The Detroit Lions made the playoffs in 2014 thanks largely to Jim Caldwell scaling back an inefficient passing attack. The team also had a beastly defense, was the second best team in a weak NFC North and capitalized on no one else realizing how good Golden Tate actually was. In the real world, the Lions are a big bowl of “meh”. Even with the dirty Ndamukong Suh leading the attack up the gut, they were a fringe playoff team. Now that he’s going, no one outside of Michigan knows they exist anymore.
Of course, unless they’re preparing for their fantasy football draft. In that case, numerous Lions players matter at least a little bit. As we all have learned over time, we can’t usually get by in fantasy football by just knowing the big names. Even the stars still need to be dissected and analyzes at times, but we often need to dig deeper to uncover that next gem or the guys we need to be waiting to bust out. Detroit has a few of those, and they also have the aforementioned stars. Let’s take a look at which ones you need to care about this year:
Quarterback – Matthew Stafford
Stafford took a mild step back in the fantasy realm in 2014, but that was probably for two very good reasons: Calvin Johnson missed three games and was nicked up for most of the year, and Detroit turned into a more balanced offensive attack. It actually helped Stafford in the end, as he got back up over 60% for his completion rate and only threw 12 picks after throwing at least 16 in his previous three. Stafford was more efficient, more accurate and flat out better for the Lions.
As for fantasy football, Stafford wasn’t quite as fun as he was in 2011 and 2013, when he was leading a pass-happy offense and putting up 70 total passing scores. He was still plenty good overall, though, and finished the year as the 15th best fantasy passer. Stafford didn’t blow you away, but he also didn’t kill you most weeks. With 12 games with at least 230 passing yards (and most well above that) and eight multi-touchdown games, it’s arguable Stafford was a lot better than you probably thought he was.
With a healthy Megatron, the addition of Ameer Abdullah and being in the second year of the new offense, it’s possible Stafford could be in for quite a spike in 2015. Some think top-5, but top-10 seems a little more realistic. But for a guy you can get deep into fantasy football drafts, that’s nothing to scoff at.
Running Back – Joique Bell, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner
I’m not a big fan of Joique Bell. He was a top-15 fantasy performer last year thanks to a big role and eight touchdowns, but he lacks explosiveness, has too many injury issues, is pushing 30 and only averaged 3.9 yards per carry a year ago. He’s fine if he has a role and he obviously carries more value in PPR formats, but I’m not into him. Add Ameer Abdullah to the mix, and I like Bell even less. He’s still worth a look as a low-end RB2 or solid Flex, but I’m personally not buying many Joique Bell shares this year if I can help it.
Abdullah, on the other hand, I can wrap my head around. Abdullah has already dazzled in camp and preseason play, and it’s starting to look like the Lions have no qualms about giving him a big role as a rookie. That only makes sense in a Joe Lombardi offense that likes to use multiple backs. With Bell’s health seemingly always a question, Abdullah has a lot more value than you think. I just don’t want to overpay to get it.
Riddick is a third down guy with some wiggle to his game, but he lacks any real upside and is going to keep a limited role, pretty much regardless of what happens to Bell. Zenner is a guy to watch, as his odds of making the team aren’t amazing, but he’s a fantastic north/south runner that understands protections. He’s even got a nice burst that you wouldn’t expect. If Bell went down, he’d be a guy to monitor.
Wide Receiver – Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Corey Fuller and Ryan Broyles
Calvin Johnson is almost 30 and seems to always be nicked up. The problems end there. Megatron is still a total beast even when he’s not fully 100%, as he finished as fantasy’s 14th best wide receiver in 2014. He did this despite playing in just 13 games and probably playing hurt in about 10 of them. Now healthy and with Golden Tate there to distract opposing defenses, Johnson figures to be dangerously undervalued this year. A guy people were hyping up as a first round pick (and even first overall) the past two years is suddenly finding himself dropping to the second or even third round. Don’t be the one to pass him up.
Golden Tate is good. There, I said it. I never wanted to admit it when he was with the easy to hate Seattle Seahawks, and probably also because he’s kind of arrogant. But he’s good. He’s fast, he’s quick, and he’s a gamer. He proved that up and down the 2014 season, as he made catches all over the field, made difficult plays look easy and took short slants the distance without blinking an eye. Last year wasn’t a fluke, and while reaching those sick numbers (99-1,331-4 line) with a healthy Megatron around isn’t likely, something close to it could still happen. Tate is a rock solid WR2 at worst, and if he could score a little more he could even flirt with borderline WR1 production in 2015.
Detroit is really a two-wide receiver system, it seems, and with the team potentially trying to feature the running back more, I’m doubting Corey Fuller or Ryan Broyles make much noise. Broyles is talented but injuries have ruined him. He can be tossed into the mix to a certain degree with Lance Moore and Greg Salas – possession types that won’t spring big plays or score many touchdowns, but can chip in with timely plays. Fuller is the guy to watch and if a third wide receiver is going to make noise this year, it’s him. He’s still not worth anything more than a late-round flier, and is probably best served being watched out on the waiver wire.
Tight End – Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria
Ebron is a size/athleticism freak for the tight end position and has a game similar to Vernon Davis. That can be good or bad at times, especially since his issues are with the mental side of the game. He has the size and build to be a menace both as a receiver and blocker, but he needs work at both not dropping passes and finishing his blocks. His upside is there for all to see, however, and all reports out of camp at least suggest the Lions will try to let him go off in year two.
If it’s not Ebron, I wouldn’t waste time figuring out who in Detroit it’ll be. Fauria is a red-zone guy but that’s really it while Pettigrew has wasted away over the past three years and offers very little.
Kicker – Matt Prater
Prater is a kicker and like all kickers, he can be replaced in fantasy football. That being said, when you go to select your kicker in your fantasy football draft’s final round, he’s a good one to target. Prater only played 11 games last year, yet still nailed 21 field goals, including 3-5 from long range. He operates out of a solid offense, kicks largely indoors and has a good leg. His accuracy wasn’t amazing last year, but before that he converted 96% of his tries in 2013. He should be a fine fantasy kicker in 2015.
Lions Team Defense
Ndamukong Suh was a huge piece of what the Lions did as a defense in 2014. That can’t be said enough, really, as he was the constant force of their top shelf run defense and also helped the pass rush (and in turn the secondary) with pressure up the middle. Even with Suh around, the Lions were just fantasy’s 10th best defense a year ago. He and Nick Fairley are both gone, so they’ll surely see a slide. I doubt they slide far past 15th, but being a middle of the pack unit shouldn’t have you reaching for them before the second to last round in your draft. If they’re there at that point, sure, take a chance on them. If not, try giving none of the cares like you probably should.