Fantasy Football 32: Detroit Lions
Over the last four or five seasons, the Detroit Lions have served as one of the more fantasy friendly offenses in the NFL. A quarterback who throws the ball as much as anyone, the best wide receiver in football, and, finally, not one, but two very solid running backs to choose from. As our Fantasy 32 series dwindles down, you’ll notice that some of the heavy-hitting offenses remain, so this should be pretty fun.
Let’s do it.
Records are fun.
Over a three year span, no quarterback in the history of the NFL has thrown more passes than Matthew Stafford (2,024). If you are looking for volume from your signal caller, Stafford has been a guy you’ve been targeting. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged 674.6 passing attempts, and the presence of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has helped him out.
But Linehan is in Dallas now.
Linehan’s offenses have ranked inside the top-10 in passing attempts in seven of his last eight seasons, while during his five-year tenure in Detroit, the Lions ranked no worse than sixth in pass attempts. As a result, Stafford has finished fourth, first and first in attempts among quarterbacks over the last three campaigns.
However, with all of this juicy fantasy volume heading his way, Stafford has actually been rather disappointing. During the three-year span of throwing the football more than anyone ever, Stafford only has one top-five fantasy finish (2011), while finishing 11th and 7th the other two seasons. Is that necessarily bad production? No, but fantasy owners have probably been expecting more. According to ESPN, Stafford has finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback just over 50 percent of the time since 2010, 6th-best among passers. Now, Linehan is gone, but Joe Lombardi is now calling the plays, who was the quarterback coach for the great Drew Brees in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Jim Caldwell is the head coach, a guy who preferred running the football during his tenure as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore. Stafford’s volume could take a slight hit, but most likely not enough to push him outside of the top-10 in pass attempts. This defense may not be very good and there should be plenty of shootouts in the NFC North.
Stafford also has more help this year.
Detroit drafted a talented, athletic tight end in Eric Ebron (more later) and signed free agent wideout, Golden Tate. The latter’s arrival finally gives Detroit something they haven’t had since drafting Megatron– a competent number two. Last year, Lions receivers has the most drops among any team in the league (46), which made for almost eight percent of Detroit’s total targets (via Matthew Berry). Tate, meanwhile, dropped just two of the 94 targets he saw last year. With the weapons at his disposal, Stafford will be drafted as a top-five fantasy signal caller.
The question is … will he finish there?
After years of a revolving door at the running back position, the Lions don’t just have a great backfield, but arguably the best in all of football. Detroit saw Joique Bell somewhat emerge in 2012, while Reggie Bush’s inaugural season in the Motor City was a success, as he eclipsed both 1,000 rushing yards and 500 rushing yards for the first time in his career. Both backs hauled in over 50 balls, while Bell has accomplished that feat in two consecutive seasons now. It’ll be interesting to see how the usage looks in Detroit this season, but for those interested, FantasyData has a nice breakdown of not only the snaps, but the efficiency, as well.
Bush missed two games, which is why Bell ultimately finished the year with more snaps. Still he played almost 44 snaps per game, compared to Bell’s 39, but that gap should be narrowed this year. Lombardi has a history of a multiple back system in New Orleans, where Bush caught almost five passes per game. I’d expect him to catch more passes than his counterpart, but the rushing could shift toward favoring Bell. Lombardi also stated that this could be a 50/50 split this year, and when the Lions are in close, it’ll be Bell getting the looks. Last year, Bell had 24 carries from inside the red zone, as well as a solid 13 from 10 yards shy of the end zone. He’s the better between the tackles runner, so I’d expect him to lead the backfield in such carries this year. And, according to Rich Hribar, Bell was a top-five rusher in terms of touchdown conversion rate from inside the five last year.
But again, Bush will likely be the more productive pass-catcher.
*Played just 8 games in 2010.
However, when I’m drafting, I’m targeting Bell over Bush, and it’s not close. Bush is currently coming off the board in the third round, while Bell, who will still catch a handful of balls and score more touchdowns on the ground, can be had three full rounds later.
We are not worthy, Calvin Johnson.
Via ESPN, since 2011, Megatron has accumulated 5,137 receiving yards, which is more than 1,000 yards more than the second-best receiver. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the best wide receiver in the game today. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s been targeted over 500 times over the last three seasons, and is productive in the red zone. Last year, he hauled in 11 of 26 red zone targets, while catching 50 percent of his looks from inside the 10-yard line. The Lions also threw the football nearly 60 percent of the time when inside an opponent’s 20, so the volume should be there. Draft him as a top-seven overall player and enjoy the week-to-week consistency. According to Tristan Cockroft’s Consistency Ratings, Calvin has been the 8th-most consistent player in fantasy football since 2010.
We touched on Tate earlier, but it’s common sense that he is likely in line for a career year. Playing in run-heavy Seattle, Tate still made some noise, ranking second in vertical yards per reception (31). The guy simply doesn’t drop the football, either. According to Pro Football Focus, since 2011, Tate has dropped just five passes, catching 144 of 149 catchable balls thrown his way. That ratio is better than anyone in football, folks. With Megatron drawing double teams all year, Tate should see a career-high in targets and receptions, going from the team that ranks second-to-last in passes since 2011 to pass-happy Detroit. I love him as a WR3.
The Lions brought back Brandon Pettigrew, who cannot catch the football, but is a pretty good blocker. They also still have big Joseph Fauria, who caught nearly 40 percent of his passes for touchdowns last year. Then they drafted Ebron in the first round of this year’s draft, a guy that people were high on earlier in the offseason, but he hasn’t looked good. I told people to not overrate him because of his destination, and I will not be drafting him at all this year. He’s an atrocious blocker, and while Detroit stated they want to use him in that Jimmy Graham role, he’ll still lose playing time to the superior blockers. At UNC last year, Ebron operated out of the slot almost 72 percent of the time, but caught just eight career touchdowns in college. Meanwhile, rookie tight ends rarely ever pan out in fantasy.
According to Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports, over the last 11 seasons, just three tight ends have finished as top-12 options during their rookie campaigns– Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and John Carlson. It’s rare to see a rookie tight end see a major role in an offense, and that definitely won’t happen with Ebron in Detroit.
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