July 08, 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 not predicting wins and losses here. In fact, we don't care about such things. Instead, we're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.
Last year, the St. Louis offense may have been the most disappointing collection of humans assembled anywhere, for any purpose. It's tough to overstate how poorly this group played. The Rams scored only 16 offensive touchdowns and averaged just 10.9 points per game. If they somehow could have doubled their TD total, they still would have finished 25th in the NFL in scoring.
St. Louis would rank dead-last in this index if it weren't for Steven Jackson, a terrific running back who's burning through the best years of his career in an almost hopeless environment. Considering his circumstances, Jackson's 2009 season was heroic. He gained 1,738 total yards on 375 touches and led the Rams in receptions (51). Unfortunately for his owners, S-Jax only crossed the goal line four times. He simply didn't get the number of red zone touches required to pile up points — in fact, his RZ workload was basically half of what you expect from a top-tier back. Jackson received 35 red zone touches last year; Jones-Drew had 69 and Peterson had 65.
When you account for the general ineptitude of his supporting cast, his past injury issues, and the fact that Jackson had offseason surgery to repair a herniated disc … well, it's tough to build a case for him as a first round fantasy back in any format.
If St. Louis is going to stun the NFL by delivering a respectable season in 2010, then quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) will need to have an astonishing rookie year. Like Matt Ryan(notes) in '08, if not better. (Yeah, OK, perhaps if the season began today, AJ Feeley(notes) would be a threat to start. But he hasn't completed an NFL pass since 2007, the same year he threw eight interceptions in 103 attempts. He's a non-factor in fantasy. Thus, he's a parenthetical in the Rams preview).
Bradford has the tools you'd expect from a No. 1 overall draft pick — accuracy, arm strength, intelligence — but he faces a steep learning curve. He won't be running a simplified spread against overwhelmed opponents this year. Bradford downplayed the difficulty of the Oklahoma-to-St. Louis transition prior to the draft…
"People have this misconception that, if you play in the spread (offense), if you play in the shotgun, you don't know how to take a drop," Bradford told reporters at the combine. "I'm very comfortable throwing under center."
…and he's apparently answered all the questions about last season's shoulder injury. For the Rams and their fans, the year ahead is all about Bradford's development. However, the Rams' offensive line is still a concern — they weren't a disaster in '09, but LT Jason Smith(notes) has been dogged by injuries — and the receiving corps isn't exactly loaded with playmakers.
Donnie Avery(notes) is a serious talent who's fought through a series of strains, tweaks and breaks over his first two seasons. It's not inconceivable that he and Bradford could be an interesting combo by 2011. Beyond Avery, though, there really aren't many interesting targets here. You're not drafting Laurent Robinson(notes) or Keenan Burton(notes) in any league of standard size, and both are rehabbing injuries. Brandon Gibson(notes) is still in the picture after proving his competence in the second half of '09, and Cincinnati rookie Mardy Gilyard(notes) has generated the typical first-year offseason buzz. But again, these aren't draft-worthy players in most formats.
The Rams defense? No thanks. They allowed 27.3 points and 372.8 yards per game last season; those stats placed them 31st and 29th in the NFL. Incredibly, no St. Louis cornerback recorded an interception in 2009. There are two IDPs of interest here, and both are top-tier players: Linebacker James Laurinaitis(notes) (120 tackles) and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe(notes) (74 tackles in 12 games).
Photos via Getty Images (tattoo) and US Presswire (Bradford)