Juggernaut Index, No. 31: The Oakland Raiders

Andy Behrens

The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care primarily about yards and points. We’re not forecasting wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features multiple upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I. If instead a team features nothing but fantasy drek, you’ll find ‘em near the bottom. Make sense? Great. Really, the J.I. is just a gimmick, a way to deliver team-by-team fantasy spin.

Raiders fans have witnessed double-digit loss campaigns in eight of the past 10 years, and their team hasn’t had a winning record since 2002. So we’re talking about a group of people who understand suffering — deep, severe, unrelenting suffering. This franchise used to inflict pain on opponents. They now inflict it on their fan base, daily.

Because Oakland has been down for so long, I’d like to open today’s Juggernaut installment with a positive note. Here goes…

Sebastian Janikowksi is great at kicking. Definitely one of my favorite NFL specialists. If you have an inflated ball that needs to be kicked a significant distance, Sea Bass is your guy. (When his hamstrings are OK.) In fantasy leagues that award bonus points for long-range field goals, he’s especially useful.

Honestly, even if Janikowski weren’t much of a scorer, he’d still be worth owning just for the excitement you'll feel when he attempts an 80-yard kick at the end of a half. He’s a blast. Draft and enjoy. Janikowski is welcome on any fake team of mine, any year.

And so ends the feel-good portion of our Raiders preview. From this point on, it’s pretty much all bad news.

Running back Darren McFadden is the one player on this team guaranteed to be drafted in every league, probably by someone who didn’t own him in either of the past two seasons. McFadden is a talented back with a well-known and well-documented set of issues. He’s entering his sixth year in the league, yet he still hasn’t played more than 13 games in any season. At this point, DMC has strained or tweaked or torn just about every shred of connective tissue known to exist in the human body. He’s also coming off a lousy partial season in which he gained just 3.3 yards per carry and visited the end zone only two times.

This year, under OC Greg Olson, Oakland is transitioning back to a power run scheme* and the change should (we hope) suit McFadden and his O-line.

“It’s a downhill offense,” McFadden said. “That’s one of the things I like about it. I’m the type of guy I like to get going downhill, so I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a great fit for our team.”

Yeah, OK. Maybe.

*The next time a fantasy expert tries to convince you that a team’s switch to a zone-blocking scheme will mean big things for its running back, think about DMC’s 2012 campaign. Not every group of offensive linemen, nor every back, is a perfect fit for every scheme.

If you’re exasperated with McFadden at this stage and uninterested in owning him again, I get it. He’s a carnival ride. The reason that most of us are still willing to reinvest is that when McFadden is right (which isn’t often), he can be special. Back in 2010, he was the No. 2 per-game fantasy scorer at his position, ranking behind only Arian Foster. He’ll clearly be the centerpiece of the Raiders’ offense this year, because the rest of this team is a minor disaster. (More on that subject below.) And he’s coming into a contract year, if you care about such things.

But, again, DMC is essentially a lock to get hurt. The Roto Arcade research staff recently ran one million simulations of the upcoming season, and McFadden missed three or more games 999,999 times. And in the one simulation where he technically played all possible games, Earth was destroyed by meteors in Week 4. So that was kind of an anomalous event.

Try to get this through your fool head: DMC will check out with an injury at some point. Let’s just hope it’s a mid-season tweak, with no lasting impact in the fantasy playoffs. If McFadden is Plan A for your squad, then Plan B needs to be awfully good.

Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece are vying for handcuff status, but this is not a situation where you need to invest in the backup RBs. None are likely to deliver McFadden-level production, not in this sinkhole of an offense. When healthy, DMC will typically be slotted in the 5-15 range in our weekly ranks; his understudies would likely rank in the upper 20s, if not worse.

Matt Flynn will be the guy handing the ball off to Oakland’s backs this season, in all likelihood — unless he has another do-nothing preseason. Flynn relocated to AFC West in the offseason, via trade with Seattle, and he’s expected to serve as the Raiders’ starting QB. He has not yet demonstrated that he can be a successful NFL starter, except in situations where he’s taking snaps for Green Bay and the opposing defense is like, “Who in the [profane] is Matt Flynn?”

Some of the early reports on Oakland’s current collection of quarterbacks have been … well, not kind. Here’s veteran beat writer Steve Corkran reviewing the team’s first day of minicamp:

…in 19 years covering the NFL, today’s showing by Matt Flynn, Tyler Wilson, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin rates as one of the worst in memory. Time and again, balls were batted at the line of scrimmage, thrown behind receivers, thrown over receivers, delivered too high or just plain off the mark. All four quarterbacks were just as guilty, with none of the four doing anything to distinguish himself today.

If that doesn’t get you fired up to draft a few Oakland receivers, then I don’t know what will.

Flynn should open the season un-owned in standard fantasy formats. He’s really only on the radar in 16-team leagues, or in setups where you can start two QBs. Don’t mess with him anywhere else. Tyler Wilson is a decent end-of-draft dynasty play, in part because the Raiders haven’t made a significant long-term commitment to anyone else.

Oakland’s receiving corps might cough up a WR4 for fantasy owners this season, if third-year wideout Denarius Moore can stay healthy. We’ve seen flashes of big-play ability from Moore, but the lousy team context has thus far prevented him from stringing together useful games. If he’s cheap enough at the draft table — let’s say Round 9 or later — then feel free to take a shot. Rod Streater and Jacoby Ford will see plenty of snaps, but it’s fairly tough to imagine this team producing a second starting-quality fantasy receiver. Juron Criner and speedy rookie Brice Butler are scrapping for depth chart position.

Someone has to start at tight end for this team — remember, Brandon Myers is now with the Giants — so if you play in a dynasty league of unusual size, add the names Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa to the bottom of your cheat sheet. Neither late-round rookie is incredibly exciting, but one or both will likely see the field.

Don’t mess around with the Raiders defense this year, unless you’re in a 32-team fantasy league. This team allowed 27.7 points and 354.5 yards per game last season, they rarely sacked opposing QBs (25), and they generated few turnovers (19). There aren’t really any must-draft IDPs here, though LB Nick Roach and DE Lamarr Houston will find their way onto a few rosters, as will safeties Tyvon Branch and Charles Woodson.

And that, friends, is all that needs to be said on the 2013 Raiders, at least for the moment. Party on, Sea Bass...

2012 team stats: 18.1 points per game (26), 268.3 passing yards (9), 88.8 rushing yards (28), 29.12 yards per drive (23), 0.128 turnovers per drive (16)

Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets

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