July 13, 2009
The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. We begin at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise, and we'll work our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.
32. Oakland Raiders
Oakland fans do not know this parity of which you speak. The Raiders haven't won more than five games in any season since 2002 and they haven't averaged 20.0 points per game since 2004. They've obviously had no shortage of high draft picks, yet over the past four seasons they've finished 21st, 32nd, 25th and 29th in the NFL in total yards.
This year, in many 10-team fantasy leagues, there won't be a Raider in anyone's starting lineup in Week 1. There will, however, be at least two Raiders on fantasy rosters -- running back Darren McFadden(notes) and tight end Zach Miller -- so let's focus on the ownable commodities before discussing the rest of the team.
McFadden gave us a brief glimpse of his potential in the opening weeks of '08 when he gained 232 total yards on 32 touches against the Broncos and Chiefs, but his rookie season was largely a disappointment due to a medley of injuries (toe, ankle, shoulder). The offseason reports have been positive, and it's worth recalling the fact that McFadden has elite speed (4.33 at the combine).
Despite their lack of competence in other areas, the Raiders actually have a respectable ground game. Oakland's rushing attack finished among the league's top 10 in each of the past two seasons (124.2 YPG in '08, 130.4 in '07). McFadden will be a significant factor in the short passing game, too, so he deserves a bump in PPR ranks. His current Mock Draft Central ADP is 53.8. Expect Justin Fargas'(notes) role to diminish in '09 -- if it doesn't, something has again gone wrong. Michael Bush(notes) remains a solid late-round play; his fourth quarter outburst against the Bucs in Week 17 should not be forgotten (13 carries, 129 yards, TD).
The Oakland passing game? Well, it isn't pretty at all times, but here's the good news: Miller is legit. He separates quickly and he's capable of making degree-of-difficulty catches. Miller led the Raiders in both receptions (56) and yardage (778) last year, and his totals dwarfed those put up by any Raiders wide receiver. (Johnnie Lee Higgins(notes) led the WRs with 22 catches for 366 yards). Miller broke the plane just once, but the team only managed 13 passing TDs so it's not as if anyone was covered in glory.
Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell(notes) has exceptional arm strength, but he completed only 53.8 percent of his passes last year. He enjoys $61 million worth of job security, although that doesn't seem to intimidate 39-year-old backup Jeff Garcia. This from the Chicago Tribune:
"Not knocking JaMarcus or anybody else on the team, but I have a belief in my own abilities," Garcia said in a phone interview from his home in San Diego. "[That has] me feeling I am the best quarterback on the team."
Still, Russell easily beats Garcia on raw skills, even if he doesn't crack the Yahoo! preseason quarterback ranks. Russell has a nice rapport with Miller, but the rest of the receiving corps simply can't be trusted. Higgins is an explosive kick returner, though not a refined pass-catcher or route-runner. Chaz Schilens(notes) is a tall target (6-4) with impressive pro-day credentials (43-inch vertical, 4.38 speed) and he closed the '08 season with a pair of nice games (six receptions, 98 yards, two TDs). He and Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes), the Raiders first-round pick in '09, have all kinds of athleticism, and there's clearly hope for the future of the deep passing game. But Heyward-Bey is entering his third month of hamstring troubles and he's hardly a lock to start in Week 1. Even if he does, he's a drop-prone rookie facing a steep learning curve. Javon Walker(notes) is off the fantasy radar following knee and ankle surgeries. This offseason has gone much better than last year's, but that's not saying much.
Other Raiders notes: Last season in Week 4, we learned that Sebastian Janikowski cannot kick 76-yard field goals. His accuracy rebounded in '08, but he hasn't topped 100 points since '04. ... Linebacker Kirk Morrison(notes) (136 tackles in '08) is the Oakland IDP you'll want to pursue. Corner Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) is just a little too good in real-life, relative to his teammates, to be a fantasy factor in IDP leagues. Asomugha is rarely tested so his playmaking opportunities are limited. ... No disrespect intended to Shane Lechler(notes), but when fans consider the punter to be the second-best player on the roster, that probably means the team's fantasy potential is limited.
Photos via Getty Images
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