August 26, 2009
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.
No. 11 Arizona Cardinals
The Redbirds are one of the more volatile offensive juggernauts in the top half of our draw. It wouldn't be a surprise to see this team be a Top 5 unit when all the points are totaled up, but it's not hard to concoct a scenario where it all falls apart.
Kurt Warner's(notes) the triggerman of this fantastic passing game and keeping him upright is the key to everything that follows. Warner's dream 2008 season paid the fantasy bills and then some (4583 passing yards, 30 TD) but we have to remember that this guy just turned 38 and he's managed just one full season in the last seven years. The NFL is a young man's game and Warner was the league's oldest starter at the QB spot until the Vikings signed you know who.
It's hard to say how much the offense would lose if and when Warner goes down (PBI scientists are standing by). Matt Leinart's(notes) had three-plus years to learn about the pro game, but does he have the physical gifts to be a star quarterback? A lot of keen scouts don't buy into him, most notably Greg Cosell of NFL Films. If Warner were to get hurt tomorrow, I'd immediately be less interested in every skill player here. (I'm not buying the story that Leinart might be in jeopardy of losing his No. 2 spot to Brian St. Pierre(notes). Coaches like competition in their camps, but this has smokescreen written all over it.)
The days of landing Larry Fitzgerald(notes) outside the first round are probably done for good. Fitzgerald was far and away the most impressive skill player in last year's playoffs (546 yards, seven scores) and might be the most valuable non-QB commodity in the game right now. He's still just 26. He's capable of beating defensive backs even when he's not completely open. If there's one current receiver who can dream of someday pushing Jerry Rice's(notes) career marks, Fitzgerald is the guy. In a PPR format, I'm willing to consider No. 11 with a Top 4 pick.
Make sure you separate the on-field Anquan Boldin(notes) from the off-field Boldin. Between the lines he's a dynamite player, a high-motor guy who can run every pattern in the book, beat the jam, block and compete. Off the field he's got the Jan Brady syndrome, a jealous No. 2 guy who‘s done plenty of carping about his contract. When the bell rings, look for professionalism to win out. While Boldin's physical style leads to recurring injuries – he's missed 16 games in five years and has just one full season over that span – he's still a reasonable pick in the third or fourth round, no matter the format.
Steve Breaston(notes) is another safe play even as a No. 3 receiver – the Cardinals used at least three wideouts in more than two-thirds of their snaps last season and Boldin's injury risk adds to Breaston's upside. Even if the Cardinals slow down their aerial assault and offensive pace a little bit this year under new offensive coordinator Russ Grimm (Todd Haley left for Kansas City's head coaching job), Breaston will be on the field more than most No. 3 guys around the league and he‘s got a dynamite rapport with Warner. A repeat of Breaston's 77-grab, 1,006-yard season might be asking too much, but I have no problem paying for 90 percent of those stats.
Things aren't nearly as defined in the backfield. Arizona spent a first-round pick on Chris Wells and wanted to give him a strong chance at making an immediate impact but it's been a slog to this point. Wells couldn't work in early minicamps because of NCAA rules, his contract lagged into August, and he dinged his ankle the same week he signed. He's been a little slow picking up the playbook, he's missed most of the team activities this week, and he's yet to play in a preseason game yet (though he did dress last week).
Wells probably isn't a great fit for the Arizona offense – he's a powerful inside guy asked to play for a club that spreads the field – but eventually he figures to get his chance to unseat Tim Hightower(notes), the incumbent. Hightower was able to cop 10 TD last year but didn't look impressive doing it (2.8 YPC); by the playoffs the Cardinals accepted that veteran Edgerrin James(notes) had to rejoin the starting lineup. Hightower won't go away that easily, though; he'll begin the year as the team's starting tailback and he's a better receiver than Wells.
At the end of the day you can probably get a better price on Hightower (the early starter) than Wells (the looming rookie) because everyone can see Wells has the higher upside. But you won't want to be starting either of these guys in Week 1; let's see a few weeks play out first. In competitive leagues you'll probably have to gamble on Wells as your No. 3 back if you want to land him; in less-competitive groups you can probably secure him as your fourth option, a dynamic stash-and-wait.
Raising Arizona: Neil Rackers(notes) is coming off one of his better years, making 25-of-28 field goals (and one of the misses was a try from 68 yards). Ten of his 16 games this year come indoors. … Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling(notes) had two impressive returns against San Diego last week and has probably made the team as a special-teams performer, at minimum. … Jerheme Urban(notes) is ahead of Early Doucet(notes) in the battle to be the team's No. 4 receiver. That's not an insignificant post; Arizona ran more four-wide sets than any team last season and we have to consider that Boldin and Breaston have been nicked up this summer. … Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was fired even after last year's Super Bowl trip; linebackers coach Billy Davis takes over. Arizona's team defense hasn't captured the imagination of the Yahoo! Fantasy panel – only one scribe puts them in the Top 15.
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, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee, 15) Pittsburgh, 14) Denver, 13) Chicago, 12) Minnesota.
Photos via US Presswire