We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
The 2019 Lions weren't nearly as bad as most remember. Yes, their 3-12-1 finish was hardly ideal, and there weren't too many excuses to be had for the league's 25th- and 26th-ranked defense in yards allowed per play and points allowed per game, respectively. Also yes: Matthew Stafford had this offense humming through the first eight weeks of the season.
The Lions' long-time franchise QB *easily* set career-high marks in a variety of efficiency metrics during his first season under OC Darrell Bevell:
- TD rate: 6.5%
- Yards per attempt: 8.6
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 9.1
- Yards per completion: 13.4
- QBR: 73.1
The Lions were 3-4-1 in Stafford's eight starts with one extremely fluky loss against the Chiefs, and one borderline robbery vs. the Packers. Don't sleep on Detroit making some noise in a potentially down NFC North in 2020 *if* Stafford can continue to efficiently shred defenses with downfield dimes to his various (talented) weapons all over the field.
Of course, a big part of Stafford's success was the performance of his WRs, particularly rising fourth-year talent Kenny Golladay. Each of Stafford's top pass-game options in Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola and TE T.J. Hockenson are back in 2020, giving the offense plenty of fire power in their attempt to replicate 2019's early-season success.
What follows is a breakdown on what to expect from the Lions' passing game next season.
Golladay is the No. 1 WR in this offense ... barely
The Lions posted the following target distribution in eight games with Stafford under center last season:
- Golladay: 62 targets
- Jones: 57
- Amendola: 44 (in 7 games)
- Hockenson: 38
- J.D. McKissic: 17
- Ty Johnson: 16
- Jesse James: 14
- Kerryon Johnson: 14 (in 6 games)
- Logan Thomas: 9
- Marvin Hall: 8
- Nick Bawden: 5
Golladay and Jones have quietly matched each other ever since the Lions drafted the former WR in 2017. Whether you want to look at just the eight games with Stafford last season ...
- Golladay: 62 targets, 35 receptions, 640 yards, 7 TDs, PPR WR11
- Jones: 57 targets, 42 receptions, 535 yards, 6 TDs, PPR WR14
... or since 2017 as a whole ...
- Golladay (42 games): 163 receptions, 2,730 receiving yards, 19 TDs
- Jones (38 games): 158 receptions, 2,388 receiving yards, 23 TDs
... it's clear that Jones is more of a 1.B. than a true No. 2 WR in this offense.
It's unlikely that any of the Lions' three offensive draft picks in RB D'Andre Swift (2.35), WR Quintez Cephus (5.166) and RB Jason Huntley (5.172) do anything to impact the top-four receivers in Stafford's pecking order.
That's good news for everyone involved because there's no doubt that Stafford throws a b-e-a-utiful deep ball.
The Lions' average of 25.5 points per game in Weeks 1-9 would've ranked eighth in the league if extrapolated over the course of an entire season. It's never ideal to have a 32-year-old QB recovering from a back injury, but clearly this offense has a true top-10 ceiling if they can just maintain some level of good health.
Each of these receivers has plenty of upside
It's worth noting that not every target is created equal. Since 2014 WRs receivers have understandably averaged more PPR on red-zone (2.46) and deep-ball (2.17) targets compared to looks between the 20s (1.45). We can get an idea of how many PPR a player would be 'expected' to score based on their usage by breaking up their targets multiplying them by their associated weight.
The Lions orchestrated one of the league's most downfield-heavy passing games in the league last season. Nobody threw at least 20-plus yards downfield on a higher percentage of throws than Stafford (19.2%), and this resulted in some incredibly fantasy-friendly roles for his top-two WRs:
- Golladay joined Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, Preston Williams, Mike Williams, Tyler Lockett and Phillip Dorsett as the league's clear top-seven WRs in fantasy-friendly per-target opportunity.
- Jones (No. 15) ranked significantly higher than Amendola (No. 69) among 79 WRs with at least 50 targets last season.
- Golladay has a league-high 36 deep-ball targets on the season (PFF).
Amendola quietly cleared the century mark on three separate occasions in 2019. Alas, he's still never reached 700 yards or five TDs in a season. It wouldn't be shocking to see him take a reduced role behind the offense's rising second-year TE in 2020. At the very least it'll take an injury (or two) in order for Amendola to provide any sort of consistent fantasy production, particularly after the Lions added ex-Packers WR Geronimo Allison to the equation.
Hockenson is a great young player that seems to have a bright future ahead of him. Unfortunately, he was a distant fourth in targets with Stafford under center, and also consistently lost snaps to James. Hockenson looked amazing in his 6-131-1 Week 1 debut. Still, that occurred against the Cardinals' historically-awful defense against TEs, and he cleared 50 yards on just one other occasion.
The good news for most involved in the equation is that their services aren't costing much at the moment.
Buy the Lions Offense in 2020
The Lions' passing game currently boasts the following best-ball average draft positions:
- Stafford: QB13
- Golladay: WR8
- Jones: WR40
- Amendola WR101
- Hockenson: TE16
In Weeks 1-9 each of Stafford (QB6), Golladay (WR9), Jones (WR13), Amendola (WR50) and Hockenson (TE16) all proved more than capable of at the very least meeting their current ADPs.
Stafford is a prime late-round QB option after the dual-threat talents and more-pricey old men like Tom Brady and Drew Brees are off the board. Golladay is the type of exceptionally-talented WR worth betting on; he's my overall PPR WR8.
Jones is again looking like a screaming value at his current position, although his age (turned 30 in March) and ability to stay healthy after missing 10 games over the past two seasons are starting to come into question. Amendola isn't someone that'll make it in your starting lineup too often, but he's still a good bet to smash his current pedestrian projection. Hockenson isn't being drafted as high as his talent suggests, making him a solid backup option to stash in the hopes of a massive breakout.
According to most the key factors working against the Lions next season are 1) They're the Lions and 2) Coach Matt Patricia. Luckily, neither of those noted-brutal variables should have too much of an impact on this offense. It remains to be seen if Stafford and company can play well enough for 16 games to get Detroit into January, but at the very least you shouldn't be surprised when this passing game puts up some serious numbers with good health.