Juggernaut Index No. 29: The Oakland Raiders

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 not predicting wins and losses here. In fact, we don't care about such things. Instead, we're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.

There aren't very many NFL cities where Jason Campbell(notes) would be welcomed as a franchise savior, but Oakland is unique. Raiders fans were subjected to spectacularly bad quarterback play last season, so the addition of a league-average signal caller is really a massive upgrade.

Before we consider the outlook for Oakland's offense in 2010, let's take a moment to appreciate just how miserable JaMarcus Russell(notes) was last year. In his nine starts, Russell somehow finished with fewer than 130 passing yards seven times, and the Raiders averaged 9.8 total points per game. He completed only 48.8 percent of his passes in 2009 — easily the worst rate in the league — he lost six fumbles, he was intercepted 11 times, and he threw just three touchdown passes. The Raiders finally released him in early May, then filed a grievance against him later in the month to seek repayment of more than $9 million. And now, apparently, Russell has purple drank'd himself out of the league.

So that's a pretty bad year. It was virtually impossible to evaluate any of Oakland's skill players last season because the quarterback situation was abysmal.

We all know that Campbell has his flaws, of course. He has a disturbing tendency to make nothing out of something, opting for checkdowns (and sacks) when the game situation demands a downfield risk. But he's also a legit NFL-quality quarterback, and JaMarcus simply was not. Campbell's completion percentage has improved in each of his four seasons (64.5 last year), and he established new career-highs in quarterback rating (86.4), yards-per-attempt (7.1) and passing TDs (20) in 2009.

Campbell still needs to officially win the starting job, but he's competing against such luminaries as Kyle Boller(notes), Bruce Gradkowski(notes) and Charlie Frye(notes), so you should assume that he'll be under center for the Raiders in Week 1. In terms of preparation and focus, he's basically the anti-JaMarcus. Receiver Louis Murphy(notes) offered the following comments about Campbell in a two-part interview with Shutdown Corner:

Playing with Jason Campbell has been a lift to the entire team. He's a leader who commands the huddle, and he's been through a few offenses, which is good because our offense is similar to ones he's run. You [watch] him in meetings and he works really hard, and everyone's working hard for him.

In fact, Campbell has been asked to learn a new offense from a new coordinator in nearly every season of his college and pro career, so the current transition is just business as usual. He doesn't lack arm strength, which means there's hope for Oakland's vertical passing game in the year ahead.

The Raiders haven't delivered a 1,000-yard wideout (or even a 750-yard wideout) since Randy Moss(notes) in 2005, but we saw flashes of playmaking ability from both Murphy and Chaz Schilens(notes) last year. Those two combined for three scores in the fourth quarter of that surreal Week 13 win against Pittsburgh. Murphy impressed in his first NFL season, especially when you consider the team context, but Schilens appears to have the higher fantasy ceiling. Chaz has ideal size (6-4, 225) and his measurables basically grade out at mutant/superhero level (4.38 speed, 43-inch vertical). He's a nice late-round flier, although clearly none of Oakland's wide receivers are ideal Week 1 fantasy starters.

Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) and rookie Jacoby Ford(notes) both have ridiculous speed — Ford crushed the field in the 40-yard dash at the combine (4.28) — so they can't be completely dismissed as threats. There's been plenty of Heyward-Bey offseason propaganda, but he's exactly the sort of player who should be great in non-contact situations. When the hitting starts, we'll see how much progress he's actually made. DHB caught only nine passes on 40 targets as a rookie; we should all be skeptical.

When all the stats are finally in, Zach Miller will probably lead the Raiders in receptions and yardage once again. He's been a reliable option in a hideous offense since entering the league, and he's now paired with a quarterback who, despite his various shortcomings, has always targeted the tight end position. Miller placed 12th in the initial Yahoo! composite TE ranks — and he'll probably drop a spot or two when my colleagues properly rate John Carlson(notes) — but that says more about the depth at the position than it does about the player himself. There's certainly reason to be optimistic about Miller in 2010.

The one aspect of the Raiders' offense that hasn't been a total embarrassment recently is the ground game. Oakland finished 10th in the league in rushing in 2008, and they surely would have placed higher than No. 21 last season if Michael Bush(notes) (4.8 YPC) would have received a greater share of the workload. Instead, Justin Fargas(notes) and Darren McFadden(notes) combined for 233 carries at 3.6 yards a pop. Fargas is out of the mix this season, while the well-compensated McFadden returns. Everyone knows that D-Mac has excellent speed (4.33), but he's been a tentative, fumbly, injury-prone back over two NFL seasons.

Oakland head coach Tom Cable reportedly intends to form a Bush/McFadden backfield committee this year — "I actually think they're both (No. 1s)," he said in June. (And apparently no one laughed). If that's going to be the arrangement, expect Bush to take the goal line work. By the time draft day arrives, he'll likely emerge as the fantasy community's preferred choice. In my early industry drafts, Bush has been selected somewhere in the Round 6-8 range, typically (though not always) ahead of McFadden.

You're not going to own the Oakland defense in fantasy leagues, obviously. That unit gave up 23.7 points and 361.9 total yards per game last year, and they ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed (155.5). The Raiders addressed the D admirably on draft day, however, selecting LB Rolando McClain(notes) with the eighth overall pick and DL Lamarr Houston(notes) at No. 44. McClain and safety Tyvon Branch(notes) (124 tackles in '09) are the two Oakland IDPs you'll want to own. Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) is a brilliant corner, but he isn't targeted often enough for fantasy purposes; over the past three seasons he's averaged just 36 tackles and one INT per year.

And that's pretty much everything we care to say about Oakland. The early schedule appears friendly (at TEN, STL, at ARI, HOU), so there's a chance that this season will begin in a not-entirely-terrible way. If you're sipping the silver and black drank, please comment…

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Photos via AP Images

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