August 09, 2010
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 reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it. That's all.
Without question, the Dolphins made the single greatest position upgrade in the NFL this offseason. In fact, this team made one of the greatest upgrades in the history of upgrades: Miami acquired Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall(notes) via trade, then shipped Ted Ginn Jr.(notes) to San Francisco.
That's a ridiculous improvement — almost unfair, really. It's not quite like Garry James-to-Barry Sanders, but it's close. Marshall has caught over 100 passes in three straight seasons; Ginn managed only 38 catches on 78 targets last year, and he specialized in cruel, game-changing drops. If you've forgotten how ugly it was, just check the tape.
The Marshall addition clearly changes the defensive game-plan against the Dolphins. This team managed to run the ball effectively last season (139.4 YPG, 22 TD) even though opponents had little reason to respect the passing attack. Now, with an elite wideout on the field, Miami's offense presents an almost unsolvable problem, unless your team happens to employ Darrelle Revis(notes).
We've already seen Marshall transition successfully to a new system (Shanahan to McDaniels) and a new quarterback (Cutler to Orton), so there's no obvious reason to downgrade him on your draft board. No one seems willing to predict that Marshall's streak of triple-digit reception seasons will continue, not in Miami's run-heavy offense. But it's worth noting that the Dolphins actually closed the '09 season by allowing QB Chad Henne(notes) to attempt 45-plus passes in three of their final five games. If they were willing to take to the air with Ginn and Davone Bess(notes) as primary receiving threats, then we shouldn't be too concerned about Marshall's 2010 workload. He's reportedly been roasting Miami's young corners in camp, just like you'd expect.
Henne of course becomes a more interesting fantasy commodity this year, now that he has a top-tier receiver at his disposal. He's the unrivaled starter at quarterback for the Dolphins; Chad Pennington(notes) and Tyler Thigpen(notes) are fighting for position further down on the depth chart. Henne has a terrific arm, an excellent offensive line, and he's surrounded by talent at the skill spots. He's an obvious candidate to make a value leap, and he's essentially a no-risk player at his current ADP (130.9 at Mock Draft Central).
The rest of Miami's receiving corps is competent, though it's not loaded with fantasy options for gamers in standard leagues. Bess is a sure-handed slot receiver who's developed a nice rapport with his quarterback, but he's a non-factor inside the red zone (130 REC, 3 TDs). In PPR leagues, Bess will have some utility. Elsewhere, he's not really in the roster discussion. Brian Hartline(notes) appears to have the early lead in the battle to start opposite Marshall. Greg Camarillo(notes) is still in the team picture, too, as is tight end Anthony Fasano(notes). Patrick Turner(notes) was a third-round pick in '09, but he's just trying to remain on the roster. Again: Marshall will dominate the targets here. Everyone else is fighting for scraps.
In case you haven't heard, the Dolphins' running game is pretty good. They have a multigenerational playbook — no, Marshall's arrival won't kill off the Wildcat — and a pair of excellent backs in Ronnie Brown(notes) and Ricky Williams(notes). (For what it's worth, those two are privately scheming to deliver twin 1,000-yard seasons). Brown suffered season-ending injuries in both 2007 (ACL) and '09 (Lisfranc), but he now refers to last year's trauma as "a non-issue." If he can be believed, then he'll return a nice profit on his average draft position (46.5).
If Brown can't be believed, then we're looking at another huge year from Williams. Ricky outgained Brown on a per-carry basis last season (4.7 to 4.4), and he emerged as an elite fantasy option in the second half. Between Weeks 10 and 15, Williams averaged 99.8 rushing yards per game and he reached the end zone six times. He's on the wrong side of 30, sure, but we can probably all agree that Ricky has had a non-traditional career arc. Let's not write him off just yet. Even before Brown's injury last season, Williams was delivering useful fantasy totals on a limited workload (7 TDs, Weeks 1-9).
Just as the Miami offense benefited from Josh McDaniels' inability to play well with others, so too did the defense. Mike Nolan directed an impressive year-to-year defensive turnaround in Denver, but he and McDaniels later parted ways. (It's a small sandbox in Denver, Josh will not share toys). Nolan will lead the Dolphins' D in 2010, and on paper it's a more impressive unit than the one he inherited last year; in fantasy, Miami's defense was useful last season, thanks to the 44 sacks and 15 INTs. The IDPs you'll want to own are DB Yeremiah Bell(notes) (114 tackles in '09) and LB Karlos Dansby(notes) (109), yet another new arrival.
If you have any questions or complaints about this post — or about Uwe's mustache — you're encouraged to express them in comments. This is a caring community, gamer. Everyone's here to help. Except Fitzy — he's here to judge. But the rest of us are helpers.
Photo via AP Images
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