July 03, 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. 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...
Maybe your opinion on the Niners is one of those optimist/pessimist things.
An optimistic person might see their glass as
half one-third 20 percent no more than 10 percent full. A pessimist would basically just see a big empty cup.
Yes, the Niners brought in Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator. But the offense could improve substantially and still be among the league's worst.
Here are a few of the grim facts:
• The Niners averaged a league-worst 13.7 points per game last season. There were 21 NFL teams that averaged 20. The Patriots outscored the Niners by more than three touchdowns per week.
• San Francisco was last in the NFL in total yards per game (237.3). Every other team was above 275.
• The Niners were last in the league in passing yards per game (145.0), and the next-to-last team, Oakland, threw for nearly 20 more yards per game.
• San Francisco was also last in the NFL in completion percentage (53.4), first downs per game (13.6), red zone possessions (29), third down percentage (31.4) and time of possession (27:07). They were 30th in turnover differential (-12). The Niners led the NFL in sacks allowed (55) and yards lost (365).
So the offense finished last in the NFL by wide margins in most of the important categories, and the team's biggest off-season addition was a coach, not a player.
Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson top the Niners' depth chart at receiver, and Ashley Lelie, Arnaz Battle and Jason Hill are behind them. None of those players are in the top 45 in our position rankings, and none have particularly high ceilings -- at least not while the quarterback situation remains such an uninteresting pileup.
The presumptive starter is still Alex Smith. But Martz stresses "getting the ball out quickly and accurately," and few would suggest that those are Smith's strengths. He completed only 48.7 percent of his passes in 2007, and his career completion percentage is 54.4.
Shaun Hill, who had useful fantasy lines in Weeks 14-16 last year, clearly has a chance to start:
Given Smith's physical advantages, is it fair to say he has an edge at this point?
"I wouldn't go there right now," (head coach Mike) Nolan said. "For one, I don't have to go there."
Challenger Shaun Hill tends to play better in games than he shows in practice, Nolan said. "Shaun's been OK in practice, but he's that type of player."
To which, Hill said, "I'm not sure that's a good thing when you're trying to win a job on the practice field."
Is it possible that this could be Vernon Davis' breakout season? Sure. We all know that he's fast, skilled, and that he was both injured and unhappy last season. He was certainly a disappointment in 2007, yet few observers put much of the blame on Davis himself.
Pro Football Weekly had an important note on him back in March, though:
In regard to Davis’ performance last season, one of his teammates told a team source that he had never seen an NFL starter make so many mistakes.
Frank Gore, of course, is great. From the glass-is-10-percent-full perspective (see above), Gore is that 10 percent. Four-receiver sets should create lanes that didn't exist in 2007. There's little doubt that Gore will be the centerpiece of the Niners' attack, that he'll be an excellent PPR play, and that he'll get all the targets he can handle. Gore's current average draft position at Mock Draft Central is 8.8, and it's deserved.
If there's any reason to be concerned -- other than Gore's injury history, the mediocrity of his supporting cast, and the team's on-field performance in '07 -- it's the rushing totals that Martzian attacks have produced. Over the past six seasons, his offenses have finished 30th (twice), 25th, 22nd, 32nd and 31st in rushing.
Oh, and San Francisco's defense scored only 101 fantasy points last year, the lowest total of any team. And Patrick Willis probably accounted for 70 of the points, either directly or indirectly.
Aside from Gore, there's just not much here for public leaguers to draft.
2007 San Francisco 49ers team stats
*** AVERT YOUR EYES! OR USE ONE OF THOSE PINHOLE PROJECTION THINGS! ***
Rushing: 92.3 Y/G
Passing: 145.0 Y/G
Points per game: 13.7
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 29, 15
'08 Schedule strength: .484