August 06, 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.
Also, you'll notice that we've now reached the upper half of the Index. Every team remaining offers several useful fantasy pieces. Or they at least offer one dominant fantasy piece, and a few familiar names. There is no shame in a top 16 ranking.
15. St. Louis Rams
This is a remarkably high placement for the Rams when you consider that last year's numbers were abysmal (16.4 points and 297.5 yards per game), and the centerpiece of the offense is holding out:
(Steven) Jackson missed his 11th day of camp Monday, encompassing 15 practices. With a fine of $15,166 for every day he misses, Jackson now is out $166,826.
Multiple sources confirmed Monday that there have been no negotiations between the Rams and Jackson's agent since July 25 -- the first day of training camp ... The stalemate is closing in on two weeks, with neither side flinching.
Jackson is presently the No. 3 running back in our composite rankings. That might change when we update things this week, but only slightly. He's not falling out of the top five whether he's practicing or not. This holdout is still in the posturing stage, and we learned last year that the talent/usefulness gap between Jackson and presumptive handcuff, Brian Leonard, is massive.
"Here, I think I fit in real well as a change-of-pace back to Steven and Brian."
Especially in Saunders' wide-open system. "It's more of what I ran in college: one-cut reads and a get-up-the-field type of offense," Pittman said.
But Jackson is still the long-term feature back in St. Louis. Don't overreact to uncertainty. Here's coach Scott Linehan on the Jackson situation:
"It's not a perfect world. ... This is a part of the game. And it's going to happen to our team again. And other teams again ... What you've got to do is figure out a resolution to it. There is a resolution. We haven't come to it. But it'll be resolved and Steven will be a Ram for probably the rest of his career."
Nothing to see here (yet). Move along (for now).
We know that Jackson will be running behind an improved offensive line this year, because there's no way it can get worse than it was last season. No way. The 2007 Rams line consisted of two leafy plants, a beaded closet curtain, a grass-covered pit, and Alex Barron.
The most important piece returning to the line is Orlando Pace, who's recovering from shoulder surgery. Pace also missed the final six games of the 2006 season with a triceps tear. If he can't deliver a good impression of his pre-injury self, then another series of ugly beatings awaits Marc Bulger.
The Rams' QB was sacked 37 times in just 12 games last year, and 49 times in 2006. The low point for Bulger last season was probably Week 7, at Seattle, when the Rams fell to 0-7. He was returning from a rib injury, but Steven Jackson was out, and the O-line was already devastated. Here's the AP game recap:
The Pro Bowl quarterback, playing for the first time in three weeks with sore ribs, was sacked seven times ... Bulger fumbled three times, lost two, and finished 21-of-40 for 225 yards passing with three interceptions.
“I’m a little angry about things. Embarrassed about things. Frustrated about things. There are no good emotions,” said Bulger, who limped through the locker room.
Understandably, Bulger appeared a little skittish last season. However, he was extremely accurate from 2004-06, putting up completion percentages of 66.2, 66.9, and 62.9. When he's given reasonable protection, he produces excellent fantasy numbers. Thus, he's clinging to the top-ten in the Yahoo! quarterback rankings. And the Al Saunders offense reportedly suits Bulger just fine.
We know, of course, that he'll have excellent receivers to work with. Torry Holt has been astonishingly consistent, delivering over 90 receptions and 1100 yards every year for the last six. Holt also has 71 career receiving touchdowns. His Mock Draft Central ADP is 33.17, which makes him an early fourth rounder in 10-team leagues. That's fairly late for a guy who reliably produces WR1 stats. Holt is 32, though, and he has some mileage, so no one's expecting a season quite like 2003 (117 receptions, 1696 yards, 12 TDs).
Drew Bennett figures to be the No. 2, but he's really just late-round wishful thinking at this point. Approximately 94 percent of his career fantasy contributions occurred during three magical weeks in 2004. Since that time, he's really been a fantasy spot-starter. Rookies Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton are both of interest in dynasty leagues, though Avery has a scary-sounding but apparently-not-serious cracked pelvis right now. (Potential fantasy team name: The Pelvis Crack).
The early reports on Burton have been unusually positive:
Burton caught every pass thrown his way, including one deep ball down the left side, one diving catch over the middle and another leaping catch in the middle of the field, where he used his hands well. Burton also showed his speed on an end-around, outracing the defense to the end zone from about 65 yards away. Those four plays came in the first practice of the summer.
So consider him a rookie of interest.
If it's August, it must be time for us to report that tight end Randy McMichael's role could increase this year. Like you've never heard that before. He was a fantasy non-factor last season (39 receptions, 429 yards, 3 touchdowns).
The Rams' team defense was largely useless in 2007 (92 fantasy points), but there are reasons for optimism, not the least of which is rookie defensive end Chris Long, the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. In IDP leagues, you're looking at LB Will Witherspoon (110 tackles, 7 sacks in '07), DE Leonard Little (13 sacks in '06), S Oshiomogho Atogwe (75 tackles, 8 interceptions, 1 TD), and Long.
2007 St. Louis team stats
Rushing: 95.4 Y/G
Passing: 202.1 Y/G
Points per game: 16.4
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 39, 17
'08 Schedule strength: .488
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
Photos via Getty Images