Juggernaut Index, No. 11: Washington

Juggernaut Index, No. 11: Washington

Well, that was unnerving. Just in case you didn't catch the Monday night preseason matchup between Washington and Cleveland, here's a faithful reenactment. Both teams were uncompromisingly sloppy, mistake-prone, and irrefutably not ready to play football in public.

If you think I'm just having an extreme negative reaction to an ugly quarter or two of meaningless exhibition football ... well, OK. Maybe you have a point. I'm usually the first person to tell you not to draw long-range conclusions from preseason action (or inaction). You probably shouldn't do it. I shouldn't do it. No one should do it.

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Nonetheless, at halftime of the Washington-Cleveland slap-fight, I revisited my 2014 preseason quarterback ranks and dropped Robert Griffin III five spots. He's still rated as a QB1 on my board, but only barely. And realistically, I'll probably veer to another position when RG3's name appears at the top of the draft queue.

Griffin actually completed 6-of-8 throws on Monday, including this well-thrown deep bomb to Andre Roberts, and he ran four times for 24 yards. I'm not saying he didn't generate any quality clips. But he also lobbed a horrible no-zip interception to Joe Haden, plus he unnecessarily absorbed multiple hits on a scramble. When Griffin slid, it seemed as if he was completely new to sliding. He looked altogether too much like last year's version of RG3, the guy who finished with as many turnovers as touchdown passes (16). It's tough to imagine how he'll remain healthy for a full season, or anything close, if he continues to play so recklessly and dangerously.

Washington travels to Philly in Week 3, in case you were wondering (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Washington travels to Philly in Week 3, in case you were wondering (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Of course it's also hard to imagine Griffin failing to deliver respectable per-game fantasy numbers when surrounded by Washington's excellent collection of starting receivers. Head coach Jay Gruden helped Andy Dalton deliver QB1 numbers last year, you'll recall. Surely Gruden can coax similar fantasy results from Griffin, right? We aren't likely to see as many designed runs for RG3 this season, if any, but it's clear enough that he can still improvise and scramble effectively as needed. He's capable of giving us 550-or-so rushing yards if he can remain on the field, and he clearly has arm enough to take advantage of DeSean Jackson's deep skills. Griffin's setup is outstanding. His recent tape, somewhat less outstanding. His injury risk, not insignificant.

Basically, I can understand why you might be bullish, and also why you'd stay away. RG3 should be drafted as a starter (or platoon QB) in 10-team leagues, but I'm not willing to sign off on a top 5-6 selection. Not all the open questions here have been resolved. Let's hope for progress. Again, the team context in Washington is terrific.

D-Jax's arrival should add a vertical dimension to an offense that rarely went deep in 2013. Last year, Griffin and Kirk Cousins combined to complete only 16 passes that targeted a receiver 20 or more yards downfield, per Pro Football Focus. Jackson is coming off a career-best season in Philly statistically (82-1332-9), but the Eagles, as everyone knows, weren't interested in continuing the relationship. On the field, D-Jax is without question one of the most dangerous play-makers in the NFL, a threat to roast any corner on any snap. Jackson was a go-route/crossing-route specialist in Philadelphia (fantastic detail here on his usage), and he'll remain a big-play threat in Washington. For me, he's the most interesting receiver in DC, ahead of Pierre Garcon — the guy who led all players in catches and targets last season. Jackson is coming off a top-10 positional finish, so his upside is plenty high.

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Garcon, clearly, is not some afterthought. He caught 113 balls last year on 182 targets, gaining 1346 yards. A low touchdown total (5) was the lone flaw in Garcon's fantasy game, but such is life on a low-scoring team — no other Washington skill player finished with more than three receiving scores. We can't reasonably expect Garcon to again challenge for the league lead in targets, not in a new system, with so many legit additions to this team's offense (and presumably a healthy Jordan Reed). If Pierre gives us, say, 80 catches for 1050 yards and another five TDs, that would still make him a useful fantasy piece. Draft with a production dip in mind. Again, I wouldn't take Garcon ahead of D-Jax, but Yahoo users don't agree. Pierre's ADP is 40.6 while Jackson's is 46.8.

Andre Roberts appeared to have landed in a great situation in Washington, until DeSean landed right next to him. We can expect plenty of passing plays under Gruden, but Roberts is no higher than No. 4 in this team's receiving hierarchy. You're not owning him, except in leagues of unusual size/shape. Know the name, but don't draft it.

Jordan Reed, chain-moving (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
Jordan Reed, chain-moving (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Reed is a high-ceiling tight end available at a friendly price (ADP 86.4, TE10), and he impressed in his half-season as a rookie. Concussions are the issue for Reed, not talent. If he remains healthy, he'll deliver a fantasy profit. He's a smooth player, agile and sure-handed. Reed lined up at pretty much every skill spot in his collegiate days, so he's plenty versatile.

Washington's running game is hardly a mystery. Alfred Morris is the clear early-down workhorse and goal line runner, the first player from this team off the board in a typical draft (ADP 26.6). Gruden found 220 carries for BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Cincinnati last year, so don't worry about the Washington offense becoming too pass-happy. Morris has opened his NFL career by rushing for 2888 yards over two seasons, at 4.7 per tote, crossing the goal line 20 times. He's a reliable low-end RB1 in standard leagues. In PPR formats, he's ... well, he's a very good standard league running back. Can't that be enough?

You'll have as much luck throwing footballs to kittens as you'll have throwing them to Morris. Not advisable. There's no PPR bump here. Morris dropped an easy toss from RG3 in the Cleveland game, part of the Monday night theater of pain.

Roy Helu retains the passing-down/handcuff role for Washington, while Evan Royster battles rookies Silas Redd and Lache Seastrunk for depth chart position. No one here is threatening Morris, so no need to get too enthusiastic about any of the names in this paragraph.

Washington's defense was a middle-of-the-pack fantasy unit last season, and the team allowed a million points. The expectation is that this D will dial up the aggressiveness of the pass-rush this season, which could perhaps mean good things for Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. But there are no must-own IDPs here, and the secondary is aging (Clark, Hall) and cheap-shotty (Meriweather). No need to target this D/ST. In fact, if you're investing in RG3 and/or the Washington receiving corps, you're hoping the defense remains as-is.

2013 team stats: 20.9 PPG (NFL rank 23), 253.6 pass YPG (16), 20 pass TDs (24), 135.3 rush YPG (5), 28.3 rush attempts per game (13), 38.2 pass attempts per game (9)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City, 19. Houston, 18. Arizona, 17. Minnesota, 16. Pittsburgh, 15. San Diego, 14. San Francisco, 13. Atlanta, 12. Cincinnati