Roto Arcade - Fantasy

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.

Even if holdout wide receiver Vincent Jackson(notes) never reports, the San Diego offense is going to be awfully good. Let's start there.

Given the depth and talent in the Chargers' receiving corps, it's not hard to understand why the team is unwilling to give Jackson a $50 million deal. Sure, he's coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but he's also coming off back-to-back DUI arrests. He's been suspended by the NFL for the first three games of the 2010 season for violations of the league's personal conduct policy. On top of that, San Diego has placed Jackson on the roster exempt list, initiating a three-game suspension that begins when he signs and reports.

Here's where it gets tricky: Because Jackson cannot report to the team while serving his league-mandated suspension, he'll need to sign by Sept. 4 in order to avoid the additional three-game penalty imposed by the Chargers. If he were to report today — which seems galactically unlikely, but you never know — then he could serve the suspensions concurrently.

If Jackson fails to agree to his lowball one-year tender by the roster cut-down date, then he's guaranteed to miss at least six games. He recently told NFL Network's Jason La Canfora that he's willing to sit out the entire year if necessary, so six games is beginning to look like a best-case scenario (although a trade to a receiver-needy team like Minnesota wouldn't hurt). 

Thus, drafting Jackson in a fantasy league is a bit of a dice-roll. Do it late, if you're planning to do it at all. Don't be the guy who selects V-Jax in Round 3 because you're relying on a cheat sheet from a magazine — those things should really have expiration dates.

OK, now that Jackson's situation has been covered, let's shift gears and discuss players who will actually appear on the field for San Diego in Week 1.

The primary target in this receiving corps was never V-Jax, as most of you know. Tight end Antonio Gates(notes) has led the team in receptions in each of the past six seasons. He's quietly noisily putting together a convincing Hall of Fame resumé, and he just established a new career high in receiving yards last season (1,157). In most fantasy drafts, Gates will be either the first or second tight end off the board; his Mock Draft Central ADP is 44.5 at the moment. Yes, the position is deep, but Gates is basically a sure thing. In his worst season — an injury-marred 2008 — he still delivered eight touchdowns and finished as the No. 4 scorer at his position. At 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, Gates is obviously an inviting red zone presence. He shares the single-season record for receiving TDs by a tight end (13).

When Gates is teamed with 6-foot-5 Malcom Floyd(notes) and 6-foot-2 Legedu Naanee(notes) (or with the 6-foot-5 Jackson), the Chargers' present a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Good luck dealing with that group if you've got a pair of speedy, smallish corners. San Diego loves to put Floyd in single-coverage jump-ball situations; he's averaged 17.2 yards per catch in each of the past two seasons. This year, he's in line for more targets and an expansion of his route-running responsibilities. Floyd caught four passes for 51 yards and a score in the Chargers' third preseason game, and he was targeted eight times. If he can carry that production into the regular season, then Jackson will basically have zero leverage.

Naanee is an intriguing wideout in his own right, and the draft-day price isn't so intimidating (ADP 259.0). He's a no-risk pick with a high ceiling. Naanee is buried in the Yahoo! pre-ranks right now, so you can usually snag him in the final rounds. He's suddenly a key receiver for a team that totaled 29 passing TDs in '09. Don't sleep on him. Buster Davis hasn't presented a serious challenge to Naanee in camp. Lately, Davis is running with Billy Volek(notes) and the back-ups.

At some point, we need to mention that Philip Rivers(notes) is unquestionably among the league's best quarterbacks. We probably shouldn't have waited this long to say it. Rivers is remarkably efficient, having passed for 8,263 yards and 62 touchdowns over the past two seasons, despite averaging only 482.0 attempts per year. (For comparison's sake, Matt Schaub(notes) attempted 583 passes last season. Tony Romo(notes) had 550, David Garrard(notes) 516, and Jason Campbell(notes) 507). Rivers finished among the top-10 fantasy scorers at his position last year, despite the fact that he tied for 18th in total pass attempts. So yeah, he's great. You won't regret owning him in fantasy, even if he annoys you endlessly in real-life.

Many of you are too conservative to ever use a first or second-round draft pick on a rookie running back, so you'll miss out on Ryan Mathews(notes) this year. That's a shame, because he's going to be a serious fantasy asset. Assuming Mathews stays healthy, he's a decent bet to be a mid to late-Round 1 pick in 2011. He appears to have the skill set of an every-down back, and he definitely has the size (6-foot-0, 218 pounds). Mathews is having an impressive preseason, too (34 carries, 146 yards, 5 receptions). The only thing he's lacking is the second "t" in his last name. Annoying, but we all need to get over it.

Mathews should get the early-down work, while Darren Sproles(notes) remains a rotational/third down back. Sproles received 138 touches last year, which seems close to the limit for a teacup RB. (He's 5-foot-6, 185). Mike Tolbert(notes) and Jacob Hester(notes) lurk as short-yardage/goal line threats. Those two may present the most significant threats to Mathews' fantasy value in 2010. LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) received 56 red zone looks for San Diego last season, because Norv Turner apparently owned him in a dozen fantasy leagues. Mathews isn't likely to get that sort of workload near the goal line, at least not yet.

Nonetheless, Turner has already gone on record projecting a significant workload for his rookie back. Here's the key quote from a post-draft Q&A with the San Diego Union-Tribune:

QUESTION: How many carries would you think Mathews would have as a rookie?

ANSWER: That is so hard to say, because there are games that come up like the Tennessee game and the Denver game (last season) where you run the ball 40 times. I’d like every game to be that way. Unfortunately, it’s not. But I would expect Ryan to have 250 carries and 40 catches, something like that. That’s obviously saying Darren is going to have the same role he’s had.

Tip of the cap to Kevin Acee for asking the critical fantasy questions. Much appreciated. If Mathews gets anything close to 290 touches in this offense, his fantasy owners will like the results.

San Diego's defense was fairly ordinary last season as a fantasy commodity, despite the fact that two of the NFL's least productive offenses reside in the AFC West (Oakland, Kansas City). Veteran nose tackle Jamal Williams(notes) is now gone, as is cornerback Antonio Cromartie(notes). We've ranked the Chargers' defense 12th for fantasy purposes, but that might simply be a force-of-habit selection. The only elite IDP option here is safety Eric Weddle(notes), a guy who can pile up tackles when he's right. Stephen Cooper(notes) and Shaun Phillips(notes) are on the IDP radar, too, but they're basically roster filler. If you're drafting a 2007 league, then by all means, take Shawne Merriman(notes).

And that's your Bolts report. Please enjoy the Rolf. 


Photo via Getty Images

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