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Juggernaut Index, 25-28: Niners didn’t quite fix the QB problem

OK, you should all know the drill by now: The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. This thing is based on hard science, and is not to be questioned. Don't disagree with anything in comments, because you'll only embarrass yourself.

28. San Francisco 49ers

When you bring in Daunte Culpepper(notes) for a tryout, the season is pretty much over. You're done. Thanks for playing. It's a bad sign if a team even contemplates that move, but once they've picked up the phone and dialed the number, they're officially finished.

Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh has declared an open competition at the quarterback position, following his team's horrid performance in the preseason opener. All options are apparently on the table, though Alex Smith still remains the favorite to start. Smith finished with just 10 passing yards against the Saints over the weekend, going 2-for-7, beginning the game with four straight three-and-out series. He's probably still having Roman Harper(notes) flashbacks. It was a massacre.

The Niners' line was barely a rumor, allowing six first-half sacks. Rookie QB Colin Kaepernick(notes) was dropped four times, going 9-for-19 with two picks against New Orleans' non-starters. Here's the definitive sequence:

Juggernaut Index, 25-28: Niners didn’t quite fix the QB problem

Yikes. To his credit, the mobile Kaepernick led the team in rushing, picking up 47 yards on six carries. He actually topped the 1,000 rushing yard plateau three times as a collegiate player at Nevada, breaking the plane 20 times on the ground in his senior season. He also passed for 3,022 yards and 21 scores last year, although there's a quality-of-competition issue to consider. He was not an unusually accurate passer at the college level, posting a career completion percentage of 58.2, but he improved each season. The 6-foot-6 Kaepernick is definitely an interesting project, a second-round draft pick, and fantasy owners should always keep an open mind with running QBs. But he's not someone who can help this receiving corps maximize its potential, not this season.

This quarterback mess is a serious problem for Vernon Davis(notes), Braylon Edwards(notes), Michael Crabtree(notes), Josh Morgan(notes), Ted Ginn Jr.(notes), and everyone else involved in the offense. Edwards, Morgan and Ginn all have well-documented drop issues, so they can hardly afford sub-standard accuracy from their QB. Crabtree, naturally, is already dealing with a foot injury and isn't expected to see action during the exhibition season.

Juggernaut Index, 25-28: Niners didn’t quite fix the QB problemFrank Gore(notes) remains the constant in this offense, and it sounds like the new coaching staff intends to make him a significant PPR-league weapon:

"Talking to [head coach Jim Harbaugh], you can tell that he's a very smart man. He told me that before I left to make sure that I'm in great shape after the lockout because he'll be counting on me this year. He also told me the way he's going to use me and show the whole world that I'm the best back in the league."


"He's just going to get me catching the ball more and getting me a lot of space. He'll be doing a lot of different things instead of the eight or nine men in the box. He's just trying to get the box loosened up for me."

There's little doubt that he's among the most talented backs in the game, but he's also a high-mileage player with a rich injury history. Gore hasn't played a full 16-game season since his breakout year in '06. If you're handcuffing, Anthony Dixon(notes) is the preferred choice, with rookie fourth-rounder Kendall Hunter(notes) trailing on the depth chart.

Patrick Willis(notes) remains an elite IDP option, but he's not enough to elevate this team defense into the every-week ranks. David Akers(notes) will handle kicking duties for the Niners, should they ever threaten to score.

2010 team stats with NFL rank: 19.1 points per game (24), 209.8 pass YPG (18), 103.6 rush YPG (19), 31.3 pass attempts (22), 25.1 rush attempts (26).

27. Buffalo Bills

So I was originally planning to rank this team behind the Niners, but I didn't think anyone would click on a post with a Bills image at the top — even if it was a pic as awesome as this...

Juggernaut Index, 25-28: Niners didn’t quite fix the QB problem

There's really not much to endorse here, other than receiver Stevie Johnson(notes) and running back Fred Jackson(notes). I can't get too worked up about the Lee Evans(notes) trade, because he had only a supporting role in Buffalo's low-yield offense last season. He wasn't a player who really drew max attention from opposing defenses, not once Johnson's breakout was underway. And life is always rough for a deep-threat receiver if the O-line can't block. David Nelson(notes), Donald Jones(notes), Roscoe Parrish(notes) and former first-rounder Buster Davis are lurking, but those guys aren't on the cheat sheet in standard public leagues.

This is a team that's finished in the bottom-third of the league in scoring in each of the past five seasons, and I'm not going to bet against that trend in 2011. The line is brutal, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) did as much as he could with the hand he was dealt last season. He tossed three or more TDs in three different games, finishing with an even 3,000 yards and 23 touchdown passes, despite appearing in only 13 games. He's not the NFL's toolsiest QB, but he's an acceptable spot-play in fantasy.

Jackson is a guy we've been calling "underrated" for so long that he's now overrated. Everyone talks about him as a sneaky mid-round RB2. You're guaranteed to get a few supportive comments in draft chat when you take him. Meh. The trouble here, as with all Bills, is that Buffalo's offense looks like it's going to average 16-18 points per game, again. So if you're looking for an empty 950-1,100 yards, light on receptions and TDs, then Fred is your man. Go crazy.

CJ Spiller(notes) had a few sensational moments in the preseason last year, and then the Bills forgot they drafted him. Maybe he just got his sophomore slump out of the way a year early. Not sure. But I will not be link to any get-him-more-involved stories until we actually see him more involved.

2010 team stats with NFL rank: 17.7 points per game (28), 197.4 pass YPG (24), 107.5 rush YPG (18), 32.4 pass attempts (19), 25.1 rush attempts (25).

Juggernaut Index, 25-28: Niners didn’t quite fix the QB problem26. Miami Dolphins

We've already had the Chad Henne discussion, so there's no need to kick him around again. He was lousy in the preseason opener and he's coming off an ugly, reckless season (15 TDs, 19 INTs). No matter what the coaching staff says publicly, Matt Moore(notes) has to be in the mix for the starting gig, and he should probably get a look with the first-team at some point in the preseason. But here's the problem: Moore clearly isn't an ideal starter, either. He's coming off an injury to his throwing shoulder, and he was a mess in 2010 before his season ended (5 TDs, 10 INTs).

So it's tough to get too geeked about this offense. Shame they didn't make the Kyle Orton(notes) move, because that would have pleased the Tebowists, and it certainly would have made us all feel better about Brandon Marshall(notes). This has been another complicated offseason for Marshall, and he's coming off an odd year in 2010. He caught 86 balls for 1,014 yards, yet he only crossed the goal line three times. That's just a strange TD-to-reception ratio, although it's partially explained by team context. We're drafting Marshall as a WR2, at pick No. 47.6 in Yahoo! leagues; it's tough to imagine him failing to deliver at least that much value, in spite of the QB situation.

Davone Bess(notes) is still in town, still useful in PPR and return-yardage leagues. He hauled in 79 passes last year, visiting the end zone five times. He's now topped the 70-catch mark in back-to-back seasons. Brian Hartline(notes) and rookie Clyde Gates(notes) look like the primary deep threats for this team. Gates ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the Combine, while dealing with a groin injury. New addition Reggie Bush(notes) will clearly be an asset in the passing game, too, if he can stay healthy (which of course he hasn't done since '06). New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has reportedly lined him up all over the field, including the slot. Head coach Tony Sparano has discussed the possibility of using Bush on first and second down, but the team's rookie second-rounder remains the favorite for that role.

Among all the first-year running backs, Daniel Thomas(notes) has the cleanest path to a significant number of touches. He definitely has the size and shape of a full-workload back (6-foot, 230), and he handled 545 carries over the past two years at Kansas State, gaining 2,850 yards and scoring 30 times. I've got Thomas just one notch ahead of Mark Ingram(notes) in my preseason RB ranks, though I'm higher on both rookies than any of my colleagues seem to be. That pair makes for a halfway interesting ranks discussion: Do you chase workload in a low-yield offense, or a clear committee member on an elite team? In Yahoo! leagues, you can actually get both players at no-risk prices (ADPs 77.4 and 86.1); they'll go 35-40 picks earlier if gurus are involved in the drafting.

Whoa, that was more than I meant to say about the Dolphins. Let's simply agree that Anthony Fasano(notes) should not be drafted, then move on...

2010 team stats with NFL rank: 17.1 points per game (30), 220.4 pass YPG (16), 102.7 rush YPG (21), 34.8 pass attempts (13), 27.8 rush attempts (11).

Juggernaut Index, 25-28: Niners didn’t quite fix the QB problem25. Seattle Seahawks

At this point, it should be clear that the theme of this particular Juggernaut four-pack is, "The Author Doesn't Like Their Quarterback."

Tarvaris Jackson(notes) didn't show us much of anything in Seattle's preseason opener, but he's nonetheless expected to be the Week 1 starter. (Charlie Whitehurst(notes) led a pair of scoring drives, but not until the third quarter, facing a JV defense). Tarvaris obviously has a connection to new Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell via Minnesota, and the team is doing all it can to avoid a QB controversy. For now, Jackson is at the controls. This O-line is shaky on its best days, and it's already missing Russell Okung(notes) (ankle).

Sidney Rice(notes) and Zach Miller both relocated to Seattle, giving Pete Carroll one of the league's top recruiting classes. Their arrival is rough news for Mike Williams in terms of fantasy potential, but the signings have left the Seahawks with a rather tall group of starting receivers (6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, 6-foot-5). That's an advantage you'd like to think they could exploit. Ben Obomanu(notes) and Golden Tate(notes) won't belong on fantasy rosters in standard leagues unless injuries clear a path to targets. It seems doubtful that a Tarvaris-led passing game can deliver more than two ownable wideouts ... and even two is a stretch.

So, in a nutshell, we're looking at a flawed quarterback behind a flawed line throwing to a rebuilt receiving corps, operating from a new playbook. And Marshawn Lynch(notes) will get most of the carries (3.9 career YPC, 3.5 in Seattle). This is not shaping up as a dynamic offense, gamers, as much as we all respect the talents of Rice and Miller. I like the angle Brandon Funston took on Marshawn last week, banking on Tom Cable to assist the ground game. Just wish we were talking about a different back in the same situation. But I'm a disgruntled former Justin Forsett(notes) owner, so I'm hopelessly biased here.

You may now discuss your favorite Dave Krieg memory in comments. But you cannot discuss Julius Jones(notes), or we'll have to suspend your account. Thank you, as always, for your obedience.

2010 team stats with NFL rank: 19.4 points per game (23), 208.8 pass YPG (19), 89.0 rush YPG (31), 34.0 pass attempts (14), 24.1 rush attempts (29).


Photos via US Presswire

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