Let me begin by telling you the precise moment when it was officially decided — beyond any doubt — that Green Bay would rank atop the 2010 Juggernaut Index.
Following the Packers' third preseason game, a 59-24 shellacking of the Colts, I happened to be part of the media herd in the home team's locker room at Lambeau Field. My primary purpose was to get quotes for this preseason piece on Green Bay's defense, but while waiting for BJ Raji(notes) to become presentable, I listened to a few of Aaron Rodgers'(notes) postgame thoughts. This statement was among the first made by the Pro Bowl quarterback:
"I just didn't like our rhythm tonight."
Now, I'll remind you that the Packers had just scored 59 points. They had demolished the defending AFC champs. Rodgers himself threw for 195 yards in the first half, completing 72.4 percent of his passes, and he connected with three different receivers for touchdowns. In two quarters of action, Green Bay's first-team offense — playing without No. 1 wide receiver Greg Jennings(notes) — had gained 236 total net yards.
And still, Rodgers wasn't happy with their rhythm. If 59 points doesn't satisfy him, you wonder what might. Would 70 points be enough? 80? 100? 150?
It was only a preseason game, of course, and we need to be careful not to overstate the importance of exhibition stats. But c'mon. The Packers weren't at full strength, yet they'd just embarrassed Indianapolis.
Even if you're not quite ready to fast-track this team to the Super Bowl — two out of three Yahoo! NFL experts have done it, but you don't have to — we need to acknowledge the impressive collection of talent that's gathered in Green Bay. This group is a fantasy juggernaut of the highest order.
Just look at all the upper-tier fantasy options on the Packers' roster:
• Rodgers passed for 4,434 yards and 30 TDs last season while delivering the NFL's lowest interception percentage (1.29). He has the arm strength to make any throw in the playbook, he's quick to read defenses, and his improvisational skills are terrific. Rodgers doesn't need a calm pocket in order to be effective, either. He played at a ridiculously high level in '09 despite persistent O-line issues. He's also a mobile QB who rushed for 316 yards and five touchdowns last year. Add it all up, and you'll find that Rodgers was the top overall scorer last year in standard fantasy leagues.
• Tight end Jermichael Finley(notes) is going to be a star, period. No debate allowed. He's 23 years old and on the doorstep of a great career, assuming he can stay healthy. This guy is simply an impossible matchup. He's much too fast for any linebacker to cover, and he's too tall and athletic for basically any NFL defensive back. And he has excellent hands. In that August win over the Colts, Finley was peppered with targets, catching six balls for 85 yards and one TD. Late in the second quarter, Rodgers hit him down the seam for a 25-yard gain, throwing high into double coverage and letting Finley out-leap everyone on the field. At that moment, I was convinced that the only human capable of covering Finley would be … well, maybe a Finley clone. But no one else. It would not be a surprise if he emerges as the No. 1 fantasy tight end in 2011 drafts.
• In each of the past two seasons, Jennings and Donald Driver(notes) have finished with 1,000-plus receiving yards. Both of them are perfectly safe fantasy plays. There were a few health questions surrounding the 35-year-old Driver entering camp, but the preseason quieted those concerns. Jennings ranks as our No. 8 wide receiver for fantasy purposes, and no expert places him lower than ninth overall. He's coming off a moderately disappointing season (68-1113-4), but that's because Rodgers so effectively spread the wealth last season. Nine different Packers caught TD passes, and no individual player had more than six. Jennings is a big-play threat at all times, capable of getting deep, but also adept at turning short slants into long, game-changing scores. Driver is a PPR star, with seven 1,000-yard seasons to his credit.
There's talent buried on depth chart here, too. If either Jennings or Driver misses time, James Jones(notes) and/or Jordy Nelson(notes) will get interesting. Jones would be a No. 1 for several NFL teams, and he'll be a must-start fantasy asset if/when he gets a bump in the Green Bay receiver hierarchy.
• Ryan Grant(notes) has rushed for over 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons, and he's coming off an 11-TD campaign. If you managed to draft Grant in the late second-round or early third, near his ADP (22.3), then it's OK to gloat just a little. You nabbed a rock-solid running back who's in line for 300 touches, and he's tied to a fantastic offense. For those who handcuff, Brandon Jackson(notes) is the clear choice — in fact, he's the only choice, because the Packers kept just two tailbacks on the final roster. This team has total confidence in Jackson's abilities. Head coach Mike McCarthy put it this way just last month:
"Brandon Jackson to me is an every-down back," McCarthy said. "[He] is a good special teams player, too. He's a complete football player, and if we had to play all three downs with him, I wouldn't even blink."
• Green Bay's defense finished second in the NFL in yards-allowed last season, limiting opponents to 284.4 per game. This group was also the league's top-ranked run defense (83.3), and it led in interceptions (30). Charles Woodson(notes) had a brilliant season for the Packers, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors after recording 74 tackles and creating 13 turnovers (nine INTs, four forced fumbles). He also returned three picks for TDs. Coordinator Dom Capers maximized Woodson's unique skill set, using him effectively in coverage, as a blitzer, as a rover — he was everywhere, essentially. LB Clay Matthews(notes) emerged as a dangerous edge rusher in his rookie season (10 sacks), while LB Nick Barnett(notes) (106 tackles, four sacks) and DB Nick Collins(notes) (53 tackles, six INTs) were great again.
Entering 2010, this defense projects as a top-five unit. They were eaten alive by the elite quarterbacks last year — Favre got 'em twice, Roethlisberger once, and Warner shredded them in the playoffs — but they absolutely tortured everyone else. If you drafted this defense, you'll simply park it in your active roster and enjoy the results. The Packers' early schedule appears to be friendly (at PHI, BUF, at CHI, DET).
OK, cheeseheads, that's a wrap. The Juggernaut Index is finally complete. You'll find full ranks and links below, for the one commenter who keeps asking. The regular season kicks off on Thursday, of course, and you're all invited to the very special opening night live-blog over at Shutdown Corner.
It's that time. Game on. Set your fantasy lineups, stock the mini-fridge. Rewind the tape on Chester Marcol. And try to keep the juices in the bratwurst.
The 2010 Juggernaut Index:
1. Green Bay
2. New Orleans
6. San Diego
10. San Francisco
11. New England
12. NY Giants
14. NY Jets
24. Kansas City
28. St. Louis
32. Tampa Bay
Please note: 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 reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.
Photos via Getty Images
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