August 15, 2008
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 rely entirely on
personal biases hard, incontrovertible math. They are not to be questioned.
If he does, he should consider 12. That's where you'll find him in the wide receiver ranks. Johnson was in every expert's top three at the beginning of last season, then he produced the highest yardage total of his seven-year career (1440)...and now he's 12th.
Odd, but his placement in the rankings actually has more to do with the ascension of other players -- guys like Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson -- than with Johnson's expected performance in 2008. He's been remarkably reliable for fantasy purposes. Over the past five years, his lowest single-season reception total is 87, and he hasn't finished with fewer than 1274 yards. Johnson also hasn't missed a game since his rookie season, and he has 49 career TDs.
He delivered an unusual percentage of his total fantasy production in three ridiculous games last season (Weeks 2, 12 and 17), but he hasn't always been that sort of player. Check the game logs from 2004 and 2005. Despite the off-season drama, there's very little to fear with Chad. He's great.
He's also near his ceiling in terms of production, and so is the No. 8 receiver in our preseason ranks, TJ Houshmandzadeh. Both players are 30, and they were each in the top-five in the NFL in targets last year (160 for Chad, 168 for TJ). You think they'll get more opportunities this year, or do more with them? Well, anything's possible, but it hardly seems likely. And yet predictably, this being August, Johnson has declared that he's going to have the best year of his career.
That's why you have to enjoy him. He does not suffer from a lack of confidence. (Also, just for the record, the official position of this blog is that Chad Johnson was not the primary issue with the Bengals last year. The Cincinnati defense allowed 24.1 points and 348.8 yards per game. That's your problem right there).
“We may be in more formations without three wide receivers,” Lewis said this past week.
"He’s a huge target, great wingspan, great hands," Palmer said. "He wants to be great. He’s always asking questions, always studying film. He tried to learn the entire offense in the first day, and then was frustrated when he didn’t have it down."
Don't get overly excited, though. Johnson and Houshmandzadeh will still dominate the receiving workload. The Bengals drafted a pair of WRs in the early rounds (Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell), likely as Chad insurance, but neither is expected to make a serious impact this year. The 6-3 Simpson is the better dynasty league bet; he was kind of a freak at the combine (11'4" broad jump, 37.5" vertical).
There's little that needs to be said about quarterback Carson Palmer. You know he's a great talent with great weapons, and his O-line protected well last year (17 sacks). Palmer's Mock Draft Central ADP is 39.7, and he's No. 5 in the quarterback ranks.
So with a top-five QB and a pair of top-12 receivers, you might be wondering why, exactly, this team didn't make the top ten in the Juggernaut Index. The answer is in the Cincinnati backfield pile-up.
Presumptive starter Rudi Johnson was easily the worst of last year's Round 1 fantasy picks. He suffered through hamstring troubles, gained only 497 rushing yards, and averaged 2.9 yards per carry. And just to put an exclamation point on a devastatingly bad fantasy year, he carried seven times for 16 yards in Week 15, then didn't play in Weeks 16 and 17.
It's a new season, but Rudi is dealing with the same old problems. He's had more hamstring troubles, and he only recently returned to practice. If you're expecting a healthy season and a return to the 330-carry, 1400-yard, 12 TD days, well...it's a terrible bet. Johnson is ranked 31st among the running backs, and that almost seems generous. In June, the Bengals website offered this nugget about the running game:
After averaging 3.7 yards per carry the past two seasons, Marvin Lewis has emphasized going back to the grassroots of his Bengaldom revival and hammer the run.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has responded with a plan to make it more back-by-committee, but still chaired by Rudi Johnson.
We learned last season that 30-year-old Kenny Watson is reliable, if unspectacular. He gained 763 yards on the ground (4.3 YPC) and caught 52 passes. There's no doubt he'd have a role on the committee. The more interesting member is 26-year-old Chris Perry, who's sometimes spectacular, if unreliable.
Perry is a former first round draft pick who's averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 22 career games. He had 51 receptions for the Bengals in 2005, but ankle and leg injuries cost him the final weeks of 2006 and all of 2007. On Thursday, he reportedly worked with the Bengals' first-team offense:
Chris Perry worked as the No. 1 tailback, and coach Marvin Lewis said after the Green Bay game that Perry was competing for the starting spot.
Perry carried 11 times for 42 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati's preseason opener, and he added two receptions for nine yards. It's clear that he'll be in the mix for touches, no matter who starts. Here's what Palmer had to say following the game:
"It seems like (Perry) is so much faster than everybody else out there," the quarterback said.
"He sees holes quickly. I know there was one he wished he would have had back. He catches the ball well. He runs the ball well. He sets up blocks well. He's a complete back. He is dangerous on third down, on screens," Palmer said.
"If he can stay healthy for 16 games."
Consider Perry a nice late-round flier, but rotating multiple Bengals won't be a good way to staff a flex position.
The Cincinnati defense? Yeah, there's nothing to talk about, really. Except that we should again apologize on behalf of fantasy experts everywhere for ranking the Cincinnati defense so incredibly high in Week 2 last season. They gave up 51 points to the Browns. So, um...that was a bad call.
2007 Cincinnati team stats
Rushing: 97.3 Y/G
Passing: 250.8 Y/G
Points per game: 23.8
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 56, 27
'08 Schedule strength: .547
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
---Photos via Getty Images