The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here we concern ourselves with a franchise’s likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we’re focused on yards and points. As always, we’re beginning with the league’s least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.
Oakland quarterback Derek Carr undeniably made gains in his second pro season, improving in all meaningful statistical categories. He emerged as a fantasy asset somewhat unexpectedly, tossing 32 touchdown passes and finishing just shy of 4000 passing yards. But Carr presents a rankings dilemma, because the non-fantasy indicators are something less than stellar. He completed only 61.1 percent of his throws last season, gaining just 6.96 yards per attempt; those rates don’t suggest we’re dealing with an uncommonly gifted passer. He averaged less than 6.0 yards per attempt in each of his final five games last year, throwing seven picks. So that was horrible.
Carr doesn’t offer any sort of rushing safety net, so, if he isn’t tossing 30-plus TD passes, he’s not helping the fantasy community. I can’t recommend him as anything more than a platoon QB in our game; you’ll want to pair him someone else from the 12-18 range, then play matchups. At Carr’s current ADP (QB12) — ahead of Romo, Dalton, Cousins and Taylor — he seems wildly over-drafted.
Of course it benefits Carr in no small way to work with an excellent receiving corps, featuring second-year star Amari Cooper, an advanced young wideout coming off a 1070-yard season. Cooper hauled in 72 passes on 130 targets last season, delivering six touchdowns and five 100-yard performances while playing with a plantar fascia injury. We have every reason to expect a leap in value from Amari, assuming good health. He’s had an outstanding offseason, according to pretty much everyone. It’s not tough to imagine Cooper finishing as a top-15 fantasy receiver in 2016, and he’s being drafted as such.
Michael Crabtree returns as the No. 2 receiver in Oakland, coming off a thoroughly useful 85-catch, 922-yard, 9-touchdown campaign. He enters this season as a WR3 at worst, but he’s generally selected as only a fringe top-40 wideout (ADP 93.5). Crabtree may have fallen a tier or two short of whatever status you projected for him when he entered the league, but he’s still been a highly productive player in less-than-ideal offenses. He and Cooper will again dominate targets in Oakland, so there’s no reason to expect a dramatic dip in his fantasy output.
Seth Roberts delivered a few nice moments last year en route to a 32-480-5 stat line, but, realistically, this offense and its quarterback will not be able to support more than two roster-worthy fantasy receivers. Roberts will get interesting if/when injuries hit, however. Clive Walford will function as the Raiders’ top pass-catching tight end, and he should carry sleeper status in deep formats. He has a decent shot at a 50-catch, 6-TD season. Walford suffered an odd offseason injury, but he’s back in action, making a little preseason noise.
Oakland’s rushing attack was unrelentingly ordinary last year, ranking No. 28 in the NFL at 91.1 yards per game. Latavius Murray finished as the tenth highest scoring RB in standard fantasy leagues without ever producing a signature game; he never topped 150 scrimmage yards and never delivered a multi-touchdown week. Don’t even try to tell me that you ever once won a fantasy matchup because Latavius carried you. Bah.
Still, Murray received 307 touches last year (which seems insane), and he remains atop this team’s backfield hierarchy. Oakland figures to have a very good offensive line and a quality defense, so Latavius is well-positioned to see another 280-touch workload. If you’re looking for a player who can give you 8-to-15 fantasy points in any given week (and never 20), then give him a look. Fifth round rookie DeAndre Washington is the clear handcuff in Oakland, and he impressed in his preseason debut. He caught 41 balls at Texas Tech last year and could easily emerge as a third-down presence for the Raiders in his rookie season. He’s an undersized back (5-foot-8) but also strong and unafraid. Don’t be surprised if he claims a rotational role.
On defense, the Raiders have a real chance emerge as a starting-quality unit for fantasy purposes. This team addressed defensive needs aggressively in both free agency (LB Bruce Irvin, DB Sean Smith) and the draft (DB Karl Joseph, DE Jihad Ward, DE Shilique Calhoun). Khalil Mack, as most of you know, is already a high-end fantasy IDP and a real-life terror coming off a 15-sack season. This D/ST won’t be a recommended play in the opener at New Orleans, necessarily, but you can start ’em regularly thereafter.
2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 22.4 (18)
Pass YPG – 242.4 (16)
Rush YPG – 91.1 (28)
Yards per play – 5.3 (22)
Plays per game – 63.1 (24)
Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Cleveland, 31) San Francisco, 30) Philadelphia, 29) Baltimore, 28) Tennessee, 27) Los Angeles, 26) Miami, 25) Detroit, 24) Chicago, 23) San Diego, 22) Minnesota, 21) Tampa Bay, 20) Atlanta, 19) Washington, 18) Buffalo, 17) Kansas City