August 11, 2011
The 2011 NFL lockout was a contentious, hard-fought labor war with many casualties, one of which was nearly the Juggernaut Index.
It ain't easy to compile meaningless rankings of teams under any circumstances, but to do it in a locked-out year, with trades and free agent signings on hold ... well, that seemed impossible. Even more pointless than usual.
Fortunately, the lockout ended, a transaction binge followed, and we now have just enough time to rank all 32 NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Unfortunately, we can't meander at our typical pace, nor examine teams in the typical (unnecessary) depth, because we're on a much tighter schedule. Last year's first Juggernaut entry was filed on June 28. This year, we're kicking off the series within a month of the regular season opener.
So here's the plan: We're knocking out eight teams per week, four at a time, in blog posts that will be entirely too long. (Back in the formative years of the J.I., 2006-07, we covered the entire league in two monstrous columns, going 17-32 one week and 1-16 the next). Hopefully next season we'll return to the one-team-per-post format. Thank you, as always, for your unwavering support.
We open this year's Index at the bottom, where a terrible quarterback has predicted great things for his miserable team...
Sign-up for another league, chumps. Let's do this thing.
Secondly, it looks like Rex has maybe added a few dozen pounds, mostly in the face and chins. But hell, that's why they have training camps, so large-livin' men like Rex [expletive] Grossman can work off the excesses of February-July. By the end of Camp Shanahan, that dude will again be a machine.
Rex has some big plans for the 2011 'Skins, and a tiny detail like conditioning won't stop him:
"We're just waiting in the wings, ready to take over the NFC East. Nobody's talking about us, that's right where we want to be. You look at us from top to bottom out here, there's a bunch of great players. We don't need people saying we're the best right now. But when it's all said and done, I really feel like this team's going to win the East."
Yeah, OK, fine. We could go through the trouble of matching up Washington's depth chart to those of Dallas, New York and Philadelphia, if anyone thinks it's necessary. But no one does, because the Redskins don't offer much.
Rex closed the 2010 season with a decent little three-week fantasy run, though he was as sloppy as ever with the football (three fumbles lost, four INTs). Grossman actually still needs to fight off John Beck(notes) for the starting gig, which is somehow a sad statement about both players, as well as the team. (Note: The Shanahans love them some John Beck). Santana Moss(notes) is coming off a terrific season (93-1115-6) and he remains a reasonably safe middle-tier fantasy wideout, but he's surrounded by unimpressive veteran talent: Anthony Armstrong(notes), Jabar Gaffney(notes), Donte' Stallworth(notes). Tight end Chris Cooley(notes) is the next-best weapon in the receiving corps behind Moss, but he's still battling knee issues. Fred Davis(notes) steps in if Cooley is sidelined. Rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson(notes) can't catch a thing on the practice field, apparently, so it's tough to hype him.
Too much has already been written about the 'Skins backfield, which features no one you're excited to draft (unless you're a late-round rookie fetishist, which of course many of you are). Tim Hightower(notes) was acquired via trade with Arizona and he's clearly going to play, unless fumbling issues remove him from the equation. Hightower is great in blitz pick-up and a capable receiver, if not a flashy runner. Presumptive starter Ryan Torain(notes) is already in mid-season form, which is to say he's injured (not so seriously that anyone thinks he'll miss significant time).
Nebraska rookie Roy Helu(notes) is everyone's sleeper back this year, because the names at the top of the Washington RB hierarchy just aren't too intimidating. Every scouting report refers to Helu as a classic one-cut-and-go runner, seemingly an ideal fit for this system. He killed it in the agility drills at the NFL Combine, too. Just remember that Helu was a committee back in college, a guy who didn't pile up receptions (5 in 2010), and he doesn't profile as an every-down player in his first season. Evan Royster(notes), another rookie, lurks near the bottom of the depth chart, along with Keiland Williams(notes).
Bottom line: Don't think they're gonna win the NFC East, but they might win Andrew Luck. It's tough to get excited about anyone here. If you're involved in an eight or 10-team draft, there's a decent chance Moss will be the only Washington skill player selected.
2010 team stats with NFL rank: 18.9 points per game (25), 244.6 pass YPG (8), 91.3 rush YPG (30), 37.8 pass attempts (4), 21.9 rush attempts (31).
The Bengals have made the curious decision to do nothing at all with Carson Palmer(notes) this season. They're not playing him (because he refuses) and they're not dealing him. They simply say he's retired, and Carson doesn't argue. It's not like there wasn't a trade market; Miami wanted him, Seattle probably wanted him (Carroll connection), and Washington certainly could have used him.
But instead, he's out of the picture. It just doesn't feel like a proper preseason without all those ridiculous Palmer quotes about how impressed he is with various skill players who will never, ever play a down in the NFL. That man was pure camp sunshine. And now he's golfing. Shame.
In Palmer's absence, there's a real chance that rookie Andy Dalton(notes) will be Cincinnati's starting quarterback in Week 1, with Bruce Gradkowski(notes) backing him up. That's the plan as of this writing. Dalton of course had a terrific career at TCU, completing 66.1 percent of his passes as a senior, throwing for 27 TDs and rushing for six more. The scouting reports all seem to love his intangibles, but they aren't so crazy about his tangibles. Rivals gives us this nugget...
Often throws off his back foot and forces the ball into coverage. Makes some bone-headed decisions, and accuracy diminishes beyond 15 yards. Regularly faced lesser competition and benefited from a solid O-line. Limited upside.
...which does not exactly leave me excited to draft any Bengals receivers. If Palmer were at the controls of the new Cincy offense, you'd get a much larger dose of AJ Green(notes) hype in fantasy circles (6-foot-5, great hands, league-ready). But alas, the rookie is tied to Dalton and Gradkowski. The QB situation obviously hurts Jordan Shipley(notes) and Jerome Simpson(notes), too. By the end of last season, many of us were eager to draft Jerome; that dude was unstoppable in Weeks 16 and 17, hauling in 18 passes for 247 yards and three TDs. The Bengals have a talented second-year tight end in Jermaine Gresham(notes), a guy who quietly caught 52 passes as a rookie. This is a talented group of receivers, even without Ocho, so let's hope the quarterbacks are competent.
Cedric Benson(notes) will give you 24 carries for 70 yards each week whether you need it or not, and he visits the end zone occasionally. Benson broke the plane six times in 2009 and eight times in 2010. There are no style points with Cedric and he's not a reliable pass-catcher, but he's demonstrated that he can handle a 300-carry workload. The high volume of touches is critical, because the per-carry numbers aren't too impressive (3.7 YPC career, 3.5 last season). He could perhaps face league discipline for his off-season assault arrest, so that's a concern. Bernard Scott(notes) poses no great threat to Cedric, nor is he a particularly interesting handcuff, not in this offense.
2010 team stats: 20.1 points per game (22), 235.4 pass YPG (13), 95.1 rush YPG (27), 36.9 pass attempts (5), 26.8 rush attempts (15).
30. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland's offense reached the end zone 26 times, and Hillis accounted for half the scores (11 rushing, two receiving). He ran for 1,177 yards on 270 carries; no other Browns running back topped 100 yards. Hillis also finished second on the team in receptions (61) and third in receiving yards (477). Without him, this awful team would have been much, much worse. His season was heroic. Hillis was one of the best fantasy waiver grabs of the year, no doubt.
But as everyone knows, you get no credit for last year's stats when drafting this year's fantasy roster. We need to look ahead, always. Mr. Evans and I have very different expectations for Hillis in 2011, which we've discussed here and here. No need for me to repeat my argument in full. Perhaps I'm just punishing Hillis for his brutal late-season fade (zero TDs after Week 12), an injury-related slowdown that doomed two of my teams. The Browns have added Brandon Jackson(notes) to the mix, and he figures to get plenty of third down work. If Montario Hardesty(notes) ever un-injures himself (ACL rehab), then he'll have a role as well. It's much too early in the preseason to write him off. Hillis was basically zombified at the end of last season; he'll need help in 2011.
Colt McCoy(notes) returns at quarterback, under the tutelage of Pat Shurmur, Cleveland's new head coach/offensive coordinator. Shurmur spent the past two years as the OC in St. Louis, where his Rams threw the ball a lot, but not productively. Sam Bradford(notes) put the ball in the air 590 times as a rookie (6.0 yards per attempt), and the horrible '09 Rams attempted 542 throws with three different QBs. Under Shurmur, the Browns will run a West Coast scheme with a flawed quarterback and few if any play-makers. So we'll see how that goes.
Rookie receiver Greg Little(notes) is a player with potential, though drops have reportedly been an issue in camp. He missed the 2010 season at UNC, ruled ineligible for accepting agent benefits, preferential treatment, and other stuff that would have seemed kick-ass when you were 21. Mohamed Massaquoi(notes) remains the No. 1 receiver, at least in Mike Holmgren's eyes, though he's presently sidelined by a chip fracture in his left foot. Joshua Cribbs(notes) still lurks as a top-shelf kick returner and occasional gimmick option on offense. Brian Robiskie(notes) found the end zone in each of the final three weeks last season, so he's no doubt earned McCoy's trust. Tight end Benjamin Watson(notes) led his team in catches (68) and receiving yards (763) last season, establishing new career highs. If the team context were better, Watson could get interesting...but the team context is lousy.
The Browns did not pile up points or yards last season, and this year's group isn't discernibly better, just healthier. Plus they're learning a new system, with a first-year head coach. If you keep your expectations low, you won't be disappointed.
2010 team stats: 16.9 points per game (31), 186.8 pass YPG (29), 102.9 rush YPG (20), 29.9 pass attempts (28), 25.8 rush attempts (22).
Wow, was this a bad offense last season. Just...whoa. Check the team stats below. Awful. The Panthers scored 12 points per game, averaging just 258 net yards. They ranked last in the league in passing touchdowns (9) and next-to-last in rushing scores (7). The team's leading receiver, Steve Smith, finished with only 554 yards. Carolina quarterbacks threw 21 interceptions.
The Panthers have a new head coach for 2011, Ron Rivera (pictured, in awesome hat), and a new offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski. This is clearly a transitional year for the team, and they're breaking in a new quarterback, Heisman winner Cam Newton.
Most of you are familiar with Newton's history, obviously. He put up ridiculous numbers at Auburn last year, passing for 30 TDs and rushing for 20, gaining 2,854 yards through the air (66.1 completion percentage) and 1,473 on the ground. The guy can run, a trait we generally like in a fantasy QB. His transition to the pro game won't be easy; he worked almost exclusively from the shotgun in college, directing a run-first/run-second offense. But there's little doubt that we'll see him early in the year in Carolina, even if Jimmy Clausen(notes) starts, and the man has some long-term fantasy potential. His highlights are of the highest quality. Derek Anderson(notes) found his way onto the Panthers' depth chart, too; some of you will recall that DA had his lone useful season with Chudzinski as his OC, back in 2007. (If you're drafting an '07 fantasy league anytime soon, you should totally take Derek. Otherwise, no).
Carolina did an impressive job retaining key veterans who were expected to take their talents elsewhere, notably Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams(notes). Fantasy owners might have preferred to see DeAngelo land with a new team, if only to clear a path for Jonathan Stewart(notes) to receive a full workload. Didn't happen, though, so we're back to the same committee running game we've seen in prior seasons.
Well, OK, maybe not exactly the same. It sounds like Chud will deliver a more inventive attack than we've seen in years, getting Williams and Stewart on the field together more frequently, installing a few special packages for uniquely talented players, maybe breaking out some Wildcat. Stewart is apparently as healthy as he's ever been in camp, so that's encouraging. Mike Goodson(notes) was one of the few bright spots for Carolina last year, topping 100 scrimmage yards in Weeks 10-12, but he's well behind Williams and Stewart in the hierarchy.
The Panthers acquired Greg Olsen(notes) via trade with Chicago, and you should expect the new offense to be relatively tight end friendly. That's a Chudzinski specialty. Jeremy Shockey(notes) is in the mix as well, so the team is well-stocked with Miami TEs. Still, Smith remains the top option in this low-yield passing game; he's dealing with his usual camp injury, but it's not believed to be serious. Second-year receiver David Gettis(notes) is currently sidelined with a knee injury, so Brandon LaFell(notes) gets a bump up the depth chart. Legedu Naanee(notes) will compete for targets, too.
You know, for a team that was unwatchable last year, the Panthers have some interesting pieces. Let's just hope for some tolerable quarterback play.
2010 team stats: 12.3 points per game (32), 143.1 pass YPG (32), 115.4 rush YPG (13), 30.2 pass attempts (26), 26.8 rush attempts (15).
Photos via Getty Images (meat) and US Presswire (everything else)
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