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Detroit Lions fantasy football team preview

Who to target and avoid in fantasy football from the Detroit Lions.      

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

QB Matthew Stafford was injured during Detroit’s Week 8 game in 2019. What we saw from the offense through Weeks 1-8 though was highly encouraging from a fantasy perspective. After adding OC Darrell Bevell in 2019, the team embraced early game downfield passing in a way that the previous regime did not. Sharp Football’s 2020 Football Preview explains how the Lions shredded defenses by throwing deep on 1st down in the first half of games at the second-highest rate in the NFL. The book further explains that Bevell and HC Matt Patricia, still trapped in an archaic mindset transitioned to a run-heavy approach on early downs in the second half.

While the production in the first half of games was enough for fantasy owners to profit, the routine second half changes cost the Lions wins. The kicker is that the Lions run game suffered in the second half as a result of rushing in more traditionally obvious rushing situations. Expecting a repeat of 2019 will, at worst, bring dump trucks of fantasy points to fantasy managers who’ve rostered QB Matthew Stafford, WRs Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr, and TE T.J. Hockenson. Should they wise up and stick to their downfield game in the 3rd quarter, these players’ stocks will rise further. The backfield shapes up as more of a late round value one than a dynamic high-value early round one.

Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule:

  • 8th softest schedule overall
  • 12th toughest in terms of the opponent’s overall defensive efficiency
  • Mid-tier blend of pass defenses
  • 9th toughest in terms of the opponent’s defensive pass efficiency
  • 13th softest blend of rush defenses
  • Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s defensive rush efficiency
  • Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s overall offensive efficiency
  • Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s offensive pass efficiency
  • 7th toughest in terms of the opponent’s offensive rush efficiency

Quarterback

In the eight games Matthew Stafford played in last season, he cleared the 300-yard mark in half of them with one going 400+. The Golladay/Jones Jr. tandem is built for an aggressive downfield approach as both excel in the jump ball department. Their game meshes well with Stafford’s accurate, strong arm. Stafford finished 4th in the league in Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE) last year (3.4%) and did so leading the league in Average Intended Air Yards. A Top 5 finish in CPOE, the metric with which accuracy is truly measured, while throwing the deepest on a per throw average is a special kind of talent. Although taking a quarterback in the 8th round is a tad early—Stafford’s ADP in .5PPR is 8.04, QB13—such a move would make sense were one creating a passing game stack by drafting 1-2 Lions pass catchers, securing the Lions’ frequently expected high-scoring weeks.

Running Back

Incumbent running back Kerryon Johnson has flashed solid passing game skills but the Lions refuse to unleash him in that regard. Instead, they ram the oft-injured back into defensive lines and linebackers as a rush-only committee back. When given opportunity, Johnson shows he is a capable NFL starter. Battering ram Bo Scarbrough has rushed well at times but offers little dual threat deployment. Ty Johnson and Jonathan Williams are vying for roster spots behind him.

The real story though is rookie back D’Andre Swift. Largely considered the best running back in the 2020 NFL draft, Swift was selected at the beginning of the second round. Swift is an above average ball carrier and a lethal pass catcher. Were training camp not stunted by COVID-19 restrictions, it’s safe to assume that Swift would’ve locked up an 18+ touch workload by Week 1. Make matters worse, Swift suffered a “leg” injury last week and has yet to return to practice as of Thursday, August 27th. Although he will likely be gifted rights to pass catching duties, assuming he’s ready for Week 1, finding a path to more than 12-15 touches to start the season will have to come as the year progresses. Thus making Kerryon Johnson an intriguing late round pick, and the former starter will be necessarily kept as a featured 12-15 touch component of the backfield—at least initially.

Swift is fairly reasonably priced as a high-end .5PPR flex, coming off the board at 6.06, RB27. Kerryon carries much more bang-for-buck value though, leaving the board at 8.11, RB39. Of course, Kerryon Johnson drafters must expect to replace him via the early season waiver wire. But for the first few weeks of the year, he will provide you with a usable flex option as the Lions take on two ball-control teams in weeks 1 and 2, the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, before facing the paper towel-esque defense of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.

Wide Receiver

Kenny Golladay enters his 4th NFL having made intense strides in his fantasy production in years one through three. Unusable in his rookie year (.5PPR, WR67 finish), Golladay stormed his way to a .5PPR WR21 finish in year two. Last season he took it to new heights though, nabbing a .5PPR WR6 finish. Fate dealt him good and bad hands last year: his starting quarterback missed Week 9 and on which hurt him. 1B receiver Marvin Jones Jr. missed the last 3 weeks of the season with injury, helping Golladay to a cherry-on-top box score finish in Week 15. Jones Jr.’s box scores were that of a roller coaster all season long, leading him to a .5PPR WR27 finish.

Assuming a healthy Stafford and equal or improved play-calling, both Golladay and Jones Jr. are solid fantasy picks at ADP. Golladay is leaving the board as the 2nd pick of the 3rd round, allowing drafters to bag two top notch running backs before selecting him as their WR1. That said, his WR6 ADP is too high. Players like Adam Thielen, Amari Cooper, and JuJu Smith-Schuster would be superior options. Meanwhile, Jones Jr.’s .5PPR 7.10, WR36 ADP comes as excellent value. Jones Jr. is a weekly flex option that should be forced into lineups in the right matchup. His touchdown scoring upside is high.

Danny Amendola should retain rights to the unsexy slot role in the Lions’ offense. It’s possible he brings some value in full-point PPR leagues as a floor-scorer but fantasy managers should be looking to hit home runs, not finish 5th in their leagues.

Rookie WR Quintez Cephus has garnered positive reports in camp but is unlikely to find a meaningful fantasy role, given the current target possibilities.

Tight End

Drafters are scared off of T.J. Hockenson after a briefly up and the mightily down rookie 2019 season. Hockenson demolished the Cardinals in Week 1 but was largely silent for the rest of the season. Tight ends take a season or two to develop though. A full season of Matthew Stafford and a year of learning the system will bode well for the 2nd-year player’s box score production. Drafted in .5PPR at 11.06, TE15 is a steal for a player with serious TE1 upside. The potential T.J. Hockenson showed in college is immense.

Kicker

Matt Prater is a fine option at kicker. He’s accurate and the Lions offense will put points on the board.

Defense/Special Teams

The Lions D/ST is a matchup-based option.