Detroit hasn’t exactly been a football paradise, at least in the 26 years I have been alive. There have been some great players such as Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson. There’s also been some great moments like the playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 (which was their last postseason win). But with the good comes the very, very bad. Going 0-16 is one of those moments, the questionable finish to the Lions and Cowboys playoff game in 2014 and let’s not forget Dan Orvlosky running out of the endzone… But with one of the most heartbreaking offseason in recent Lions history shines a bright light. A light that could be leading them into the playoffs this season.
Last season was a story of two tales in very dramatic fashion for the Lions. Before the bye week they were one of the worst teams in the league by far. Stafford couldn’t throw the football into the ocean from the beach, the offensive line was virtually non-existent and the defense was sub-par at best. After an embarrassing loss to the Cheifs before the bye week the Lions brass decided some changes were much needed, firing Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi being the main one. Things weren’t looking any better as the Lions would have to go to Green Bay after the bye week, where they hadn’t won in 25 years.
Insert new Offensive Coordinator Jim-Bob Cooter, what sounds like a hillbilly from some cartoon was an angel in disguise for the lowly Detroit squad. He had the perfect debut as the drought at Lambeau was ended with a 18-16 victory. The wins came pouring in with the new OC as the Lions finished 6-2 on the back half of the schedule. Things were finally looking good for the fans of the Motor City. Then as soon as things were going good, the news no NFL fan wanted to hear came this offseason. Calvin Johnson Jr., the most dominant receiver the last 9 years called it quits. Fear not though, as there is a blessing in disguise in this story.
11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns gone but here comes the new crew for Matthew Stafford to sling to. Probably the biggest complaint on Stafford was he forced the ball to the future Hall of Famer way to much. Honestly I agree with that criticism but I believe this could be a big time year for the Lions as a whole. The highly hated quarterbacks numbers without Megatron are good, even though the sample is small (5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions). Spreading the ball out will help the offense a lot more than they ever could have imagined.
Golden Tate will be the go to guy for Stafford unless the very gifted Eric Ebron can make a big improvement. New additions Marvin Jones, Jeremy Kerley and Anquon Boldin are going to be great under Cooter’s offense. Jones is asserting himself as the deep threat while Kerley and Boldin will hold down the slot in what could be one of the NFL’s more productive offenses. The running game is still a big question mark as they hope Abdullah can learn to run and hold onto the ball at the same time and Riddick tries to become more than just a 3rd down guy. But I am very optimistic for the Lions team this year as a playoff spot is very well in reach. Oh yeah, did I mention they have some very talented, up and coming players on the other side of the ball in Ziggy Ansah, Deandre Levy (if healthy) and Darius Slay who are big time playmakers. Even if you don’t agree with this article let’s all agree on one thing. Thank the Lord the NFL season is almost here.
Now let’s take a quick look at the fantasy values on this team. Golden Tate will be the highest drafted player in most leagues, especially PPR. He has WR1 upside and will be Stafford’s go-to-guy this season. New additions Marvin Jones and Anquon Boldin will get their looks, but Jones will be very much a big play or bust on a weekly basis. Boldin will be looking at 4-6 targets a game, but don’t let that scare you too much as he has some great hands. Ebron will have a much bigger role this year. While he’s had trouble catching easy passes, I like him to breakout this year. A top 10 tight end by the end of the season is not too much to think of him.
The running back position from a fantasy aspect was infuriating for anyone who owned any of the three Lions’ backs. With Bell out of the picture, that clears things up a little. Abdullah will be the feature back if he can hold on to the ball, which I haven’t seen any evidence that he has gotten better at. A very intriguing fantasy player is Theo Riddick, he will get very few carries as he hasn’t really improved at running the ball, but last year he had 80 plus catches as a 3rd down back. For PPR leagues that’s a guy I want to target.
Now it’s time for the leader of the team, Matthew Stafford. His play is so “bipolar” that most people stay away from him. I tend to go the other way, he has one of the strongest arms in the league and is only in his seventh year. In 2011 he broke the 5,000 yard mark and had 40 plus touchdowns. Then the next season he had 20 touchdowns with just under 5,000 yards. As I said earlier though, Jim Bob Cooter showed us the potential on Stafford and if he can put together a full season like he finished last year, then Stafford could be a top five quarterback for years to come.