July 28, 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.
Matt Cassel(notes) was just another name on the Patriots depth chart last summer, a back-up QB who hadn't started a game since high school. He was barely clinging to a job. He hadn't thrown a TD pass since the final week of the '05-'06 season.
But entering '09, Cassel is one of the league's highest paid quarterbacks, a man with $63 million worth of job security ($28 million guaranteed). That's the NFL for you. Players can be perceived as completely expendable one year and essential the next.
We'll say this much for the Chiefs' most expensive addition: No player in the NFL demonstrated more in-season improvement in '08, despite facing extraordinary expectations. Cassel has his weaknesses -- he doesn't throw the league's best deep ball, the Steelers pressured him into four turnovers -- but it's encouraging that both Josh McDaniels (his former coordinator) and Scott Pioli (former personnel chief) pursued him aggressively during the offseason.
Also encouraging: Cassel's new head coach is Todd Haley, recently the offensive coordinator of the NFC champs, and his OC is Chan Gailey, a man who miraculously reconstructed the KC offense at mid-season. Gailey devised a spread scheme that suited the talents of third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen(notes), and the Chiefs averaged 23.3 points per game from Weeks 8 to 16.
Of course, in the end, they were still a two-win team. And they traded away tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes), last year's leading receiver. There are issues. This season we'll learn whether Cassel's excellent year was inevitable considering the system and the surrounding players in New England, or if he is, in fact, a talent worthy of a ridiculous contract. Early drafters aren't fully committed. Cassel is the 14th quarterback taken in an average league, with a Mock Draft Central ADP of 101.8. He's almost a bargain at the current price; you're not drafting him as a starter.
While Cassel won't have Moss or Welker at his disposal (or Gonzalez), the receiving corps is not untalented. Dwayne Bowe(notes) was the No. 18 fantasy scorer at wide receiver in his second season. That's impressive, but he was also the third most heavily targeted wideout (157 looks). As the Kansas City Star's Adam Teicher recently put it, "If he merely catches what he dropped last season, Bowe becomes a Pro Bowler and Cassel has his go-to guy."
Easier written than done. Offseason reports about Bowe's transition to the new system are encouraging, although reports about his weight are not. ("Dwayne’s another one who probably let himself go too far in the offseason," said coach Haley). The other Chiefs WRs on the fantasy radar are veteran ex-Bears, so you know they're of the highest quality. Mark Bradley(notes) is capable of big plays, but his next 16-game season will be his first; slot receiver Bobby Engram(notes) is two years removed from a 94-catch campaign, but he's entering his age-36 season. Brad Cottam(notes) currently tops the depth chart at tight end, but he's there to block. Don't expect Haley's system to deliver an ownable TE.
Larry Johnson(notes) has had a refreshingly quiet offseason, featuring more attendance at team activities and fewer assaults. Last year, four of LJ's 12 games were useful for fantasy purposes, and he gained 4.5 yards per carry on the season. He'll turn 30 in November, but Haley seems to think Johnson has something left to offer. This from the Star, back in May:
"He made some runs in the last practice I thought were pretty special," Haley said. "I was very encouraged by a couple of those. Those flashed at me and the coaches to where you say, ‘That was pretty good.’"
Johnson has slipped back to his '05 price (ADP 52.5, 25th RB), so you're typically taking him as a flex. As such, he's a fair value. Jamaal Charles(notes) should get third-down duty; he's smallish, but plenty fast (4.38). Check in with seventh round RB Javarris Williams(notes) during the preseason. He's not a burner (4.52), but he's solidly built (5-10, 223) and tough to bring to the turf. You'll find more Williams info than you can possibly need here, at Arrowhead Pride.
Other Chief concerns: The defense was outrageously bad last season. They allowed 27.5 points and 393.2 yards per game and finished the year with just 10 sacks, the lowest team total in NFL history. The Chiefs are transitioning to a 3-4, a scheme that neither defensive end has played. Don't expect a massive turnaround. Vets Zach Thomas(notes), Mike Vrabel(notes) and Mike Brown(notes) are solid brand names, but linebacker Derrick Johnson is the IDP of interest. ... The offensive line has a few useful pieces -- notably Branden Albert(notes), Brian Waters(notes) and Mike Goff -- and the running game averaged 4.8 YPC last season. KC's O-line is not the biggest worry. ... The Chiefs waived kicker Connor Barth(notes), apparently clearing a path for Mr. Irrelevant, Ryan Succop(notes).
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