August 23, 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 positions. Please use responsibly, and only with adult supervision. Previous entries: 29-32: Washington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Carolina; 25-28: San Francisco, Buffalo, Miami, Seattle; 21-24: Oakland, Jacksonville, Denver, Tennessee.
Look, you're free to do whatever you like if you happen to land the No. 1 overall pick in your league's draft. If you're a Vick zealot, pick him. Fine with me. And we're all acquainted with the arguments for Foster and Charles. In PPR leagues, Rice and McCoy clearly deserve to be selected somewhere near the top, too.
But just please keep this one fact in mind: Adrian Peterson has been the most reliable fantasy scorer at his position since he entered the league in '07. He's finished as a top-three fantasy back in standard formats in each of the past four seasons (second in 2010 and 2009, third in 2008 and 2007). During that same time period, no other running back has visited the top-three more than once. Peterson has reached double-digit touchdowns in every year of his career, he's never averaged fewer than 4.4 yards per carry, he's missed just one game since 2008, and he's conquered the only serious flaw we ever identified in his game (only one fumble in 2010).
If you're looking to minimize risk in the first round and you're targeting our game's trickiest position, then Peterson is the guy you want. He's a brilliant runner, the centerpiece of his team's offense, a full-workload back who's already accustomed to being the top priority for opposing defenses. If Peterson isn't among the top 2-3 players on your draft board, then you're betting against an all-time talent with an almost unblemished history, entering his age-26 season. Good luck, contrarian.
And so ends the positivity in this team profile.
The Vikings' offensive line looks like a mess, which of course is a worry for every skill player in the offense. Bryant McKinnie(notes) showed up for camp so heinously out of shape that he apparently would have endangered his health by working out, so Minnesota kicked him to the curb. Charlie Johnson(notes) has been rough at left tackle, and Steve Hutchinson(notes) is, at this stage of his career, a better brand name than a blocker. So the line is a concern. (If I wanted to build an argument against Peterson — which I don't, because he's top-tier, and he excelled in a poor environment last season — then I would definitely begin with the O-line).
Donovan McNabb(notes) takes over at quarterback, coming off an awful year in Washington, one that ended in shame. (When you're bounced in favor of Rex, you've hit bottom). Accuracy was an issue for McNabb, as it is most years (58.3 completion percentage, 58.9 career). He also threw more picks in 2010 than he had in any other season (15), and he put the ball on the ground 10 times in just 13 games. Not great. The one thing I'll say in McNabb's favor is that Bill Musgrave, Minnesota's new offensive coordinator, sounds like he's doing all he can to emphasize the veteran QB's strengths while hiding his shortcomings. This from the National Football Post's Dan Pompei:
"Our whole offensive staff is trying to put [McNabb] in position to have success," said Musgrave, who came to the Vikings from the Falcons, where he coached Matt Ryan(notes). "We are customizing and tailoring the Vikings system to fit his strengths."
Musgrave goes so far as to call it "Donovan's system." They have discussed the offense at length and have a running dialogue about change. Musgrave has solicited McNabb's opinion and says he is open-minded about taking the offense where McNabb wants it to go.
Of course that could simply be typical training camp propaganda. We'll see. There's been talk of getting Peterson more involved in the passing game, but that's hardly new. This team lost its most dangerous wideout (Sidney Rice(notes)) via free agency, replacing him with names that are a lot less interesting. Michael Jenkins(notes) followed Musgrave north from Atlanta, and Devin Aromashodu(notes) has joined the franchise he roasted on Monday night in Week 16, 2009. Bernard Berrian(notes) is a theoretical deep threat who's done little to help fantasy owners since '08 (48-964-7). Greg Camarillo(notes) lurks on the depth chart, too.
In 10 and 12-team leagues, the only Minnesota wide receiver you'll be drafting is Percy Harvin(notes). He's reportedly been migraine-free for a few months, a promising sign, and he's earned glowing reports from McNabb. He's clearly the No. 1 target in this receiving corps, which means he'll drawn No. 1-level attention. You're drafting Harvin just a few spots ahead of Rice in Yahoo! leagues (ADPs 66.2 and 69.0), and he's clearly a candidate to make a leap in his third year, especially if the migraine problems are truly behind him. But if I'm looking at wide receivers and it's pick No. 66, I'm pretty sure I'd take Ochocinco (74.9) before either of those two.
Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) returns for the Vikes, but the team drafted his eventual replacement this spring, spending a second-round pick on Kyle Rudolph(notes). Minnesota is expected to run plenty of two-tight end sets, so both players will have opportunities. Neither is a must-draft commodity, given the depth at the position.
Elsewhere on this roster, RB Toby Gerhart(notes) is a low-end handcuff, rookie QB Christian Ponder(notes) is a decent late-round dynasty play (fair preseason so far), and DE Jared Allen(notes) is still a bad dude. And with that, we really need to move on...
2010 team stats with NFL rank: 17.6 points per game (29), 193.6 pass YPG (26), 121.4 rush YPG (10), 31.6 pass attempts (21), 27.6 rush attempts (12).
19. Chicago Bears
In 2010, with Mike Martz directing Chicago's offense, the Bears finished dead-last in the NFL in pass attempts. Have to admit, I didn't see that comin'.
Over the course of the season, Martz deftly adjusted his game-plans to fit both his head coach's preferences (let's run) and his team's limitations (brutal O-line). During the most successful stretch on the Bears' schedule — after the bye, when they went 7-1 — Jay Cutler(notes) averaged just 26.5 throws per game, only exceeding 30 passes once.
There's little doubt that Martz would love to roll out his complete 9,000-page playbook, full of deep routes and seven-step drops, but it's not yet clear that A) Chicago's line can block it, or B) this receiving corps can successfully run it. We all know that Cutler has a reckless streak and a terrific throwing arm; everyone wishes he had a legit left tackle and a No. 1 receiver. He's absolutely one of the most vexing players in the draft pool. You like that he's entering his second season in an offense that should suit him, but you hate that the Bears have given him so little support. He was sacked more often than any quarterback last year (52), by a wide margin (Flacco was next at 40). It's a shame that Chicago didn't upgrade the receiver position in a meaningful way. Instead...
Roy Williams has signed on for another tour of duty with Martz, after disappointing everyone in Dallas. He's stepped into a starting role in Chicago, although early reviews of his camp performance have been mixed. Williams had his only 80-catch, 1,000-yard season under Martz in '06, but he's turning 30 this year, and he certainly didn't put many highlights on tape while with the Cowboys.
Much has been written about the fact that Williams' arrival bumped Johnny Knox(notes) down the depth chart, but the Bears will use plenty of three and four-receiver formations. Knox is still a burner, definitely not out of the fantasy picture; he led the team in receiving yards a year ago (960) and tied for the lead in catches (51). At some point in the year ahead, you'll talk yourself into using either Earl Bennett(notes) or Devin Hester(notes) to cover a bye. Let's hope you catch 'em in the right week. Greg Olsen(notes) has been shipped off to Carolina, where he'll be featured in a low-yield passing game. Martz has never had much use for non-blocking tight ends, so Olsen's departure isn't too tragic. Jay might miss him — and this local establishment will really miss him — but the Bears offense should survive.
Matt Forte(notes) averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season, easily his best rate as a pro, and he caught 50-plus passes for the third straight year. He's clearly more valuable in PPR leagues than he is in standard formats, and there's basically no chance he'll reach 300 carries. (Marshall Faulk didn't get close under Martz, so it's not likely to happen for Forte). The Bears seem delighted with Marion Barber(notes) thus far, which complicates this backfield's workload projection. There's a serious chance that the Barbarian will have a goal line/short yardage role, taking several of the most important carries in this offense. For that reason, I've dropped Forte slightly in the latest round of ranks, beyond guys like S-Jax and Bradshaw.
Chicago's defense is a fantasy-friendly unit, focused on turnovers and points, almost indifferent to yards-against. The Bears are loaded with IDPs, too. And still, it wasn't enough to escape the bottom-half of the Juggernaut ranks. Perhaps I'm being too hard on the hometown team. Hopefully you'll set me straight in comments.
2010 team stats: 20.9 points per game (21), 188.4 pass YPG (28), 101.0 rush YPG (22), 29.1 pass attempts (32), 25.9 rush attempts (21).
18. St. Louis Rams
If you're the sort of fantasy manager who likes to use a platoon at quarterback, playing match-ups with two or three mid-round selections, then do yourself a favor and target Sam Bradford(notes). This is a talented young QB who put the ball in the air 590 times as a rookie, and he's at the controls of a Josh McDaniels offense. Passing volume will not be a concern. You can also expect the Rams to take a few more deep shots in 2011, now that they're working from a new playbook.
With an average Yahoo! draft position of 112.6, there's little risk attached to Bradford, plenty of reward potential. I'm perfectly content to take him and Kolb outside the top-100, letting others take the pricier QBs.
Bradford's receiving corps has certainly improved from last season, following the additions of Mike Sims-Walker(notes) via free agency and tight end Lance Kendricks(notes) via draft (rookie hype here). Donnie Avery(notes) is making his way back from yet another injury (ACL); if he can regain his speed ... well, OK, I might be the last person holding out any hope for Avery. But there's potential here. He caught two passes for 23 yards and a score in the preseason win over Tennessee, if you care. Brandon Gibson(notes) hauled in an 83-yard deep strike from Bradford in the Titans game, too. Highlights here. (A dog of a game, even by exhibition standards; no need to watch more than those two minutes).
Danny Amendola(notes) has reportedly had a terrific camp, coming off an impressive PPR campaign (85 catches). Two of four Yahoo! fantasy experts rate him as a fringe top-100 player, and I'm giving him a slight rankings edge over Sims-Walker. I will not co-sign the Amendola-Welker comparison, although it's tempting (and easy) to make. Same school, similar size, un-drafted slot receivers, tied to McDaniels ... I get it. But the comparison seems disrespectful to Welker, and it sets an unrealistic expectation for Amendola. Plus, I was burned badly by the Eddie Royal(notes)-Welker comp of '09. I will not go down that road again.
In any case, draft Amendola, hope for 85-900-6, enjoy the profit.
Steven Jackson returns for what feels like his 19th year, but is actually only his eighth. He's a high-mileage back coming off a 330-carry season, the first sub-4.0 YPC campaign of his career. Jackson's reputation as a PPR asset relies entirely on his insane 2006 season (90 catches, 806 yards); over the past four years, his reception totals are 38, 40, 51 and 46. Nice, but hardly enough to make him an elite PPR play. Perhaps the improved team context will boost his value. It's worth noting that while McDaniels was in Denver, the passing game didn't tilt toward the running backs. Carnell Williams(notes) and Jerious Norwood(notes) are behind S-Jax on the Rams' depth chart, with the latter a threat to poach touches on third down. (If St. Louis would have signed Darren Sproles(notes), he would have been an even greater concern than Jerious).
2010 team stats: 18.1 points per game (26), 204.3 pass YPG (21), 98.6 rush YPG (25), 36.9 pass attempts (6), 26.8 rush attempts (17).
I've stated my side of the Josh Freeman(notes) argument already (right here) and it hasn't really changed. He's at No. 17 in my QB ranks, and there he'll stay. Freeman had an excellent real-life year in 2010, considering his age and team context, but he didn't do anything special for fantasy purposes until Week 16, when he faced Seattle's user-friendly pass defense (249.6 YPG allowed, 31 TDs). In that game, he roasted the Seahawks for five scores in a 21-for-26 performance. Brilliant. Awesome. Hope you were bold enough to use him. That huge week vaulted him up the scoring leader board.
But that was the only game all year in which Freeman delivered more than two touchdown passes. He never threw for more than 280 yards, never rushed for more than 43, and he only attempted 474 passes. That's the lowest attempt total for any QB who played a full 16-game schedule. If a quarterback is going to be an elite fantasy asset with such a modest workload, they need to be uncommonly efficient (think Rivers and Brady). Perhaps Freeman will eventually get there, but I'm not paying an expectant price. I'll just stick with the Kolb-Bradford plan, thanks.
To Freeman's credit, he was ridiculously responsible with the football last season (only six INTs) and he owned the defenses of the NFC West (nine TDs, no picks). But his 2011 schedule appears to have a much higher degree of difficulty. (Note: I'm usually the first to argue that we shouldn't play the strength-of-future-schedule game. Let's just acknowledge that the Bucs faced a very friendly slate in 2010). Freeman is a terrific story, he's performed well in big moments, no one doubts his leadership ability, and you'd love to have him as your hometown QB. On a fake roster, however, you'd prefer to own a guy who's likely to put the ball in the air 570 times, directing a high-yield/pass-heavy offense.
And that, at last, is all I care to say about Josh Freeman's fantasy value. Based on where I've ranked him, it's incredibly unlikely that I'll own him this year. Hope he proves me wrong. (It's not hard to do. Ask Cedric). Moving on...
This offseason, Williams has focused on learning the routes for the Z receiver and slot receiver to offer more scheme variation and mismatch opportunities for [offensive coordinator Greg] Olson.
"I now know every position and I'm trying to get better at every position," Williams said. "[Josh Freeman] has been putting me at each position and calling the play and snapping the ball and seeing if I know what to do. We've been doing good at that."
...so that's promising. He's the unrivaled No. 1 receiver in this offense, a guy we're drafting as a high-end WR2 in fantasy (Yahoo! ADP 36.8). It would be reasonable to forecast a few more catches and yards, assuming good health, but let's not pencil him in for another double-digit TD total. That's a tough number to repeat. In this offense, you're hoping for a 75-1050-8 line, and you should be willing to settle for a bit less.
The reports on Arrelious Benn's(notes) recovery from ACL surgery have been positive, and he seems to be on track to play the opener. If you're drafting him, don't expect immediate returns. Dezmon Briscoe(notes) took full advantage of the opportunity created by Benn's injury last season, catching six passes for 93 yards and a score in Weeks 16-17. The camp reports on Briscoe have been full of sunshine (here's one); he's emerged as a sleeper for deep-ish formats. There's little I can tell you about tight end Kellen Winslow(notes) that you don't already know. He's still a decent bet for a 75-800-5 season. If I write about him too much, Yahoo! will slap a "Miami Investigation" banner on this thing, so I've said all I dare to say.
LeGarrette Blount(notes) was a gift from the waiver wire last season. Like Freeman, he was great against the soft defenses on Tampa's schedule. Blount gained 438 of his 1007 rushing yards versus the four NFC West opponents, and another 110 against Detroit. He certainly established himself as a player who can exploit match-ups, but you need to understand the limitations. Blount caught just five passes last season, and he isn't likely to have a significant third down role in 2011. Earnest Graham(notes) and Kregg Lumpkin(notes) are battling for those touches. If you're targeting Blount, hopefully you're expecting a repeat of his 2010 performance, not a huge leap in value.
2010 team stats: 21.3 points per game (20), 210.1 pass YPG (17), 125.1 rush YPG (8), 30.9 pass attempts (23), 26.9 rush attempts (13).
OK, that's it for today. I'm clocking out. Please make your mark below, after the scary man...
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