August 12, 2009
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. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.
There are plenty of names you know on Jacksonville's offensive depth chart, but that doesn't mean you can feel secure drafting too many of these guys. Last year the Jags were pegged to be The Joker in the AFC deck; this year, The Riddler looks more appropriate.
Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) finally gets the keys to the offense (thanks for the memories, Fragile Fred) and that's something to be excited about. MJD has the quickness to make plays outside, he's thick enough to work between the tackles (and handle the workload of a starter), he's a dynamite receiver and he's effective in short-yardage assignments. Jones-Drew will be the second or third pick in most leagues this year, and there's at least a case for taking him No. 1 overall (Brandon Funston is happy to wave that flag). MJD looks just as good on a magazine cover as he does on your fantasy roster.
Alas, you can throw a flag on any big-name star and that's the case with Jones-Drew as well. While he's been a super goal-line guy during his brief pro career, it's possible the Jags might want to relieve him of that work (or at least some of it). Every summer Jack Del Rio seems to talk up Greg Jones(notes) like he's the second coming of Bo Jackson and rookie Rashad Jennings(notes) has also been impressive in camp. MJD certainly will get a boost on his yards and touches this season, but I'm not as confident projecting the touchdowns.
We also have to give a look at the offensive line, perhaps the worst unit on the Jags last year (the injuries hit early and never really stopped). Jacksonville addressed the weakness by drafting a couple of blocking sleds and adding veteran tackle Tra Thomas(notes); so far Thomas has impressed in camp, but tackle Eugene Monroe (the eighth overall pick) remains unsigned. The Jags should have improved blocking this time around, but this isn't going to be an elite group.
Quarterback David Garrard(notes) heads into a make-or-break season. His 2007 breakthrough essentially turned him into one of those "so underrated he's overrated" players; he was a notable loss player in fantasy leagues last year. Garrard dropped 20.5 rating points from the breakthrough year and almost a full yard of YPA, and he had almost as many picks (13) as touchdown passes (15) in 2008. Garrard's willingness to run (322 yards, two scores) paid some fantasy rent, but it was hard to trust this guy as a week-in, week-out starter. Garrard had one TD pass or less in 13 of his 16 appearances, and he had trouble reading defenses near the goal line (he was 6-for-22 passing inside the 10-yard line last year, worst in the league among starters, and he completed just 42.9 of his pass attempts in the red zone).
Garrard knows he's entering the critical part of his career – he cut carbs out of his diet and dropped 20 pounds right before spring workouts. Alas, his passing has been a little bit flat out of the gate; he's been struggling with accuracy, perhaps in part because Jacksonville has so many new faces at receiver (the enigmatic foursome of Jerry Porter(notes), Reggie Williams(notes), Matt Jones(notes) and Dennis Northcutt(notes) is gone for good). When you start drawing up the list of possible Michael Vick(notes) landing areas, Jacksonville doesn't sound like the craziest idea.
The new Jacksonville receivers all come with warning labels. Torry Holt(notes) was signed to be the No. 1 guy but he's 33 and has been slowed by knee problems the last couple of years. The Jags got him for a reasonable three-year, $20 million package because there weren't many other suitors; there isn't a lot of street confidence in Holt right now. We'd like to see him show us a highlight or two in the preseason.
Mike Walker(notes) received a lot of buzz early in camp and he looked like an intriguing sleeper (don't forget his six-catch, 107-yard clinic against Pittsburgh on national TV last year), but staying healthy has always been his biggest issue and it's cropped up again – he's currently dealing with an ankle problem and was in a walking boot earlier this week. If Walker can stay on the field, he's far and away the best WR value on this roster, but his brittleness has burned us in the past. My colleagues weren't bullish on Walker even before he got nicked up; I'm the only Yahoo! scribe currently ranking him on our receiver board.
Rookie receiver Mike Thomas(notes) is on the small side (5-8, 195) but he's on a team that will give him every chance to be the No. 3 or No. 4 target. Troy Williamson(notes) is also getting a chance, but it's hard to forget the drop follies that have marked his career. Make him play his way onto your roster.
Jaguar Jibberish: Tight end Marcedes Lewis(notes) hasn't improved all that much in three pro seasons; his 41-489-2 haul last year doesn't make him anything more than a bye-week fill in. Despite his size (6-6) the Jags don't use him much in the red zone; Lewis caught a whopping one pass inside the 20-yard line last year. … I'm not the biggest proponent of strength of schedule, but it's hard to like how Jacksonville opens the season (at Indy, Arizona, at Houston, Tennessee, at Seattle). With Del Rio essentially coaching for his job, you have to assume the Jags won't wait around to make changes if they get off to a poor start. … Josh Scobee(notes) is coming off a mediocre year (90 points), and he's only made 79 percent of his field-goal chances over his career (that was fine in the leather helmet days, but it's a poor rate now). Kicking production is generally tied to team success and winning games (losing clubs don't try a lot of fourth-quarter boots), so we can revisit Scobee during the year if the Jags turn out to be better than expected (the over/under props in Vegas have them going 8-8). … The Jaguars have never been better than 15th in passing yards during the six-year Del Rio era. But in four of those six years the Jags were a top-ten rushing team, both in attempts and yards. Del Rio doesn't call the offensive plays, of course, but it's clear what identity he'd prefer for his team. … Defensive end Derrick Harvey(notes) was drafted in the first round a year ago to boost the Jacksonville pass rush but the move flopped; Harvey signed late and was a non-factor, while the Jags finished with a measly 28 sacks. MLB Daryl Smith(notes) figures to be the top tackler by default, but he's just another guy (70 tackles, 2.5 sacks in 14 games), not a special player. There isn't a single Jaguar on Andy's IDP board, and no one is calling for Jacksonville as a team-defense sleeper.
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.