ndamukong Suh(notes) is a scary dude, a ridiculously powerful player with a mean streak, looking to build on a 10-sack rookie season. Get him, IDP owners. His presence gives us hope for this team defense, too. They're No. 12 in the composite ranks, a solid match-up play.
2010 team stats: 22.6 points per game (15), 238.1 pass YPG (12), 100.8 rush YPG (23), 39.6 pass attempts (3), 25.3 rush attempts (24).
OK, before you hammer me over this rank (which you're free to do), please recall that all we're doing here is arranging teams based on projected fantasy value. I'd give the Pats the best odds to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll deliver top-tier assets at each skill position. If you want a perfectly safe way to invest in this offense — a group that led the NFL in scoring last season — then select Tom Brady(notes) near the top of your draft. He's such a sure thing that we hardly need to discuss him. His receiving corps is deep in talent, but don't be surprised if it fails to produce a clear top dog. It's not unimaginable that this team could give us, say, six guys with over 400 receiving yards and no one with 1,000.
The receivers of interest in New England are clearly Wes Welker(notes) (healthier, a PPR monster) and Chad Ochocinco(notes) (aging, still building rapport with Brady). Both players rate as WR2s, with Welker the safer of the pair. Deion Branch(notes) is still on the scene, though he's moved down a spot in the hierarchy. You'll spot-start him during a bye week or two. Julian Edelman(notes) remains in town as well, as Welker's understudy. Tight ends Aaron Hernandez(notes) and Rob Gronkowski(notes) combined for 87 catches, 1,109 yards and 16 scores last season; that would have been an all-time performance at the position if the numbers belonged to one guy. This offense is so good, and the players in question are so skilled, that the Pats are the rare team that can actually deliver two roster-worthy TEs. Both Hernandez and Gronkowski are solid red zone assets; if you pass on the top-tier tight ends, these guys belong to the large group of mid and late-round steals (Olsen, Cook, Kendricks, et al).
New England's ground attack is often a vexing committee, and it's almost always productive. BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) and Danny Woodhead(notes) were both significant fantasy assets last season; the former crossed the goal line 13 times, the latter gained 926 scrimmage yards in 14 games. Not bad for a pair of low-cost, un-drafted backs. The Pats used a second round pick on Cal's Shane Vereen(notes) back in April, then they took LSU's Stevan Ridley(notes) in the third. No one should be surprised if the rookies force their way into the fantasy conversation this year, even if they're currently in supporting roles. Ridley has had some terrific moments during the preseason, while Vereen has been sidelined by a hamstring injury. Both backs have talent enough to push for touches. Green-Ellis will be the first Patriots back selected in most drafts, and the price tag isn't awful (RB No. 21). He won't necessarily need to repeat last year's ridiculous numbers in order to justify his ADP.
The New England defense ranks among our top-10, following a year in which they led the NFL in picks (25) and finished second in defensive TDs (5). It helps that the offense can bury teams early, forcing opponents into catch-up play-calling. Jerod Mayo(notes), we should note, was a tackling machine last season (113 solo, 61 ast), and he's an elite IDP option in the year ahead.
That's all you get for now, gamer. We'll pick this monster up again at No. 9 on Thursday. Please enjoy a pre-comments kickline, then share your thoughts with the group...
2010 team stats: 32.4 points per game (1), 240.4 pass YPG (11), 123.3 rush YPG (9), 31.7 pass attempts (20), 28.4 rush attempts (10).
Photos via US Presswire
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