By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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The consistently inconsistent Detroit Lions, while unable to make the playoffs when the Packers had a down season, at least provided a few solid options for us fantasy owners. QB Matthew Stafford continues to be the most underrated QB in fantasy, scoring 301.52 fantasy points for a QB9 finish. And he has some solid wide receivers to throw the ball to. Golden Tate has been a reliable force for Detroit since arriving in 2014. His fantasy rankings the last three years have steadily increased — 22nd in 2015, 19th in 2016, and 15th last year. Adding Marvin Jones to the corps in 2016 has only helped. Jones had his first 1,000 yard receiving season in 2017 while adding 9 TDs for a WR12 finish. Is there a new pecking order in Detroit? And Eric Ebron, a former top 10 draft pick at TE, finished as TE11 with mediocre production. Pretty sure that led to the Lions not re-signing him.
With the good comes the bad. Not going to lie, I had high hopes for lead RB Ameer Abdullah. He was solid in college and had a promising rookie year in limited playing time. An injury derailed his 2016 season but he entered 2017 healthy with new additions on the offensive line to help pave the way. While Abdullah did lead the Lions in rushing, gaining 552 yards while averaging 3.3 yards per carry is hardly anything to celebrate. So yeah, um, my bad folks. Even the typically reliable Theo Riddick, their pass catcher extraordinaire, underwhelmed. He had roughly the same production in 2017 as the year before — in 6 more games. What will the Lions will do to improve their running game? I wonder…
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Matt Cassel (w/ TEN)||4.48||QB53|
|RB1||LeGarrette Blount (w/ PHI)||103.80||RB45|
|RB3||(R) Kerryon Johnson||N/A||N/A|
|WR1||Marvin Jones Jr.||207.00||WR12|
|TE1||Levine Toilolo (w/ ATL)||36.20||TE54|
|TE2||Luke Wilson (w/ SEA)||54.30||TE39|
Here’s the funny thing about fantasy. Someone’s ranking at a position can go up year to year but their point totals decrease year over year. Take Matthew Stafford for instance. Since 2015, Stafford has been ranked as QB13, QB12, and QB9. His point totals over the same time frame? 326.86, 307.90, and 301.52. So yeah, his ranking has increased but his production has diminished. What could be the cause?
The Lions as a team are an enigma week to week. They look like Super Bowl contenders against great teams and play down to teams with no playoff hopes. Since 2014, Stafford has led the league twice in 4th quarter comebacks (2014 and 2016). He’s also led the league three times in game-winning drives (2014, 2016, and 2017). It’s great he has ice in his veins when the game is on the line. But the team has been one dimensional for quite some time. Stafford hasn’t missed a game since 2010. Since 2011, the Lions passing attack has never finished lower than 12th in the NFL. Their rushing attack has never finished higher than 17th, including two seasons as the worst in the NFL. When there’s no balance, it’s easy for defenses to make you struggle for stretches of games. But this is also why Stafford does so well in fantasy. The offense runs through him. He’s reliable, with seven straight seasons producing more than 4,200 passing yards and 20 passing TDs. He also has seven straight seasons with 10+ INTs. Those are numbers that keep his ceiling on the low end of the QB1 spectrum. But Stafford is exactly that, a QB1. He’s going to finish in the top 10 in completions and he has two standout WRs to keep his numbers adequate. Load up on high end position players and take Stafford in the later rounds. You could do a lot worse.
Those seven straight seasons of not missing a game mean you shouldn’t have to worry too much about who is backing up Stafford. But just in case of a freak injury, the Lions at least have a veteran who can lead an offense in Matt Cassel. Cassel got a little playing time last year but he can hardly be counted on at this stage of his career to carry a team. His job is to not mess things up. Which he’ll do if you try to plug him in your lineup. Instantly downgrade the receivers if Cassel has to take even one snap for the Lions.
Since 2011, the Lions offense has ranked 29th, 23rd, 17th, 28th, 32nd, 30th, and 32nd in the league. That’s three straight seasons as one of the three worst teams in rushing offense. When they introduced Matt Patricia as their new head coach, one with a defensive background, you just knew that fixing the running game would be high on the agenda. Ameer Abdullah was their leading rusher in 2017 with 552 yards. That’s a four game total for Ezekiel Elliott so the Lions set out to fix the issue. Their first move was to bring in 2-time Super Bowl champion and former Eagle and Patriot RB LeGarrette Blount.
Blount was with Patricia in New England so there’s a connection there. One thing Blount does well is run through would be tacklers. Last year, Blount was 3rd in the NFL in yards gained after contact per rushing attempt with 3.56. He also had the benefit of Pro Football Focus’ number one ranked offensive line in 2017. The Lions ranked 19th on that same list. Their two big free agent acquisitions in 2017, G T.J. Lang and T Rick Wagner, helped in the passing game, but not in the run game. This year, the Lions drafted Arkansas C Frank Ragnow to help. Blount can also help. He’s not the long term answer, having just turned 30, but he doesn’t have a ton of carries on his odometer either, just passing 1,300 this past year. Blount will start the season as the Lions number one RB and because of that, he’s worth a draft pick. Just keep in mind, he’s not a long term answer and shouldn’t be anything more than a RB5 or RB6 on your roster.
The reason Blount isn’t the Lions RB you ultimately want? Some 3rd round draft pick named Kerryon Johnson. Our own Chris Tyler raves about Johnson (and you’ll read more praise a little lower). He has solid size at 5’11” 206 and was a TD machine at Auburn, scoring 18 rushing TDs in 2017 and 11 in 2016. He even has 2 TD passes over the last two seasons, for what that’s worth. He even produced against the biggest and baddest the SEC had to offer. Johnson will be given every opportunity to win his share of carries in Detroit, because the Lions are looking for anything to jump start their anemic run game. Johnson will probably be drafted way too high on draft day — as of this writing, his average draft position is currently 38th at the position on ESPN drafts. I have Johnson as RB44 entering the season (an RB5) and really, that’s about what he should be until we see him take the job from Blount. Don’t get caught in the trap of paying too high a price for someone who hasn’t proven anything.
The Lions RB you absolutely know is going to produce is 3rd down back Theo Riddick. His numbers have steadily regressed over the last three years — RB18, RB24, and RB26 since 2015. He’s never been a standout runner — his career high is 357 rushing yards — but is an exceptional pass catcher. Over the last three seasons, Riddick has 186 receptions in 42 games — about 4.5 receptions per game. That’s where his value lies and that’s not a bad thing. There are worse FLEX options to draft. Riddick should be a top 30 RB with the amount of passes Stafford throws, making him a FLEX play. He’ll have good weeks and bad weeks obviously, but you know what he brings to the table. There is no unknown with Riddick, minimizing the risk in drafting him.
As for last year’s starter, Ameer Abdullah is likely the odd man out. Truthfully, after his disappointing 2017, I won’t be surprised if he’s cut in camp. Say what you will though, he does have skills in the passing game and is a better option than Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner out of the backfield. That could come in handy in the event Riddick suffers an injury. You’re not drafting Abdullah. It really is that simple.
When Golden Tate signed with Detroit after four so-so seasons in Seattle, not many of us expected the type of production he has accumulated. Four straight 90+ catch seasons, three 1,000+ yard seasons and 19 total TDs. He’s finished as WR11, WR22, WR19, and WR15 over that time frame. I don’t think there’s much more to type about Tate. You know what you’re getting from him. At worst, he’s a top 25 option. Tate is a WR2 for me and one that is easy to trust. What most fantasy owners don’t like is that there’s no upside. His floor is high so I hardly see a problem there.
The upside belongs to Tate’s running mate Marvin Jones Jr. Jones came over from Cincinnati prior to the start of 2016. He was 70 yards short of 1,000 in 2016 but blew past it in 2017 to the tune of 1,101 yards and 9 TDs. Jones reminds me a lot of Vincent Jackson. VJax would do some serious damage in the yardage and touchdown departments while topping 75 catches only once in his career. Jackson’s career yards per reception was 16.8. Jones has averaged 17.5 yards per reception in two seasons in Detroit. Jones is the Lions’ biggest big play threat. He may only get 70 catches but he should exceed 1,000 yards and produce around 8 TDs for top 25 numbers. The upside for double digit TDs is there. The upside for 1,300+ yards is there too. Tate is the safer pick, but Jones may be the guy you want to draft based on what he could become in a pass-happy offense.
Second year man Kenny Golladay lit up the preseason in 2017, leading many to think the Lions had a future star on their hands. Then the regular season happened and Golladay came back to earth. His size is his biggest asset — 6’4” 216 pounds — and his 4.5 speed doesn’t hurt either. When teams focus on Tate and Jones, Golladay can win one-on-one matchups on the outside with his size. His 28 catches for 477 yards and 3 TDs were 4th best on the team and a solid start to his career. As Stafford gains trust in the kid, Golladay will have an opportunity to shine. Golladay is a late round wild card that will either pay massive dividends or end up on waivers at no dire cost.
The rest of the receiver corps is a mixed bag of young guys trying to make noise and T.J. Jones. Jones is going into year four and last year was arguably his best, nearly matching the fantasy production of Golladay. These two will fight for next man up status behind Tate and Marvin Jones but my money’s on Golladay. Just don’t forget the name if injuries take their toll.
After jettisoning Eric Ebron, the Lions are left with castoffs to generate production from the tight end position. The Lions brought in Luke Wilson from Seattle and Levine Toilolo from Atlanta. Both are six year vets and neither has done much to leave a mark in their careers. Toilolo has never topped 35 receptions, 265 receiving yards or 3 TDs. Wilson has never topped 25 receptions, 365 receiving yards or 5 TDs. Neither Toilolo or Wilson are draftable until we see how they fit with Stafford in the offense. Ebron had only 574 receiving yards and if I had to guess, most of those yards end up going to Golladay while Wilson and Toilolo stay inline to block and create holes for Blount and Johnson. Just a hunch.
Rookie to Watch
I couldn’t be a bigger supporter of this NFL rookie. Kerryon Johnson is going to light up defenses at the next level. We can talk about his 1,391 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns last year, but what’s most impressive were his two games against Georgia and Alabama. Against those two powerhouses, he gained 315 yards on 75 carries and scored a rushing TD. Johnson can run the ball but he’s also an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield, gaining 194 yards on 24 catches. Kerryon was a big part of Auburn’s offense and it’ll show on Sundays come September. -Chris Tyler
Playing in only 11 games, former Northern Illinois WR Kenny Golladay managed to rack up 477 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season. He proved he can be a viable 3rd receiver in the Detroit offense and with his 6’4 frame, he can be a scary red zone threat as well. Golladay can be a low WR3, high WR4 on your fantasy team with the ability to become an every week starter. The Lions are a dark horse for the Super Bowl and Golladay is a dark horse to help you get there in your league. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Big Three of Stafford, Tate, and Jones Jr. should all be early round draft picks when your draft rolls around. Stafford should be no worse than top 15 at QB while Tate and Jones Jr. are top 25 options. Blount is necessary for depth while Johnson and Golladay provide intrigue and massive upside. Don’t reach, that’s all I say. Kicker Matt Prater should also be a viable option. As much as I despise kickers, I have one rule that I stick to: draft one on a high-powered offense. Stafford can move the ball late, setting up Prater for game-winners. They score plenty of TDs, providing Prater with plenty of opportunities for extra points. The Lions D/ST finished 10th last year and they could very well move up that list in 2018. They bring back Ziggy Ansah at DE and have Darius Slay at corner to drive QBs bonkers. There are plenty of pass happy teams in the NFC to keep him busy. Here’s some other tidbits I dug up while researching the Lions:
- Matthew Stafford had the league’s 6th best completion percentage at 72.1 with 2.5 seconds or less to throw. His 56% completion percentage with 2.6 seconds or more ranked 13th.
- LeGarrette Blount had 18 rushing TDs in 2016. That number fell to 2 in 2017 while he was with the Eagles.
- Marvin Jones Jr. tied for the league lead with 16 receptions on passes traveling 20 yards or more down the field. He had 5 TDs on such receptions.
- Golden Tate ran 79% of his routes from the slot. His 761 yards from the slot ranked 2nd in the NFL.
- Luke Wilson and Levine Toilolo combined for 3 drops compared to 27 receptions. Former TE Eric Ebron had 6 drops compared to 53 receptions.
|1||9/10 (Mon)||vs NYJ|
|6||** BYE WEEK **|
|12||11/22 (Thurs)||vs CHI|