August 25, 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.
Let's begin with a few observations about Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. You're free to refute them or embrace them.
• This year, Peterson is one of the more obvious No. 1 overall picks in fantasy sports history. He is clearly the most dangerous offensive weapon in the NFL, and he's the only back in the league who can openly discuss a 2,000-yard season and not sound ridiculous.
• Minnesota's offensive coordinator also thinks Peterson can hit 2,000, so it's not like All Day is just throwing crazy numbers at us, Ocho-style.
• Even in a PPR league there's a solid argument for Peterson at No. 1. Sure, he'll probably catch only 20-25 passes, but his ceiling as a rusher is significantly higher than anyone else's.
• Only two players in league history have rushed for more yards in their first two NFL seasons: Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson. That's it. No one has rushed for more yards in a single game. Peterson is already in historic company. We're way past discussing what he might be.
• It makes no sense at all for the Vikings to play Peterson in a preseason game, ever. He's too great a threat to himself and others. Check the highlights from the Vikes' exhibition opener. He obviously thinks of himself as a weapon. It's not the upright running style that exposes him to injury; it's the violent, tackler-punishing style.
• Then again, Walter Payton was the same way and injuries weren't really a huge issue for him. (Hopefully you can appreciate how difficult it is for a Bears fan – someone who dressed as either Payton or Chet Lemon every Halloween – to compare a Vikings back to Walter. But that's the company Peterson keeps).
• If opposing defensive coordinators don't make Peterson the sole focus of the gameplan when they face the Vikes, particularly early in the season, then they should be fired. On the spot. At halftime if necessary. No debriefing, no exit interview. Peterson is that dangerous; the rest of the Minnesota's skill position players, while talented, are not in his class. And this last bullet leads us to the inevitable Brett Favre(notes) discussion…
Even the most casual NFL fan knows where Favre is at these days: He'll turn 40 in October, his throwing arm has been surgically repaired, he only recently began practicing with the Vikings and he has a torn rotator cuff. No starting quarterback in the league was worse than Favre over the final five weeks of the 2008 season. With him at the controls, the Jets went 1-4. Favre threw two touchdown passes and nine interceptions. His completion percentage was 56.0. If opposing Ds fail to stack the line against Peterson, inviting No. 4 to throw early and often, then they deserve the abuse that All Day is going to serve up.
Whatever else Brett Favre is at this stage in his career – a legend, a Hall of Famer, a gunslinger, a walking reality show, a reliable corporate pitchman – he is not currently among the league's most dangerous or reliable passers. A few tape-watchers felt that he lost something on the fastball long before Week 13 last year. In the NFL, everyone needs to prove themselves all the time. If Favre isn't substantially better in Week 1 than he was at the conclusion of '08, then he was a brutal signing for Minnesota. The Vikings have a Super Bowl-quality roster; they can't afford to give away games while they figure out whether they have the real Favre. And if he isn't the real Favre, are the Vikings going to be willing to cut him, take the PR hit, end the 269-game streak?
He's an exciting storyline, no doubt, but Favre would simply terrify me if I were a Minnesota fan. He's the No. 20 fantasy quarterback in our updated preseason ranks and no expert was particularly bullish. The best thing I can say about him at the moment is that he's not clearly worse than Plan B (Sage Rosenfels(notes)) or Plan C (Tarvaris Jackson(notes)).
Favre's new receiving corps is loaded with interesting pieces, so if he can somehow recapture the old magic, he'll be better than useful for fantasy purposes. Bernard Berrian(notes) is the first Minnesota wide receiver taken in a typical draft (Yahoo! ADP 72.3). His career high in receiving yardage is 964, so you can't reasonably consider him more than a very good No. 3 WR, fantasy-wise. Berrian is a perfect example of a receiver who should not get a PPR bump. He caught 48 passes last year; he finished among the top 20 in the league in passes not caught (47).
Rookie Percy Harvin(notes) is an exceptional talent, capable of lining up all over the field. He's a spectacular decoy; he's a spectacular ball-carrier. The opening sentences of the National Football Post's pre-draft scouting report should give you an idea of his upside:
The Good: Has a rare first step with excellent short-area quickness. Gets up to top speed instantly and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
There have been maturity and coachability concerns with Harvin, but few analysts have questioned his skills. Don't expect him to become an every-week fantasy play in year one, but do expect silly highlights and the occasional huge game. He's saying all the right things about Favre, too. You'll want to invest in Harvin. In a dynasty league, you can't let him slip far. If we're drafting today, he's the top rookie receiver on my board.
Sidney Rice(notes) is a low-risk/late-round fantasy option with plenty of upside. The former second-round pick had a promising rookie season, but a knee injury made him a non-factor for most of '08. At 6-4, he's a terrific red zone target, though the Vikes have no shortage of those. Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) emerged as a serious threat last year (42-596-7) and he's had an impressive preseason. Given Favre's fondness for TEs in the red zone, you need to consider Shiancoe a starting fantasy option in Week 1.
Notes for True Norsemen: The Vikings' offensive line is outstanding, particularly the left side (McKinnie/Hutchinson). Rookie tackle Phil Loadholt(notes) was an excellent addition, too. That line is a major reason – although not the only reason – that Chester Taylor(notes) is such a valuable handcuff. Taylor is a useful weapon in the passing game (45 REC in '08), he has a nose for the endzone (19 TDs since '06), and he's a low-cost option on draft day (ADP 118.9). … Bobby Wade(notes) is a reliable if unspectacular receiver who says a few regrettable things. Example No. 1, example No. 2. No obvious need to draft him. … The Vikings defense is terrific and it's loaded with strong IDP options: DE Jared Allen(notes), CB Antoine Winfield(notes), CB Cedric Griffin(notes), LB Chad Greenway(notes), LB EJ Henderson(notes). Minnesota's team DEF has been a top-ten fantasy option every year since '05; we're forecasting more of the same in '09. … Call the Roto Arcade 900-line RIGHT NOW to find out if Ryan Longwell(notes) is one of our top sleeper kickers for the year ahead! (Or just check the ranks). The first 100 callers will receive a free replica halberd.
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.
Photos via US Presswire