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 tempting to focus almost exclusively on the development of second-year quarterback Jameis Winston when discussing the Bucs, but doing so would disrespect the indisputable, ironclad strength of Tampa Bay’s offense. This team fielded a terrific running game last season — one of the NFL’s best, no matter your criteria. Tampa Bay ranked fifth in total rushing yards (135.1 YPG) and first in yards per carry, gaining a ridiculous 4.8 per attempt. Doug Martin was terrific, start to finish. He ranked second in the league in rushing (1402), behind only Adrian Peterson, and he averaged 4.9 yards per tote on 288 carries. Martin delivered at least 70 scrimmage yards or a touchdown in 13 of his 16 games, so he was basically always helpful to fantasy owners.
Ball-security became a small issue for Martin last season (five fumbles), but he was tremendous in pretty much all other areas. He caught 33 balls on 42 targets and was one of only six NFL players to gain over 1600 yards from scrimmage. Last year’s offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, is this year’s Bucs head coach, so there’s no reason to expect radical system changes. Martin enters his age-27 season as an obvious top-10 fantasy RB in all formats. Charles Sims emerged as a PPR-relevant back last year as well, catching 51 balls on 70 targets for the Bucs and delivering 1090 scrimmage yards. Sims averaged 4.9 YPC on his 107 rush attempts, so he’s a legit dual-threat player. If Martin were to miss time due to injury, Sims would clearly become a must-start RB. While both players are healthy, you should expect something close to a 2-to-1 workload split, favoring Martin.
Tampa Bay’s receiving corps is hardly the league’s deepest or most talent-rich, but, for fantasy purposes, we always appreciate an uncomplicated hierarchy. There’s very little question that Mike Evans is this team’s top downfield target, and he’s coming off a season that was … well, it was weird. Evans finished with 74 receptions for 1206 yards, but he caught only 50.3 percent of his targets (not entirely his fault) and he only visited the end-zone three times. He also led the NFL in drops (11), he was penalized 11 times, and he spent much of his season griping to officials.
We should note that Evans missed a chunk of camp and preseason due to hamstring issues, so his slow start perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. He reportedly spent much of his offseason working with Winston, which has to be a good thing. Evans is still only 22 years old and he delivered a 12-touchdown rookie campaign, so there’s every reason to hope for a leap in value in his third pro season. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he certainly has the physical traits of a dominant red-zone/jump-ball receiver. He’ll surely see another 140-plus targets in the year ahead, despite Tampa Bay’s run-heavy approach. I’ve ranked him as my No. 10 fantasy WR, so I’m plenty bullish on his outlook. He’s a fun fit in a system that challenges defenses vertically — he averaged 16.3 yards per catch in 2015 — and his size makes him an inviting target for the less-than-laser-accurate Winston. We probably won’t see Evans post a stellar catch-rate in this offense, but a 70-1150-11 stat line is completely doable.
After Evans, this team’s receiving depth chart gets messy. Vincent Jackson is now 33 years old and he battled knee trouble last season, finishing with just 33 catches for 543 yards on 64 targets. But if he can remain on the field for all 16 games, he’ll have a clear shot at 110-120 targets, 60-65 catches and 1000 yards. A more reasonable forecast might be, say, 13 games with a 50-800-7 line. At his current draft price (ADP 130.0, WR52), he has some appeal. I wouldn’t touch any other wideout on Tampa’s roster in a standard-sized fantasy league, however — not Kenny Bell, not Adam Humphries, not Louis Murphy. (But shoutout to Murphy for this tremendous offseason adventure, which resulted in an all-time player note.)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the rare player who generates nothing but pessimism and negativity during the offseason. Traditionally, this is supposed to be the time of year when everyone is in the shape of their life and headed for a larger workload. But if you’re ASJ, this is apparently when you showcase poor play, effort and attitude. Things have not gone well recently for the third-year tight end, who now finds himself in a position battle with the unspectacular Cameron Brate. If we’re drafting today, there’s no way I’m messing with ASJ or Brate.
So, finally … Jameis. Last year he became just the third rookie quarterback in NFL history to deliver at least 4000 yards and 20 passing TDs, joining Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. It seems unreasonable to describe his first pro season as anything other than a clear success. He gave us both tangibles and intangibles. Winston actually tossed fewer interceptions last year (15) on 535 attempts than he did in his final season at FSU, when he was picked 18 times on 467 throws. Winston is still only 22, but he has an advanced feel for the most demanding position in his sport. He isn’t an electric athlete by NFL standards, but he still managed to rush for six scores as a rookie, gaining 213 yards on 54 carries. When all the numbers were in the books, Winston ranked as the season’s No. 13 fantasy quarterback. Impressive stuff.
Winston’s most glaring problem last season was his accuracy, as he completed only 58.3 percent of his throws to rank No. 32 among qualified quarterbacks. He finished just behind Colin Kaepernick (59.0) and just ahead of Nick Foles (56.4), which is hardly a glamorous statistical neighborhood. Evans’ dropped passes were only a small slice of the problem; Winston himself was responsible for plenty of misfires. We can’t expect a 70 percent completion rate in a get-deep passing attack like Tampa’s, of course, but a jump to 63-65 would be a big win. Jameis isn’t likely to run for another six TDs this year, so he’ll need to make strides as a passer if he’s going to maintain his fantasy value. I won’t attempt to sell Winston as some exceptional draft day steal, but he’s already proven he can exploit a friendly matchup and function as a useful platoon option. He won’t be a volume passer, so it’s tough to see an easy path to top-10 status.
Tampa Bay’s defense features an elite IDP in Lavonte David, but this D/ST is strictly a streaming option in fantasy. Last year, the Bucs allowed 26.1 points per game (not good) and they ranked middle-of-the-pack in both takeaways (23) and sacks (38). Free agent addition Robert Ayers is coming off a 9.5-sack season, so he’ll help the cause, and first-round corner Vernon Hargreaves should make an immediate impact. There are several promising pieces here, but the division is a minefield. No need to draft this group.
2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 21.4 (20)
Pass YPG – 240.8 (17)
Rush YPG – 135.1 (5)
Yards per play – 5.9 (3)
Plays per game – 63.5 (21)
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