August 11, 2010
The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it. That's all.
If they were a fictionalized version of an NFL team, you'd dismiss the New York Jets as unbelievable. There are just too many clichés here, too many sideshows. You could never sell this script.
The Jets have a star player holding out, dissatisfied with a $120 million offer. Another star faces a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. And another star is dealing with child-support issues (seven kids, five states). And naturally we have the charismatic-yet-reckless young quarterback (Sanchez), the past-his-prime running back (Tomlinson), the first round bust earning crazy money (Gholston), the receiver who can't catch (Edwards), and the brash, outspoken head coach (Ryan). There's even a dude from "Dancing With the Stars" (Taylor).
This team is absurd. The only overplayed NFL storyline that seems to be missing here is the strip club brawl. But heck, it's only August.
When we encounter teams like this, it's a huge relief to know that the fantasy community really only cares about on-field statistical potential. If we approach the Jets simply as a source of yards and points in the imaginary game, then suddenly they're a lot less complicated.
Last season, this team did two things extraordinarily well: New York led the league in rushing (172.3 YPG), and the defense stopped everything, allowing the fewest points and total yards in the NFL (14.8, 252.3). This was a perfectly middle-of-the-pack offense, but the Jets still outscored opponents by a touchdown per game. New York was one of only two NFL teams that gained more net yards on the ground than through the air — not surprising, given the extreme run/pass ratio. The Jets were first in the league in rush attempts and dead-last in passes-thrown.
The run-first approach of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer clearly benefits Shonn Greene(notes), and there should be plenty of touches left over for rotational back LaDainian Tomlinson(notes). New York ran the ball nearly 38 times per game in 2009. Even if the run/pass split changes a bit this year, the total backfield workload should be enough to sustain two ownable fantasy RBs. Both players have received first-team reps in camp, as you'd expect.
Greene was a terror late in the '09 season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry over the final five weeks, but he saved his absolute best for the AFC playoffs. He gained 135 yards on 21 carries against the Bengals in the Wild Card round, then another 128 on 23 carries at San Diego. You might recall that the Jets dealt three picks in the '09 Draft in order to move up 11 spots to acquire Greene; they're pot-committed here, and they allowed Thomas Jones(notes) to depart for Kansas City.
And again: The Jets are going to run all day. They finished with 607 rushing attempts a season ago. This team needs to utilize a backfield committee, because no single human can handle all the work.
Nonetheless, concern about Tomlinson's role has bumped Greene into the second round of fantasy drafts, where he's a filthy steal (ADP 14.5). He's a bruiser who rarely loses a yard, and he'll run behind an outstanding O-line. His situation is fantastic. We should note, however, that Greene didn't catch a pass in the regular season for the Jets last year, and in college he played in a system at Iowa that rarely uses backs as receivers. If you're playing in a point-per-reception league, he obviously loses value. But still, we're talking about a talented back playing in the NFL's most RB-friendly system.
Tomlinson is an inner-circle Hall of Fame running back, easily in the all-time top five at his position. But at age 31, he also appears to be cooked. LT averaged just 3.3 yards per carry last season and 3.8 the year before. He isn't avoiding injuries or shrugging them off as he used to. Yeah, he scored 12 touchdowns for the Chargers last season, but he also received 56 red zone looks. Let's not pretend that New York's coaching staff doesn't know exactly what Tomlinson is at this stage of his career; the Jets held him to 24 total yards on 15 touches in the playoffs last January. LT is a third-down back who should sneak 8-12 carries per game, and assist you primarily in PPR leagues. (That's the only format where I've drafted him. And even there, I'm worried about rookie Joe McKnight(notes), a fourth-round pick out of USC). If you keep your expectations low, then you won't be disappointed by Tomlinson.
New York's passing game was brutally ineffective last season — 12 TDs, 21 INTs, 53.4 completion percentage — but 2009 was a development year for 23-year-old Mark Sanchez(notes). All rookie quarterbacks have their ridiculous moments, so you have to be willing to forgive a few mistakes. (Or a few dozen). Sanchez doesn't necessarily have the arm strength of Matthew Stafford(notes) or Josh Freeman(notes), but he's the only QB from the '09 draft class with four post-season passing TDs on the resumé. So that's something. He's also fully recovered from offseason knee surgery. If you're a Jets fan, there are all sorts of reasons to be optimistic. Sanchez is buried at No. 25 in the Yahoo! composite quarterback ranks, though, because none of us expect New York to feature a dynamic aerial attack.
The Jets' receiving corps is a respectable group, although its most talented member, Santonio Holmes(notes), will be suspended for the first four games. If you're drafting Holmes, you'll need to find a placeholder until October 11 (Monday night, vs. MIN). Braylon Edwards(notes) had his moments last year (12 games, 35-541-4), but this offense failed to deliver a 60-catch receiver. Without a significant philosophical shift in New York, the team won't produce a top-30 fantasy WR. Jerricho Cotchery(notes), Brad Smith(notes), David Clowney(notes) and Laveranues Coles(notes) are behind Braylon on the depth chart. As fantasy options, these guys range from low-upside to no-upside. Tight end Dustin Keller's(notes) career began with a pair of remarkably similar seasons (48-535-3 and 45-522-2); he's an interesting talent in an unfortunate scheme. There's hope for Keller as a fantasy asset only if the Jets indeed trend toward a more normal blend of ground vs. air.
None of you should need to be told that New York's defense is exceptional, of course. This unit is adept at creating confusion and forcing incompletions, generating pressure without actually sending a million bodies at the passer. The Jets led the NFL in pass defense (153.7 YPG, 17 INT) and they ranked eighth against the run (98.6 YPG, 3.8 YPC). This is simply an outstanding D, loaded with talent. Assuming that Darrelle Revis(notes) eventually signs, New York also has the game's best corner, a guy who smothered Andre Johnson(notes), Randy Moss(notes), Roddy White(notes), Reggie Wayne(notes), Chad Ochocinco(notes) and various others last season. (And in the unlikely event that he doesn't sign for the giant pile of money already offered — or an even larger pile of money — then New York still has Antonio Cromartie(notes) and first-rounder Kyle Wilson(notes)). LB David Harris(notes) is an elite IDP option coming off a 127-tackle, 5.5-sack season. Other IDPs of interest include LB Bart Scott(notes) (92 tackles), DE Shaun Ellis(notes) (6.5 sacks) and DB Jim Leonhard(notes) (76 tackles).
If you have anything else to add to our Jets discussion, or you'd like to lead us in a rousing chant, please visit the comments section. This would be the appropriate time of year to say insanely optimistic things about Sanchez, if you're so inclined.
Photo via Getty Images
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