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Team Previews

Lions Fantasy Preview

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 24, 2020, 5:39 pm ET

2019 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,549 (17th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 28 (11th)
Offensive Plays: 1,021 (12th) 
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 614 (13th) 
Rush Attempts: 407 (16th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 71 (23rd)
Unaccounted for Carries: 88 (14th)

 

Coaching Staff

The Lions have admittedly underwhelmed behind coach Matt Patricia’s vision, totaling a 9-22-1 overall record including 4-8-1 in one-score affairs the past two years, but recently flashed promise for the first time in ages as all ‘bought in’ under OC Darrell Bevell’s first year as the team’s play-caller (see below). Detroit trumped their numbers on offense from 2018, finishing 18th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA compared to 23rd under Jim Bob Cooter. The team's interchangeable starting guard, Graham Glasgow, signed with the Broncos on a four-year, $44 million contract this offseason, but No. 75 overall pick Jonah Jackson and free agent acquisition Halapoulivaati Vaitai figure to step right in for an offensive line that ranked middle of the pack in Adjusted Line Yards (4.21, 20th-overall) last season.

 

Passing Game

QB: Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel
WR: Kenny Golladay, Travis Fulgham, Marvin Hall
WR: Marvin Jones, Quintez Cephus
WR: Danny Amendola, Geronimo Allison
TE: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James

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Matthew Stafford quietly paced for 4,998 passing yards and 38 touchdowns — marks which would have ranked second and first-overall among the league’s quarterbacks — on the fifth-most fantasy points per game (20.8) in eight starts before moving to injured reserve with a broken back (which he’s since been medically cleared from). None of Detroit’s numbers are worth mentioning unless citing the team’s tallies while the veteran was under center; the Lions prioritized explosiveness during the first half of the year, averaging a league-high 10.7 air yards per attempt through Week 9 before dipping to 8.4 with Jeff Driskel and David Blough standing in the cockpit over the last eight games.

 

Category With Stafford Without Stafford
Games 8 8
Points Per Game 25.5 17.1
Yards Per Play 6.0 5.2
Plays Per Game 64.5 57.2
Red Zone Opportunities Per Game 9.1 6.3
Neutral Pass Rate 57% 54%
Air Yards Per Attempt 10.7 8.4

 

With 10-of-11 starters returning on offense (aka continuity), another spring to digest the intricacies of Bevell’s playbook, and eight of the team’s first 11 contests being played indoors, Stafford remains a dark horse candidate to lead the league in passing yards (+2,500) if upright for a full 16 games. I have him ranked as the overall QB9, three spots ahead of his consensus ADP as the QB12. He's also my favorite choice for Comeback Player of the Year (+800).

The NFL’s leader in receiving scores (11) and targets inside the 10-yard line (13) last year, Kenny Golladay improved in Pro Football Focus’ predictive Yards Per Route Run metric for the third consecutive season (2.03 > 1.87 > 1.66). Furthermore, the budding 26-year-old commanded the third-most air yards (994, 124.2 per game) with Stafford at the helm, seeing a league-high 22 targets 20-plus yards downfield. Those types of one-on-one coin-flip targets are admittedly volatile, but that term is far too often painted with a negative brush. With an elite athletic profile and untapped ceiling at 6’4/218, it’s possible Golladay, whose catch rate (56%) trickled below his career average (57.6%) last year, hauls in even more downfield targets as this decade's version of Calvin Johnson. I have him ranked as my overall WR6 with upside baked in.

Initially expected to be released in exchange for $6.5 million in cap room, 30-year-old Marvin Jones returns for his contract year as the team’s de facto No. 2 receiver after averaging 16.4 fantasy points per game from Stafford, which would have ranked Jones eighth-overall at his position. In fact, in his last 16 games with both Golladay and Stafford available, Jones has mirrored the former with 111 targets (6.9 per game) and 11 touchdowns. Currently being drafted seven rounds apart, Jones is (incorrectly) being viewed as the second branch among Detroit’s target tree rather than the 1B to Golladay’s 1A. The veteran wideout is an all-too-obvious value at cost and the perfect tandem with his teammate if attempting to stack Stafford with both wideouts.

Danny Amendola was brought back on a one-year deal to work as the Lions’ slot wideout but merely averaged 9.4 fantasy points, 62nd among receivers, in that role. Quintez Cephus (6’1/202), who No. 3 overall pick Jeffrey Okudah called “the best receiver he faced” during his time in college, is expected to take over for either Jones or Amendola next year. (Take note, dynasty players.) In the meantime, Detroit’s third receiving option inarguably remains second-year specimen T.J. Hockenson (6’5/251), who teased with 6/131/1 in the season opener before pasting an abysmal 5.05 fantasy points per game across his next 11 starts. The Lions ramped up his workload, sending him on a route on 63.8% of offensive snaps in the seven games leading up to his season-ending ankle injury, but even that usage amounted to 17/180 and 5.2 yards per target. With only incumbent backup Jesse James in his path, Hockenson remains a bet-on-talent TE2 set to make the leap if even one of his (what seemed like 17) fingertip-incompletions atop pay dirt from last year favorably goes the other way.

 

Rushing Game

RB: Kerryon Johnson, D’Andre Swift, Ty Johnson, Bo Scarbrough
OL (L-R): Taylor Decker, Joe Dahl/Kenny Wiggins, Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Just two years removed from notching SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors with 1,585 yards and 20 all-purpose touchdowns, Kerryon Johnson’s career has been thwarted by Detroit’s coaching staff miscasting him as a one-trick pony and, more to the point, his inability to keep on the field with just 18 (of a possible 32) appearances since joining the Lions as the No. 43 overall pick. The 23-year-old did average 21.3 touches (along with 12 carries inside the 10-yard line) on 72.6% of snaps from Weeks 4 - 6, but was only entrusted at that time because the team cut C.J. Anderson leading up to gameday; Johnson’s averaged 13.9 touches on 48% of Detroit’s snaps in the other 15 contests he’s played. And that latter usage has been a theme for Patricia’s backfields the past two years: the Lions have had two backs log at least 20% of their offensive snaps in 30-of-32 games in that span, and three runners soak up 10% of the snaps in 25 of said 32. Johnson, pigeon-holed exclusively to early downs with no receiving role to speak of, continues to be overvalued as the RB38 outside of those desperate for an RB2 in Zero-RB builds. Although his talent will likely keep him afloat as the 1A/1B in this backfield, fantasy players would be wise to avoid him if opening drafts with a robust-RB approach.

Detroit pulled the trigger on Georgia RB D’Andre Swift with the third pick of day two, cratering any ceiling Johnson had pre-draft. The rookie recorded just three drops and 9.1 yards per catch on 73 career receptions from both the backfield and out wide in the Bulldogs’ formation, signaling a fantasy-friendly role from the moment he takes the field. Only the Rams targeted their running backs at a lower rate (10%) while Stafford was under center (12%), but Swift’s sheer explosiveness — Pro Football Focus charted him with the highest rate of 10-plus yard gains (20%) among this year’s class — sets him apart as a fruitful role player with the ability to take on a larger load if called upon. I consider him a FLEX option with upside out the gates. Johnson's injury history could also allow Swift to take over sooner than expected.

 

Win Total

The organization heeded All-Pro corner Darius Slay's contract demands and sent him packing to Philadelphia for a third- and fifth-round pick, opening the door for Okudah to drape the league's best receivers as a developing rookie. The additions of MLB Jamie Collins and interior threats Nick Williams and Danny Shelton also fortify a front-seven that faced the league's seventh-most carries (455) last year. If the team experiences even a slight regression in one-score outcomes, the Lions could jump from being the bottom-dwellers of the NFC North (+650) to the spoilers — a wager which logically correlates with the team crushing Vegas’ suggested Season Win Total (6.5) — against the eighth-softest schedule based on Vegas' projected Win Totals. I have them securing both, with a Wild Card berth in 2020.