The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.
For years, fantasy experts have fought a strange, unwinnable battle against Peyton Manning(notes). It's not that we dislike him specifically. We've just never approved of his average draft position. If you've owned Manning in prior seasons, you've used an early pick to get him – typically a first rounder, sometimes an early second.
In a 10-team public league full of auto-pickers, you can get away with a selection like that. In fact, you can get away with almost anything in a small, casual league. If you take a quarterback at the top of the draft in a deeper competitive format, however, there are serious costs, usually at running back and receiver.
But these days, Drew Brees(notes) is the quarterback who sneaks into the first round. He's the consensus No. 1 at his position after leading all players in fantasy scoring in 2008. Manning, it seems, is an afterthought. He's a third-rounder in most drafts, and a fourth-rounder if fantasy professionals are involved.
Suddenly, Manning seems like a reasonable value pick. The guy hasn't missed a game in 11 years, he's thrown for more than 4,000 yards in nine of the last 10, and he's never finished a season with fewer than 26 touchdown passes. Manning's floor is something like 3,900-26-14. Even if he has a bad year by his standards, he'll easily be a top-10 fantasy quarterback. He receives this blog's full endorsement.
Don't expect new head coach Jim Caldwell – new to the job, not new to Indy – to dramatically alter one of the league's most productive offensive attacks. The Manning-Tom Moore machine will grind on, continuing to produce as it always has. In five of the past six seasons, Indy has delivered at least two 800-yard receivers. Back in 2004, three different Colts finished with 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Marvin Harrison(notes) is now gone, of course, but he hasn't been a serious threat since the knee injuries of '07. You won't get 30-year-old Reggie Wayne(notes) at a discount (ADP 19.9), but he hopes to "play a little bit of everything" and expects to be deployed as he was two seasons ago, when he had 104 catches and 1,510 yards. Iowa legend Dallas Clark(notes) emerged as an elite tight end when Harrison checked out. He was the second highest-scoring player at his position last year and he was fifth the season before. Clark has 17 touchdown receptions since '07 – so many that he just gives 'em away like Halloween candy (pictured) – yet his Mock Draft Central ADP is only 61.3. There's really no need to draft the first tight end this year (Witten, 42.2), not when Clark is available 20 picks later.
Third-year receiver Anthony Gonzalez(notes) is typically selected in Ochocinco/Roy Williams territory, near pick No. 50. We're all assuming that he'll take over a healthy percentage of Harrison's '08 workload (60-636-5), making Gonzalez a strong candidate for an 80-catch, 1,000-yard season. Improvement is already factored into his draft-day price, clearly, but the situation is fantastic. Again, the Colts rarely fail to produce two extremely useful fantasy receivers.
They also rarely fail to produce a top-12 running back, although it happened last year. Joseph Addai(notes) was limited by a medley of injuries (knee, shoulder), ultimately appearing in just 12 games. Indy's ground attack gained an NFL-worst 3.4 yards per carry in '08. Dominic Rhodes(notes) was a capable, unspectacular committee member, but he's moved on to Buffalo. That clears a path to fantasy relevance for rookie Donald Brown(notes), the Colts' first round draft pick in '09 (No. 27 overall).
Brown rushed for over 2,000 yards at UConn last year and he added 21 receptions. He's a do-everything back who had an excellent combine performance (4.51 speed, 41.5-inch vertical), and he's displayed nice vision and patience during the preseason. Highlights here via NFL.com. There's a lot to like.
The key fantasy question is this: What will the distribution of carries look like? So far, Caldwell has been deliberately vague:
Caldwell said there is no set formula for how Addai and Brown would split carries and expects the strategy to change from week to week.
"It depends on who you face and the type of defensive structure that you have to deal with," Caldwell said. "But one thing we know for sure is there will be some type of rotation."
That should at least tell you that Brown will be part of the equation immediately. He's more than a handcuff and less than a fantasy starter. Mockers have made Addai the 20th running back off the board (ADP 43.3) and Brown the 33rd (83.8). Don't be surprised if the workload split is something like 220/180. That would look a lot like the Addai/Rhodes job share in '06 (226/187), and it could maximize per-carry effectiveness.
You can ignore the Colts' defense unless you're in a 16-team league or you're a D-streamer (Week 7 at STL). Safety Bob Sanders(notes) may not be ready for Week 1 due to knee issues, so you can't rely on him in Individual Defensive Player leagues. Gary Brackett(notes), Robert Mathis(notes), Clint Session(notes), Antoine Bethea(notes) and Dwight Freeney(notes) are the other IDPs to know, and that's the order in which you need to know them.
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Earlier Juggernauts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee, 15) Pittsburgh, 14) Denver, 13) Chicago, 12) Minnesota, 11) Arizona, 10) Green Bay, 9) Dallas, 8) Carolina, 7) Atlanta.
Photos via US Presswire