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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.
It’s always dangerous to play the arbitrary-end-point game in sports analysis, because, as a general rule, having more data is a good thing. But it’s almost impossible to discuss Kirk Cousins without reviewing the statistical brilliance of his second-half last season, when he was an absolute fantasy monster. Over his final eight games, Washington’s quarterback completed an astonishing 73.6 percent of his throws while averaging 9.4 yards per attempt, tossing 19 touchdown passes and only two picks. His second-half passer rating was a ridiculous 126.1. Cousins was actually the No. 2 scorer at his position over the final three weeks of the season, the money weeks in fantasy leagues.
Sure, it’s fair to point out that Cousins piled up numbers in matchups against the league’s worst defenses — he eviscerated Philly and New Orleans, for example — but I’m not going to penalize anyone for destroying soft opponents. After all, that’s what we expect from quality players.
Moving forward, the big question surrounding Cousins is this: Can he sustain anything remotely close to his November-December level of performance? In the first three-and-a-half years of his pro career, the man threw as many interceptions as TD passes and was generally an unreliable, scattershot passer. But when Cousins’ varsity receiving corps was healthy last season — that is, when D-Jax and Jordan Reed were both available — he was an upper-tier fantasy asset.
Given the quality of the weapons in Washington’s passing game and the relative lack of talent in this team’s backfield, it’s tough for me not to be bullish on Cousins in 2016. I’m mostly sold. He’s a fringe top-12 option at his position, a prime target for those of us who prefer to platoon two QBs in fantasy. (Cousins and Eli pair well this year, schedule-wise.) It seems reasonable to forecast a 4000-yard, 26-TD floor for Kirk, assuming good health. And if Jackson, Reed and Josh Doctson can all manage to play 13-16 games, then Cousins has a clear shot at topping his full season totals from 2015. He’s an appealing buy at his current ADP (113.2, QB14).
Reed’s fantasy production was exceptional last season, as he finished behind only Gronk among all tight ends in standard leagues — and in full-point PPR, Reed was actually the top-scoring TE on a per-game basis. He’s an almost impossible matchup. Reed hauled in 87 balls for 952 yards and 11 scores on 114 targets last year, and he delivered plenty of highlight plays along the way. He’s great. The issue with Reed clearly isn’t talent or opportunity, but health. He’s missed 14 games over three NFL seasons, never playing all 16 weeks in any year, and he has a significant concussion history dating back to college. So that’s a worry. But Reed’s per-game excellence and his terrific rapport with Cousins make him an obvious top-three tight end, a guy who should always be off the board by the end of the fifth round in any draft, any format. Let’s just hope he’s healthy in December.
Fantasy owners really shouldn’t need an extensive breakdown of Washington’s veteran receivers. DeSean Jackson is something of a one-trick player, but it’s an awesome trick; he gets deep and flips the field like few vertical threats in league history. Pierre Garcon is the unrivaled master of the 5-55-0 fantasy line; he never finished with more than 80 receiving yards in any game last season, but he topped 50 nine times. Jamison Crowder is … well, he’s fine. But he’s no better than fourth or fifth receiving option on this team, off the fantasy radar in nearly all leagues.
The most interesting piece in this receiving corps, or at least the player with the widest range of potential outcomes, is first-round rookie Josh Doctson. He produced back-to-back 1000-yard seasons at TCU, flashing great separation ability and dominance on contested balls. He was a monster at the pre-draft combine (41-inch vert), and has the look of an eventual No. 1 receiver. He’ll be competing for targets with a very good (and uncommonly noisy) collection of receivers, however, so the team can afford to ease him into the mix. There’s a strong case to be made for Doctson as the top first-year receiver for dynasty purposes, with Jackson and Garcon both free agents in 2017. But he’s hardly a sure thing in 2016. He’s dealing with Achilles soreness right now, but he’s expected back soon, perhaps within two weeks. When injuries hit Washington’s receiving corps, which seems inevitable, you’ll want Doctson. He doesn’t belong in your opening week plans, though.
Washington’s running game has a real chance to be horrible in 2016. Matt Jones is atop the backfield depth chart at the moment, and he was funny-bad last season. Jones averaged 3.4 yards per carry and his signature move was to fumble at the goal-line. Not good. He had a quality game against the Rams in September and another against the Saints in November, but he was a mess in all other weeks. I cannot sign-off on Jones as a starting RB in fantasy leagues of standard size. If you consider him a value pick, I wish you well. I won’t fight you for him.
In a dynasty auction on Tuesday night, I spent my final $3 on Jones’ presumptive backups, Chris Thompson and Keith Marshall, and it felt like thievery. Feel free to use my patented ZeroMattJones™ strategy in your leagues, too. It’s my gift to the world. At worst, Thompson should run as Washington’s third-down back; he averaged 6.2 YPC on 35 attempts last season, plus he caught 35 balls. Marshall, a seventh-round Georgia rookie, was a mutant-level performer at the combine, blazing a 4.31-second 40-yard dash (which seems almost impossible for a 220-pound human). Injuries were an issue for Marshall in college (ACL), but he has rare long speed and big-gain ability. He’ll cost you nothin’ as a draft day lottery ticket, and he’ll open the season behind a guy who was a wreck last year. It sounds like the rookie has made a positive impression in camp. I’m in.
Washington’s secondary should rank among the league’s best, now that Josh Norman has been paired with Bashaud Breeland. In a division loaded with receiving talent, this feels like a big deal. Still, this team’s defense yielded a zillion yards last year (380.6 per game) and wasn’t particularly special for fantasy purposes. Washington’s D remains a matchup play in our game — I’m looking at Cleveland and Baltimore in Weeks 4-5 — but this isn’t a unit you’ll want to roster from start to finish.
2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 24.3 (10)
Pass YPG – 255.9 (11)
Rush YPG – 97.9 (20)
Yards per play – 5.6 (11)
Plays per game – 63.6 (19)
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