Fantasy Football Offensive Evaluation: Detroit Lions

Last season the Lions finished 15th in the NFL in scoring.  That sounds pretty good.  For the Lions however, it sounds great.  Especially when you consider its the highest they've finished in scoring since 1999 when they finished... 15th.

The Lions run of being a terrible, terrible football team is well documented.  The last time they had double digit victories, or outscored their opponents over the course of a season, was 1995.  The highest win total in their history, which dates back to 1930, is 12.  And they did that once.  Since the schedule went to 16 games in 1978, they've finished with double-digit victories 3 times.  Joe Flacco was born in 1985 and he already has 2 double-digit win seasons and a 9-7 season under his belt.

Finally, there is reason for optimism. 

The Lions were outscored by just 7 points last year, and their golden boy franchise quarterback only played in 3 games.  And this isn't a Joey Harrington kind of golden boy.  No, this one might be the real deal and it appeared that if he were healthy the Lions could do a lot better than a 6-10 record.

The Lions are looking to take a step forward this season and finally get over the .500 hump.  The team, and fantasy owners, suffered a big blow early when 2nd round pick, running back Mikel Leshoure, tore his achilles and will miss the season.  He was a good fantasy sleeper this season and was poised to share carries in the backfield.  Will this team ever overcome the injuries necessary to take it to the next level?  Will I ever get to talk about my favorite defensive player in the NFL, Ndamukong Suh?  Not here.  But I can talk about these guys...

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford

In the first game of 2010, Stafford was 11 of 15 for 83 yards against the Bears.  The Lions were up 14-13 at halftime, but in the 2nd half they weren't able to score a point after Stafford left with a shoulder injury and Shaun Hill was 9 for 19 for 88 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT.  They lost 19-14.  (In fairness to Hill, this was the infamous Calvin Johnson "no catch" game that cost the Lions the victory)

Stafford came back in week 7, threw 4 TDs against the Redskins, and the Lions won 37-25.

In week 8 against the Jets, Stafford was 20 of 36 for 240 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTS and then he hurt his shoulder again.  The Lions were up 20-10 when he left.  They lost 23-20 in overtime. 

So in the end, what it comes down to is that the Lions could have been 3-0 in the games that Stafford started if he had only finished them healthy and instead they went 1-2.  This is the kind of impact that Stafford could have for Detroit, and his numbers last season at age 22 in limited action, were pretty phenomenal.  Stafford is the real deal.  Its only a question of health.  Stafford is going 90th overall in drafts, 12th among QBs, just ahead of Eli Manning.  So the respect is there and unless he jumps into the top 5 in QBs, the value is pretty much even stevens.  That's still pretty good and he might be the QB steal of 2011.

Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton

Both of these guys are respectable QBs.  Hill can actually be pretty decent at times.  The Lions have one of the leagues top weapons who can make any QB look better than he is.  But for the love of God, please not this season.  Let's see what Stafford can do.

Running Back

Jahvid Best

I mentioned in my Eagles preview that I loved Desean Jackson when he was coming out of Cal and that the Eagles got a huge steal in the draft.  I could feel it in my gut.  I'm not always right, but that one I had a good feeling about.  I have a good feeling about Best too.  Talent-wise, this kid was one of the best running backs I had seen in the Pac-10, his sophomore season he was Reggie Bush-lite.  (Reggie Busch Light?)  Best averaged 8.1 yards per carry for 1,580 yards and 15 TDs.  This was in the Pac-10 mind you, not in high school.  Best suffered injuries in his junior season and only started 8 games, then entered the NFL draft.  He posted a 4.35 40 time, the third fastest overall at the combine that year and the Lions took him with the 30th pick.

Best opened his rookie season by scoring 5 total touchdowns in the first 2 games.  However, the Lions found themselves in a lot more passing situations than running situations and Best struggled to build on that early season groove, rushing for just 555 yards on the season.  He did catch 58 passes for 487 yards though. 

The good news is that Best won't be sharing the load with Leshoure.  If it weren't for that injury (which is unfortunate.  I never root for a player to get injured) he could have definitely been in a 50/50 split.  Instead, if healthy, Best should get the majority of the work.  The bad news is that Best, who was injury prone in college, is now recovering from a concussion suffered in the preseason.  The Lions just can't catch a break when it comes to injuries but maybe Best will be just fine.  In PPR leagues, he could be a beast.  I could see a healthy Best as a 1,500 total yards kind of back, if not more.  If you can grab him after the 4th round, do it.  In the 4th round or earlier, I see it as a bit of risk, even though he's one of my favorite players.


Jerome Harrison

At the same time I was in college at Washington State University, Harrison was our starting running back.  The Cougs didn't have a lot going for them at the time, so Harrison didn't get a lot of national publicity.  "Well, why would he?" you say, because you never heard of Harrison in college.  And that's understandable because nobody ever talks about the Cougs unless they are talking about how Ryan Leaf was a bust.  But if the Cougs had been nationally relevant during Harrisons senior season, then you would have noticed that he rushed for 1,900 yards and 16 TDs in 2005 in the Pac-10.  (In the same way that you've never heard of Marquess Wilson, one of the top WRs in the Pac-12.  But now you know the name.)

Obviously, I'm a homer for Harrison.  But he's got good stats.  He's averaged 4.8 YPC in his career, and the one time he was given a shot to start (Cleveland at the end of 2009) he put up 561 yards and 5 TDs in 3 games.  He's still only 28 years old.  His biggest obstacle might be Jahvid Bests health.  If he manages to get carries in Detroit, give my boy a look. 

Ian Johnson

He was once America's sweetheart as Boise States running back that proposed to his girlfriend.  Then he was undrafted.  Now he's fighting for a job in Detroit.  There's your "Where are they now?" and former college stars for the day.

Maurice Morris

You really don't want 32 year old Maurice Morris to get carries in Detroit again.

Wide Receiver

Calvin Johnson

If you can't tell by now, I kind of love the Lions.  Stafford is my favorite young QB in the league.  Suh is my favorite defensive player in the league.  Best was my favorite player going into the 2010 draft.  I saw Harrison play at my own dang college.  Nick Fairley was my favorite defensive player in the 2011 draft.  And now yes, Calvin Johnson is my favorite wide receiver in the league.

I love my Seahawks more than anything, but damn it I'd love to make some trades with the Lions. 

Men his size (6'5, 240 lbs) shouldn't be able to run a 4.35 40-yard dash.  But he does.  And he's got some of the best hands in the league.  Calvin Johnson is an absolute beast and has an argument for NFL's best WR.  He's being drafted late 1st round, just behind Andre Johnson.  You can't really lose with either one, but Calvin is 5 years younger.  Which might mean something, but also might not.  A full year of Stafford could help him put up some ridiculous numbers.

Nate Burleson

So you've got Johnson, and then you've got everyone else.  Burleson is going at the end of some drafts, but he's a real flier.  Someone who would be really surprising to see contribute much at this stage of his career.  He topped 1,000 yards in his second season in Minnesota, but has been really off and on since then.  Between weeks 5 and 10 last year, he caught 35 passes for 410 yards and 4 TDs over a 6 game stretch.  So there's potential there, but he's really a long shot to be anything more than your #4 WR.

Titus Young

Add Titus Young to the list of players trying to recover from injuries.  He was a 2nd round pick out of Boise State this year and is looking like he'll make his Lions debut against the Patriots this week.  He's one to keep an eye on, I remember he had some stellar catches for the Broncos.  But its doubtful he would make a big contribution this season, but you never know what can happen during the season.  If he has a big game for the Lions in the 2nd half of the year, it wouldn't be crazy to pick him up because the talent is there.  He's just behind right now and a rookie.

Tight End

Brandon Pettigrew

Fantasy owners love him because he's young (23), he's a former 1st round pick (20th overall), and he's coming off a nice sophomore season (71 catches, 722 yards)

So Pettigrew is being drafted as TE1, ahead of Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.  That's fair.  I would just upgrade him a lot more in a PPR league than a non-PPR league.  Pettigrew gains a lot of value because of the amount of receptions he makes, but he only caught 4 TDs last year and for whatever reason, he hardly put up any numbers in the games that Stafford started.  Whether thats just a coincidence, I don't know, but we'll find out.  He could be a future stud TE, or he might just be a really good TE.  I'd comfortably take him if I was waiting on grabbing a TE until 9th round or later.  He could be a real steal.

Will Heller and Tony Scheffler are the backups.  Pettigrew is the only one worth owning.

follow me on twitter @casetines 

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