Juggernaut Index No. 20: The Oakland Raiders

Roto Arcade

I'm not sure where "Get an Al Davis tattoo" ranks on the list of things that I will never, ever EVER do to myself, but it's up there. Definitely top-10. Probably top-five.

Still, I appreciate the fact that there are Oakland Raiders fans out there doing it — true zealots, like the dude in the image above. Tip of the cap to you, sir. Here's hoping the Dennis Allen era treats you well.

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Back in January, Allen was named the 18th head coach in Raiders history, the fifth since we began producing the Juggernaut Index in 2006. If it seems as if we're always re-learning this team for fantasy purposes, well ... that's because we are. Greg Knapp is back in Oakland as offensive coordinator, a position he also held in 2007 and 2008 (first under Lane Kiffin, then Tom Cable). In this tour of duty, it sounds as if Knapp will draw heavily on his experience in Houston's offense, where he served on Gary Kubiak's staff for two seasons. This should mean, among other things, that 32-year-old Carson Palmer will be asked to get mobile in 2012, running a fair number of bootlegs and outside-the-pocket pass plays. So we'll see how that goes.

If nothing else, the Raiders are going to entertain us this season, per their usual.

Over the years, Palmer has revealed himself to be one of the most blindly optimistic training camp participants in NFL history. He loves everyone, at all times. It's reached the point where I will not even pass along much of his ridiculous propaganda. Just please assume that he's out there somewhere, saying incredibly nice things about his receivers, his coaches, his system ... everything. That was always his habit in Cincinnati, too. Try to tune him out as best you can, fantasy owner. He'll be backed up by Matt Leinart and intriguing dynasty option Terrelle Pryor.

Last season, Palmer was asked to direct Oakland's offense only days after joining the team in mid-October (and he immediately threw three picks against KC), so we have to give him at least a partial pass for the ugly TD-to-INT ratio (13-16). He averaged 8.4 yards per attempt over 10 games with the Raiders in 2011, an impressive number that hints at the big-play potential of his receivers. He still has enough arm to be dangerous, too. You'll use Palmer to cover byes in standard fantasy leagues and he'll be drafted in any format with 14 or more teams. The price tag here is friendly (119.6), so there's no reason to actively avoid him. Unless maybe you owned Palmer in '09 and don't want to relive the memories.

Denarius Moore was a revelation in his first NFL season, delivering 618 yards and five TDs on just 33 catches. He made degree-of-difficulty receptions (like this one) and demonstrated an ability to get deep and go the distance (check the tape). Moore is welcome on any of my fake teams this season. He's the No. 32 receiver off the board in an average draft, however, so if you want him, you'll need to snag him ahead of several familiar brand-name wideouts — guys like Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin and Santonio Holmes. Many of you cowards won't be able to pull the trigger.

Darrius Heyward-Bey is a burner who led Oakland in catches (64) and receiving yardage (975) in 2011, plus he finished the season strong, ranking as the No. 10 scorer at his position over the final five weeks. He's typically selected 20 picks and six receivers after Moore, a gap that cannot be explained using actual numbers. If you're targeting DHB in place of Denarius, you won't get much of a quarrel from me. Both players have long-TD potential, both have chemistry with Palmer. Take a shot here somewhere.

Jacoby Ford dealt with a foot injury throughout the second half of the 2011 season, which meant that he barely got in any work with Palmer. He's another crazy-fast receiver, smaller than Moore and DHB, expected to line up in the slot. There's little doubt he'll make a few highlight plays, but there's plenty of doubt about whether he'll make enough to achieve fantasy relevance. Ford won't be drafted in standard-sized leagues, so we can afford to watch and learn. Fifth-round rookie Juron Criner has decent size (6-foot-2, 220) and he made some noise during OTAs, but he doesn't posses traditional Raiders-quality speed. He's yet another wait-and-see player, even in dynasty.

You surely know the story with the Oakland backfield already: Darren McFadden is a beast when he's healthy (4.8 career YPC) and he's a terrific receiving threat, but he's had trouble staying on the field. He still hasn't played more than 13 games in any of his four NFL seasons, and he missed the final nine weeks last year with a Lisfranc injury. The guy has speed, power, vision, hands, and an ugly medical chart. Before last season's foot injury, there were knee, toe, hamstring and shoulder issues. It's almost always something.

Still, if you could somehow guarantee a full 16-game season from McFadden, I wouldn't let him drop past the third pick in fantasy drafts. He's reportedly healthy right now, and he's a monster on a per-game scoring basis. A reasonable argument can be made that injury risk is present with all players, almost equally, and we should simply make our draft-day choices based on talent and situation. If you happen to buy that argument, then you should take DMC in the top-half of Round 1. Hell, if you've got Ryan Mathews ranked as a top-six pick, then you should absolutely not be allowed to make injury risk claims about McFadden.

I see no obvious reason to handcuff McFadden in fantasy leagues, because it seems unlikely that any one player would take over all of his responsibilities. (Michael Bush, you'll recall, has relocated to Chicago). Mike Goodson is the presumptive No. 2 in Oakland, and he flashed some talent in Carolina back in 2010 (4.4 YPC, 40 catches). But Taiwan Jones is lurking on the Raiders' depth chart, too, and that guy will have some startlingly nice moments if he gets a handful of touches each week. He's a blur. When the next DMC malfunction occurs, keep Jones in mind. Marcel Reece has the size to bulldoze in short-yardage situations (6-foot-3, 240) and he's proven to be a competent receiver, so he'll get a share of the backfield work, too.

In a nutshell: Beyond McFadden, it's a big pile-up of semi-interesting players. Again, you're not required to handcuff here, because there's no single back who would take all the touches.

The Oakland defense offered little resistance last year, ranking No. 29 in the NFL in both yards and points-allowed (387.6 YPG, 27.1 PPG). They gave up 5.1 yards per carry to opposing runners, the worst number in the league, and 251.4 yards per game through the air. Coach Allen is supposed to somehow fix this mess — he's been a defensive assistant in the NFL since 2002 and he was Denver's defensive coordinator in 2011 — but he doesn't appear to have many difference-makers. Safety Tyvon Branch is really the only Oakland IDP you'll need to have on your cheat sheet. This is a defense we'll be picking on all year, beginning with the Week 1 match-up against the Chargers.

We almost never mention kickers in the Juggernaut series, but Sebastian Janikowski is the exception to so many rules. If your league awards bonus points for long-distance field goals, then Sea Bass is your guy, no question. He's led the NFL in field goals from 50-plus in four of the past five seasons, including last year (7-for-10). Someday he's gonna kick an 85-yarder as a game heads to halftime; you'll want to share the glory.

2011 team stats: 22.4 PPG (NFL rank 16), 131.9 rush YPG (7), 257.4 pass YPG (11), 31.33 yards/drive (13), 0.158 turnovers/drive (24)

Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington

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