More Juggernaut Index: Teams 1-16
Fantasy sports writing has its clichès. One of the more common clichès is the comparison of a player or team to a girl in a bar. We rely so heavily on this chestnut for two reasons: 1) something like 98 percent of our readers are male, and 2) something like 95 percent of those males have experience trolling for girls while buzzed.
Of course, when you draft Joe Horn in the 11th round, he's definitely going home with you. The same cannot be said of the spazzy girl in the Death Cab t-shirt at Schubas. So the comparison breaks down.
Here's the point: I'd like you to think of the second-half of the Juggernaut Index in bar-girl terms for a moment. The clichè proves useful again. The nine teams ranked 17 through 25 on the index all have appeal. If these teams were girls and your draft room was a bar, you would approach them without any reluctance. The blemishes aren't significant.
But the teams ranked 26 through 32? If those teams were girls, some of them would be sociopaths. Others would have large, aggressive parasites. Still others would not, in the strictest sense, be girls at all. Those teams can scar you.
Don't believe me? Talk to someone who drafted LaMont Jordan or Cadillac Williams in the first round last year. They'll set you straight. I'm not saying you have to completely avoid the teams at the bottom of the index. Some of you are fetishists – I get it. Just don't rely too heavily on skill position players from those teams. The rewards are few, and the risks are many.
I was this close to bumping the 49ers into the top half of the Juggernaut Index. Frank Gore alone nearly carries them into the top 16. He was second in the NFC in total yards in 2006. Alex Smith looked very good in the season's first three games and the final three. He threw 14 of his 16 interceptions during the 10 games in the middle, though. Expect continued improvement from the 23-year-old QB. There's no question that the WR situation here has improved dramatically. If Jackson can get healthy – which is like saying "If Craig Sager can dress conservatively" – the 49ers will be extremely difficult to defend. If you can't draft Antonio Gates, just wait out the TE run and get Vernon Davis. The Niners clearly face a friendly schedule.
18. Buffalo Bills
Check the schedule strength. Whoa.
Still, this is a team with lots of interesting pieces. In the Bills' final seven games in 2006, quarterback J.P. Losman threw for 1,396 yards, 12 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. That doesn't seem terribly impressive until you consider that four of the opposing defenses were Jacksonville, San Diego, Miami, and Baltimore. In fact, the Bills played nine games last season against defenses ranked in the top 10 in the NFL. That's valuable experience for a 26-year-old QB. Lee Evans (168 points) outscored all but seven WRs last year, fantasy-wise. I was going to write that he can emerge as an elite receiver, but he's already there. There are 14 receivers getting drafted ahead of him in Yahoo! leagues. Marshawn Lynch's average draft round is 7.1, which seems like an exceptionally good value. He's a smart, elusive, strong RB who played hurt for Cal last season, and still became the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year.
19. New York Jets
Thomas Jones (1,210 yards and six TD in 2006) was an excellent addition. It seems like he's been around forever, but he's only 29. Don't expect him to be a 20 to 25 carry-per-game back in New York; Leon Washington will poach a few carries. The offensive line, anchored by T D'Brickashaw Ferguson, shouldn't be a liability. Receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery combined for 265 fantasy points last season. Chad Pennington established career bests in passing yards (3,352), games played (16 … finally) and interceptions (16). Kellen Clemens enthusiasts were not impressed.
20. Miami Dolphins
I want to rank them higher, but … well, 16.2 points per game is sad. The offense is new, the quarterback is new, and Ted Ginn Jr. is a huge talent. I really think Ronnie Brown is worth selecting in the 9 to 13 range. His average draft position in Yahoo! leagues is 17.4. Brown rushed for 1,008 yards in 13 games last year, and two of his biggest games were against the Super Bowl participants (157 yards at Chicago, 115 yards at Indianapolis). Chris Chambers was awful. If you look at Matt Buser's year-end Looks/Touches leaderboard, you'll notice that Chambers' reception percentage was 38.3. That's almost inexplicably bad. It's game-fixing bad. Basically every elite receiver is above 54 percent, and many are above 60. Chambers was thrown to 154 times, but he caught only 59 passes. Awful. Don't blame the QB, either. Wes Welker, Marty Booker and McMichael all caught over 61 percent of the balls thrown to them.
Key Offensive Additions: None
Key Offensive Subtractions: None
The big changes here were on defense, and that's not what the Juggernaut Index is about. The Redskins were an excellent running team last year, which had a lot to do with former Iowa Hawkeye LaDell Betts. He rushed for over 100 yards in every game from Week 12 through Week 16. The Washington offensive line is terrific, and another season of 135-plus rushing yards per game seems likely. Clinton Portis should be ready for training camp, but you shouldn't gamble on him with a top-15 pick until we learn just how healthy he is, and how many carries we can expect. Chris Cooley is a solid TE option. Better to get him in Round 8 than Tony Gonzalez in Round 5. Jason Campbell is gifted, but he wasn't all that accurate in 2006 (53.1 completion percentage). Santana Moss has the talent to be an elite WR, but he may not have the quarterback.
22. Baltimore Ravens
Key Offensive Additions: RB Willis McGahee
Key Offensive Subtractions: RB Jamal Lewis
McGahee recently described his situation like this: "Perfect scenario, perfect situation, perfect team. It doesn't get any better than this." If he's ever going to have a big year, this is the time. Jonathan Ogden is still in Baltimore; the line doesn't figure to be a problem. Steve McNair isn't a QB you can rely on for more than 3,000 yards and 15 TDs. Mark Clayton is an interesting big-play breakout candidate. He finished with 939 yards in 2006, and he got 214 of them on three plays. Todd Heap is useful, but he's not significantly better than any of the other second- or third-tier TEs in fantasy terms.
When he's not broken, Steve Smith is just awesome. With Dwayne Jarrett, Keary Colbert and Drew Carter as the other receiving options and Jake Delhomme quarterbacking, you'd be crazy not to use double- and triple-coverage to control Smith. The Panthers will be zone-blocking in 2007. Of the two backfield De's, I'd rather have DeAngelo Williams than DeShaun Foster as my flex player.
24. Atlanta Falcons
That rushing Y/G number is obscene. So is the passing Y/G number, for a different reason. Vick's rushing totals made him the No. 2 fantasy QB last season (261 points), but it was another year with an awful completion percentage (52.6). And now Bobby Petrino enters, intending to implement an offense with players who might be better suited to something else. The suspension that seems to be looming for Vick is really the least of his troubles. None of the WRs here are particularly interesting, though Horn should be taken in the bottom-third of your draft. Jerious Norwood is fantastic. He's a nice mid-round flier. Alge Crumpler is a solid second-tier tight end.
This is the Larry Johnson show, and the star is threatening to hold out. LJ is more than just a system RB. He's an amazing talent and, considering his accomplishments and his (over)usage, he's certainly underpaid by NFL standards. His offensive line just gets a little worse every year. Despite playing well as Trent Green's replacement last season, Damon Huard (98.0 QB rating) is clearly behind Brodie Croyle in the KC starting QB race. If it's a race at all. LSU rookie Dwayne Bowe is a nice last-round pick, and he's certainly worth a flier in keeper leagues.
26. Tennessee Titans
No one really doubts Vince Young at this point. But the rest of the offense? It might take the full preseason to settle the Chris Brown/LenDale White/Chris Henry mess. WR Brandon Jones has an opportunity to seize fantasy relevance, but none of these Tennessee receivers are particularly exciting. Young's average draft position is 49.1 and his average round is 5.4. That's very early for a second-year QB with this supporting cast.
Here's where it really gets frightening. Luke Petitgout, coming off a major injury, is supposed to help repair the offensive line. If he can, maybe Carnell Williams – who did nothing last year to earn the right to use a nickname – will be start-able again. Here's something John Gruden told the Buccaneers' website about using Williams as a receiver: "That is an area where he believes he can dominate. He can be a real factor on the perimeter in the open space catching the football." None of the other skill position players for Tampa Bay are obvious fantasy starters, though Jeff Garcia should be a second QB.
28. Houston Texans
Key Offensive Additions: RB Ahman Green, QB Matt Schaub
Key Offensive Subtractions: QB David Carr
Andre Johnson was outstanding in 2006 (103 receptions), but there isn't another player here that you should start in a 10-team public league. The offensive line allowed David Carr to get beat like a piata last season. (Carr himself played a role there, too). Ron Dayne will poach touchdowns. Schaub seems like an upgrade, which is good news for Johnson. It seems like the Texans next big play will be their first. Despite those 103 receptions, Johnson only had 1,147 yards and five touchdowns.
Since I cannot be paid to write nice things about Brett Favre, let's move on. Donald Driver had a sensational fantasy season in 2006: 92 receptions, 1,295 yards, 173 fantasy points. He was the fourth-leading WRs in Yahoo! leagues, in fact. Rookie RB Jackson has greater fantasy upside than Vernand Morency, though you'd rather not rely on either. Greg Jennings could be worth a late pick, and rookie WR Jones is a reasonable speculative pick in keeper formats.
30. Cleveland Browns
The draft-worthy players here are Lewis and Braylon Edwards. After two sub-4.0 yards-per-carry seasons, though, you shouldn't be looking at Lewis as a reliable weekly contributor. The Browns addressed their offensive line in the offseason, adding Steinbach and Wisconsin rookie Joe Thomas. This was unquestionably the right move. Derek Anderson has the early lead in a QB competition that may last another two seasons.
If I had any confidence in Tavaris Jackson or his receivers, do you think I'd rate them here? No, I wouldn't. The Vikings have an excellent line, so both Chester Taylor and rookie RB Peterson have value. This looks like a job-share situation, not unlike Indy's in 2006 … except maybe with fewer fantasy points. Taylor had a perfectly acceptable flex position season in 2006, though, with 1,216 yards and six touchdowns. He was 12th in fantasy scoring among RBs last year (167 points). Still, Peterson should have more year-end value. If healthy. He's getting drafted two and a half rounds ahead of Taylor (8.4 versus 10.4).
32. Oakland Raiders
There will probably be a few 8- and 10-team leagues in which no Raiders are drafted. If Oakland had managed four more points per game last season, they still would've been last in the AFC in scoring. Tackle Robert Gallery is very good … at false starts. The Oakland offensive line stunk. It will be protecting Josh McCown to begin the year, though JaMarcus Russell should play the second he's ready. Or almost ready. Neither LaMont Jordan nor Rhodes can be relied upon in fantasy leagues. Receivers Ronald Curry and Jerry Porter aren't too shabby, but this is not a team that will have many long, sustained drives.
Oh, and coming off that 2-14 season, the Raiders have the league's toughest schedule. Good luck, Coach Kiffin.