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. No, here we just care about imaginary winning. If an NFL team gains lots of yardage, limits turnovers, and scores when they reach the red zone, then you'll want to own their skill position players in fantasy leagues. You'll find those teams at the top of the Juggernaut Index. We began at No. 32, the worst of the worst, and we're working our way to the elite fantasy offenses.
These rankings rely on hard, incontrovertible math. There are algorithms at work. This stuff is peer-reviewed. Seasons are simulated. You can't argue with science, so don't even try...
28. Baltimore Ravens
If there's one trait shared by every team at the bottom of the Juggernaut Index, it's a murky (or simply bad) quarterback situation.
In Baltimore, Steve McNair has retired, leaving either Troy Smith or Kyle Boller as the Week 1 starter, and former Blue Hen Joe Flacco as the future. And if you don't think Flacco's the real thing, ask the kids at Monmouth (NJ). They'll tell you.
Or ask Ray Lewis:
"Don't be scared to be the second Ben Roethlisberger," Lewis told Joe Flacco before the Ravens took the field on a rainy Friday.
No pressure, kid.
Flacco is big and strong-armed. He can, as they say, make all the throws. He's also not likely to achieve fantasy relevance this season unless things take a bad turn, early.
Cam Cameron, the Ravens new offensive coordinator, has an encouraging track record. He's directed excellent, creative offenses, and he's developed a few young quarterbacks. Cameron's running backs have a history of elite fantasy performance, too (LaDainian Tomlinson 2002-06, Ronnie Brown through Week 7 last season).
The Cameron hire makes Willis McGahee that much more interesting, fantasy-wise. Quietly, McGahee had an excellent season in 2007. He gained a career-high 4.1 yards per carry, produced five 100-yard rushing efforts, and scored a touchdown in seven consecutive games, from Week 6 through Week 13.
Ray Rice is the necessary handcuff to McGahee. As potential keepers go, he's at least as interesting as Flacco. His Rivals' scouting report tells us this:
(Rice) has the running skills and toughness to be a workhorse feature back. He has the cutting skills to make tacklers miss and moves well laterally without losing speed. He made over half his yardage after contact, displaying tremendous lower body strength to break tackles.
It also tells us, "He needs work at picking up the blitz." If he struggles there, he won't be the third-down threat many are expecting.
The Ravens quarterback, whoever he is, will need plenty of assistance. When Jonathan Ogden retired in June, the Ravens lost nothing less than the most dominant player in team history.
Weaknesses? Ogden had none. His pass-protection sets were perfect. His feet were amazingly quick, not just for a man his size but also for a man of any proportion. Ogden could take out one, two or three players on any running play.
Now that is an off-season loss, and it will clearly have an impact. Impressively enough, Baltimore intends to replace Ogden with a man of equal size (6-9, 350), if not equal ability.
The Ravens receivers are serviceable enough, but you won't find any of them -- including Derrick Mason -- in the top 30 of the Yahoo! composite rankings. That's another way of saying that none of them project as fantasy starters in 10-team public leagues. Mason caught 103 passes last season, but for only 1087 yards and five TDs. Ankle injuries affected both Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams in 2007, as neither player really produced after-the-catch. Clayton is the better (re-)breakout candidate this year, but, again, the quarterback situation is key.
In theory, Todd Heap is very good. In reality, he's collected a few injuries. That limits Heap in our tight end hierarchy. If healthy, he could easily outperform his ranking...and then miss the fantasy playoffs with hamstring issues.
There's no question that the Baltimore defense has excellent personnel, and that they could again be an elite unit. Injuries affected them last season, but injuries affect every team, every season. They were in the bottom-half of the NFL in sacks (32), they forced only 23 turnovers, they allowed 222.3 passing yards per game, and they gave up the sixth-most passing TDs (27).
For comparison's sake, the 2006 Ravens had 60 sacks, they created 40 turnovers, allowed 188.2 passing yards per game, and they gave up only 16 passing TDs. The team actually went from first in the NFL (+17) to last (-17) in turnover differential.
Can Baltimore be a winning team in real-life? Sure. That's not what this Index is about. It's difficult to imagine the Ravens producing significantly more than last year's 17.2 points and 302.0 yards per game, and that limits fantasy value.
2007 Baltimore Ravens team stats
Rushing: 112.3 Y/G
Passing: 189.7 Y/G
Points per game: 17.2
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 45, 19
'08 Schedule strength: .551
The rest of the Index...