July 22, 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 (except for the Raiders piece, you can enjoy that one as recklessly as you like).
My first NFL exposure came in the late 1970s and Jim Zorn was one of my favorite players. The left-hander could scramble with the best of them and never quit on a play. Zorn-to-Largent was arguably the league's most dangerous combo at the end of the decade. Seattle's defense wasn't much at the time, but you got plenty of action when you caught a Seahawks game.
And now we fast forward 30 years, with Zorn in charge of the Redskins, one of the NFL's most boring offenses. How the heck did we get here?
Washington's biggest problem on offense is painfully obvious – no one seems to trust quarterback Jason Campbell(notes). Zorn generally kept the wraps on his QB last year; the Redskins seldom threw the ball deep and the focus was clearly on avoiding mistakes, not generating big plays. Campbell went half the season without an interception and had a tidy 100.5 rating, but you don't do much for fantasy owners when you're averaging 219 yards a game and one TD per week. And then things totally fell apart for Campbell in the second half – 70.8 rating, 5 TDs, 6 INTs, a measly 5.4 YPA.
The front office tried to move on from Campbell in the offseason, dancing with the idea of Jay Cutler(notes) or Mark Sanchez(notes). Alas, the Redskins couldn't land either, so they're stuck with Campbell for another go-round. Boredom on the Beltway.
Campbell at least will appreciate the continuity he gets into 2009 – it's one of the few times in his college and pro career that he won't be asked to absorb a new offense. Washington didn't make any major changes to its roster of skill players, either, so he knows what he'll be working with. Alas, when you consider the puzzle pieces around him, that's probably not a good thing.
Tailback Clinton Portis(notes) remains the focal point of the offense and he's probably got a few decent seasons left in him, but even the most passionate Portishead has to admit that he's offering more downside than upside as we enter 2009. Portis has absorbed a heavy workload over his seven years in the league – 2052 carries – and he's been the league's busiest back over the last two seasons. Portis seemed to wear down during the second half last year (3.5 YPC), he's starting to see less action in the passing game (perhaps because of his outstanding blocking skills), and he's not the same home-run hitter we remember from his Denver days.
I'll sign off on Portis if you can land him as an affordable No. 2 fantasy back, but I see too many red flags to consider him a true No. 1 any longer. The blocking in front of him could be a problem as well – Washington's looking at a below-average line, on paper, as the teams get ready for summer work.
Ladell Betts(notes) has been a siren singing ever since that monster run we saw at the end of 2006, but he's been a non-factor over the last two seasons. Portis has stayed on the field during that span, of course, and the new coaching staff didn't have much use for Betts (and his 3.4 YPC) last fall. Perhaps Betts is worth a stash-and-hope pick in deeper leagues where every living and breathing backup gets selected, but he's no longer someone to get excited about, especially now that he's turned 30. (The Redskins insist Betts will be more involved in the offense this time around, but don't teams always say that during the summer? Show me the last time a coach told the media that the No. 2 back wasn't important in the team's plans.)
Sticking with the blasé theme, let's look at the receiving corps. Santana Moss's(notes) stats don't look too shabby (79-1044-6) but he scored just once over his last eight games and he didn't top 72 yards after Week 8. You're not going to see a lot of red zone work from Moss, and the Redskins don't try a lot of deep balls in their offense. If you can get 85-90 percent of his 2008 haul back this year, you've done well. This is the type of player you begrudgingly accept if the rest of the room passes on him; there's no reason to make Moss a draft-day target.
The Skins tried to upgrade their receiving corps in the draft last year but the experiment failed miserably – wide receivers Devin Thomas(notes) and Malcolm Kelly(notes) were painfully slow to pick up the pro game and Fred Davis(notes) wasn't much of a treat at tight end, either. With the kids struggling to get off the mark, Antwaan Randle El(notes) was forced to stay in the starting lineup. The Redskins have to regret the silly contract they threw at Randle El after the 2005 season; he's rewarded them with 136 catches and seven piddly touchdowns over the last three years, and he's been surprisingly mediocre as a return man (he made just 6.5 yards per punt return in 2008).
Chris Cooley(notes) remains a rock-solid tight end, albeit the team forgot about him around the goal line; he didn't have a target inside the 5-yard line last year en route to a stunning one-TD season. Zorn, ever the optimist, told SI's Ross Tucker that Cooley will score at least six times in 2009, and given that Cooley had 14 spikes in the two prior seasons, he's probably set up to be a sneaky little bargain this time around. He's currently behind Kellen Winslow(notes) and Greg Olsen(notes) on the Yahoo! expert board, a rank we might regret when the bullets are flying.
Redskins Roundtable: Shaun Suisham(notes) was a mediocre kicker in 2008 (and just 1-for-4 on 50-yard attempts) and he'll get a challenge from Dave Rayner(notes) this summer, for what it's worth. Not the sexiest position battle on the board, but it's our job to let you know it's out there. … The buzz move of Washington's offseason came on defense, where the Skins added DT stud Albert Haynesworth(notes) as a free agent. Will Haynesworth's motor stay at the same level now that he's received his gigantic payday? Toss that around in the comments. … Defensive coordinator Greg Blache got a strong statistical year out of his unit last year (Washington was eighth against the run, seventh against the pass, and sixth in PPG allowed), but most of the fantasy goodies come from quarterback pressure, and the Redskins didn't do a lot in that area (just 24 sacks). … Aging linebacker London Fletcher(notes) is probably going to be the leading tackler again. He collected 96 solos and 37 assists last year, but he wasn't a factor in other fantasy-friendly areas (no picks, just one-half sack). … The early-season schedule, at least on paper, could help the Redskins get off to a solid start; Washington plays the Rams, Lions and Chiefs over their first six games. As for the playoff schedule, here's what we're looking at: a visit to Oakland's black hole in Week 14, followed by home games with the Giants and Cowboys.
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